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.
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.
- Examples of a Hellschreiber and other of Dr. Hell’s teletype devices with the Hell Society of Kiel.
- Read a full explanation of the Hellschreiber “What it is – and what it is not” from NonStopSystems.
- View technical specifications for Hellschreiber modes from Fuzzy Hellschreiber.
- View a demonstration of the Hellschreiber by YouTube users K7AGE and J Mitch Hopper.
- Read more about the Hellschreiber from the Fuzzy Hellschreiber and the Feld Hell Club.
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.
- More on the Hellfax KF 108 from the Hell Society of Kiel.
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.
- See an example of a 1951 Klishograph K 151 at the Hell Society of Kiel. Includes restoration and demonstration videos of the device.
- A biography of Dr. Hell on Drupa includes a demonstration of a Klishograph device.
- An overview of the Klishograph from the Centre for Printing History and Culture
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.
- The Hell Society of Kiel has a 4-minute example of an instruction video of a Chromagraph.
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.
- Learn more about the development of the 50T1 from the History of Information.
- Timetable of the first digisets (in German).
- Overview of the Digiset 50T1 (in German).
Many other patents were awarded in the areas of communications and graphics. Further inventions include a direction finder for pilots and cipher machines.
Sources and more resources:
- The Technical Collection of Dr. Hell in Keil, Germany has the most complete information on the inventions produced by Dr. Hell’s companies.
- The most through biography on Rudolf Hell we can find is from Nonstop Systems. Includes full patent list and interviews with Dr. Hell.
- Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Dr. Hell.
- The Crypto Museum has information on Dr. Hell from the perspective of cryptography.
- Drupa has an overview of Dr. Hell’s achievements in the graphics world.
- Multimediaman has a thorough and well researched article on Dr. Hell.
- The History of Computing Project and History of Information have two more biographies on Dr. Hell.