Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hansen Writing Ball

The Hansen Writing Ball was invented in 1865 by the reverend and principal of the Royal Institute for the deaf-mutes in Copenhagen, Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890. The writing ball was first patented and entered production in 1870, and was the first commercially produced typewriter. In Danish it was called the skrivekugle. The Hansen ball was a combination of unusual design and ergonomic innovations, but like most of the early 19th century typewriters, it did not allow the paper to be seen as it passed through the device.

Its distinctive feature was an arrangement of 52 keys on a large brass hemisphere, causing the machine to resemble an oversized pin cushion. The first models typed on a paper attached to a cylinder, and included an electromagnetic escapement for the Ball, thus making Malling-Hansen's machine the first electric typewriter. He made several improvements on his invention throughout the 1870's and -80's, and in 1874 he patented the next model, and now the cylinder was replaced by a flat mechanical paper-frame. The electromagnetic battery was still used to move the paper along as the Ball typed upon it, and the design led to a lower possibility for error. Malling-Hansen improved further on his design, and created a semi-cylindrical frame to hold one sheet of paper. This best known model was first patented in 1875, and now the battery was replaced by a mechanical escapement. All these improvements made for a simpler and more compact writing apparatus.

It was exhibited at a great industrial exhibition in Copenhagen in 1873, at the world exhibition in Vienna in 1873, and at the Paris exhibition or Exposition Universelle. All through the 1870s it won several awards.

The writing ball was sold in many countries in Europe, and it is known that it was still in use in offices in London as late as 1909. But due to its hand-crafted production, it was overtaken in the market by the mass produced Sholes-Glidden machine which E. Remington and Sons started to make in 1873.

Malling-Hansen also invented a very fast-speed writing machine for stenography, called the Takygraf, and a copying technique called the Xerografi- both invented in 1872.

More-or-less intact Hansen balls have fetched hundreds of thousands of Euros in auctions. Few remain in existence today.

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