Rudolf Hell Biography

Last Update: August 9th, 2021

“The Edison of the Graphics Industry,” Rudolf Hell (b. December 19, 1901, Eggmühl, Germany, d. March 11, 2002, Kiel, Germany) was a German inventor. He has over 130 patents in the areas of communication and imaging.


Born in Bavaria in 1901, Rudolf Hell was the son of a train stationmaster.

He achieved a masters degree in electronics engineering at the age of 22. His academic work focused on radio direction finding and communication technology.

Dr. Rudolf Hell. Magnussen, Friedrich (1914-1987), Rudolf Hell führt seinen Wetterkartenschreiber vor (Kiel 44.592)CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Much of his early research involved “image dissection technology.” This technology would take an image and break it down into smaller parts. It is similar to how today’s computer screens display an image as pixels.

His Ph.D. was in direction-finding radio signals for airplanes. It helped develop navigation systems for pilots. It was worth today’s equivalent of $750,000, and aided him in further research.

The Hellschreiber (a teleprinter) was Dr. Hell’s other major invention before World War II. Like the navigation system, he used the profit from it to fund other inventions.

The bombing of Berlin in World War II destroyed Dr. Hell’s manufacturing facilities. After the war, he chose to rebuild in the port city of Kiel.

Dr. Hell’s facilities created many inventions in the post-war period. Most were in communications and printing markets. They include a modern fax machine, printing press engravers, scanners, and more.

Rudolf Hell lived to see 100. His life spanned the entirety of the 20th century. Born in 1901, he lived until the year 2002.

Invention – Hellschreiber

The hellschreiber is a teleprinter, capable of transmitting a message over long distances. It was a precursor to today’s fax machine.

Messages sent over a hellschreiber appear as a narrow band of text (similar to a ticker-tape). The messages transmit over a radio frequency. There is no need for wires and on-ground infrastructure.

It saw use during World War II in combination with the German Enigma machine. In later years, newswire services used it.

The Hellschreiber is still in use today by HAM radio operators around the world. The Feld Hell Club holds monthly contests for ham operators using hellschreibers.

Invention – the Modern Fax Machine

In 1956, Hell’s company was producing small facsimile machines used by the post office. Most of the use was for telegrams. It also found a use for signatures, cheques, and documents with non-Latin text.

Further models were for sending weather charts and meteorological data.

Invention – Klishograph (Gravure devices)

Dr. Hell invented the Klishograph in 1952. It was an electric engraving machine intended for newspaper printers.

It combined three stages of the printing process into one. It was able to scan a picture and engrave the image onto printing plates as one machine.

The device would scan an image line by line. The scan of the line would control a stylus, which made deep cuts onto a printing plate.

Klishographs are still being made and sold today.

Invention – Chromagraph – The first scanner

In 1963 Dr. Hell invented the Chromagraph. It was the first scanner.

At the time computer storage was not available for images. By 1978, similar devices would store images digitally.

Invention – Electric typesetting and Digiset 50T1 – The first digital typesetter

1965 was the development of patented electric typesetting. This would become the first digital typesetter, the 50T1.

Other inventions

Many other patents were awarded in the areas of communications and graphics. Further inventions include a direction finder for pilots and cipher machines.

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