Texas Instruments Spelling B

Date of introduction:  June 11, 1978
 Available: Sept. 1978
Display technology:  Fluorescent
New price:  $30.00 Display size:  8 alphanumeric
Size:  6.2" x 3.4" x 1.1"
 157 x 86 x 29 mm3
Weight:  5.4 ounces, 153 grams Serial No:  
Batteries:  9V  Date of manufacture:  wk 49 year 1978
AC-Adapter:   Origin of manufacture:  USA (ATA)
Precision:   Integrated circuits:  TMC0272, TMC1984
Program steps:   Courtesy of:  Joerg Woerner
    Download manuals:   (EU: 6.6M Bytes)
  (EU: 3.9M Bytes)

The Spelling B educational toy is preprogrammed to teach the spelling of simple words through different games using a pictured booklet. In this booklet a lot of things are numbered and Spelling B asks you to type the corresponding word. A nice feature of this game is an added buzzer to give some noisy feedback.

The Mr. Challenger was one of three similar games:

Math Marvel: Basic mathematics
Mr. Challenger: Word games
Spelling B: Spelling games

All products use the same housing featuring a colored key plate to cover some unused keys of the matrix. The display is either numeric for the Math Marvel or alphanumeric for the two word games.

The Spelling B was introduced together with the Speak & Spell toy and the First Watch.

Dismantling this Spelling B manufactured in December 1978 by Texas Instruments in their Abilene, TX facility reveals a very clean design based on a double-sided printed circuit board (PCB) and powered by a 9V alkaline battery.

From a technical point of view the toy makes use of the technology introduced in 1978 with the Speak & Spell:

The TMC0272 microcontroller is derived from the TMS1000 series and adopted to control both the keyboard and the display.

A second microcontroller with the TMC1984 designation is used as an "external" memory. The TMC1980 series was used in other educational toys, e.g. the Math Marvel and DataMan.

The unusual concept of a Master/Slave design with two microcomputers was later revised, the 2nd generation of the Spelling B uses a TMC0355 Voice Synthesis Memory (VSM), known as "128kBit Speech-ROM" of the Speak & Spell family. The Spelling B was a very successful product in the late 70s and Texas Instruments manufactured them even in El Salvador. We discovered no differences between a Spelling B assembled in San Salvador and this Abilene, TX built model. 

In the United Kingdom we noticed the two different versions of the Spelling B, too. The early Spelling B (UK) uses the electronics of the original Spelling B, while the later Spelling ABC (UK) is based on the revised electronics.

Explore The Spelling ABC sold in Germany is based on the 2nd generation but uses another language VSM.

All models were later replaced with a product using a LC-display. View them here.

Find here parts of the original press release dated June 11, 1978:

TI Talking Learning Aid Sets Pace for Innovative CES Introductions

DALLAS, June 11, 1978

Innovative learning aids for children, including one that talks, compact powerful calculators for home and office, and multi-function digital timepieces with long life batteries for men and women were among a dozen products introduced by Texas Instruments Incorporated at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, June 11-14. 

The talking learning aid is called Speak & Spell™. An outgrowth of TI's basic research in synthetic speech, the product is designed to help children seven and up learn how to spell and pronounce more than 200 commonly misspelled words. Solid State Speech™ is an entirely new concept which stores words in a solid-state memory much like a calculator stores numbers. 

Also introduced in TI's new Learning Center™ product group were Spelling B™, a silent mate to Speak & Spell that helps children six and up learn spelling, and First Watch™, which teaches five to seven-year-olds to read any timepiece, whether digital or analog (with hands).

Spelling B 

Spelling B, a handheld learning aid, uses a colorful picture book to help teach children six years old and up how to spell via word/picture association. A child uses a randomly generated number to find the corresponding object in the book, and spells the object's name by pressing Spelling B's alphabet keys. Spelling B indicates right or wrong plus keeps score. Special pre-spelling activities for younger children include "Starts With," a game in which the child simply enters a word's first letter. Additional learning games such as "Mystery Word" and "Scramble" are included for older children. 

Spelling B, to be shipped in September, has a suggested retail price of $30.

The complete press release could be found here:

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© Joerg Woerner, October 26, 2007. No reprints without written permission.