Report from the 7th General Meeting of the International Rasmus Malling-Hansen Society, held in Paderborn, Germany, on June 2, 2018.

Heinz Nixdorf Museum, Paderborn. Photo from the Internet.

The reception area of the Heinz Nixdorf Museum prominent displaying the writing ball. Photo: Jørgen Malling Christensen.
Poster made in memory of the meeting, by Sverre Avnskog.

Venue: The Heinz Nixdorf Museum, Fürstenalle 7, Paderborn.


Participants: The Eberwein family: Dieter, Nicole, Anna and Paul; Uwe and Astrid Breker; Fritz Niemann; Lars and Lone Mathiesen; Jacob and Elsebet Erlangsen; Jane Skou; Jørgen Malling Christensen.


1. Opening Remarks: The President welcomed the participants and presented the agenda. He thanked Dieter Eberwein for his great efforts in terms of organizing and preparing the event.


Quite a number of members and society friends regrettably could not attend the meeting, and their greetings and good wishes for the Society were conveyed by the President on their behalf. They were: Sverre Avnskog; Paul Bech; Jos Legrand; Stefan and Magi Beck; Pere Padrosa Puignau and wife; Kim Fleischer Michaelsen; Carsten Erik Noe; Lars Frølund; Felix Herbst. They – and many other members and society friends – were sorely missed by the participants, and we very much hope to see them at our next General Meeting in 2020.

The Mini Writing Ball donated by Lars Mathiesen to Designmuseum, Denmark, and restored by Dieter Eberwein. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.
The logo of RMH's free mason lodge, Frederik and Zorobabel to the crowned Hope.

2.  Main Events since our Meeting in 2016: The President emphasized the donation in April 2017 of Lars Mathiesen’s mini writing ball to Designmuseum Denmark, Bredgade 68, 1260 Copenhagen K ( He found it to be a particularly happy choice to place it at the Designmuseum, since this museum – ever since 1890 – showcases the very best examples of Danish design for industrial products and applied arts. Under agenda item 3, Lars Mathiesen further commented about the circumstances of the donation.


Another important development, highlighted by the President, was the fact that we, as a Society, have uncovered around 140 hitherto unknown documents, related to Malling-Hansen, all of them found in the Danish National Archives. Almost all of them were handwritten documents, written by Malling-Hansen, or addressed to him, or treating issues closely related to Malling-Hansen. They have been painstakingly “encrypted” from their state of utterly difficult handwriting style and transcribed. Each document has been photographed, comments and footnotes have been added, the text has been put into context, and suitable illustrations have been added. The President emphasized that one of the major tasks of our Society is to continue this ongoing research and to disseminate it to the members and the public on our website. In this endeavor we have been very productive during the last two years (as well as previous years). The president also stressed that there are undoubtedly many more documents to discover, most of them in the National Archives but also in other public archives.


Our website is popular and has been visited 265 000 times since its inception.


Adding to the issue of research, Jane Skou told the meeting about her efforts to obtain information and documents from the present-day freemason lodge in Copenhagen. Malling-Hansen was adopted as member number 2941 on March 7, 1877 in the largest freemason order in Denmark at the time, named “Zorobabel og Frederik til det kronede Håb”. He eventually reached the second highest level (level 9) and was appointed Speaker of the lodge in 1888, a position he held until his death. Jane is presently in close contact with lodge members, trying to gain access to the older part of the archives, where there we presume there must still be documentation of Malling-Hansen’s role and importance.


3. Financial Report: The Treasurer, Lars Mathiesen, started by explaining the circumstances and conditions of his writing ball donation. According to the agreement, signed with Designmuseum Denmark in April 2017, the International RMH Society has the right to borrow the mini writing ball. Members of the Mathiesen and Erlangsen families must also be allowed, on request, to see the item. And lastly, the museum is committed to setting up a small exhibition, focusing on RMH and the writing ball, within three years.


The other important aspect of the donation is that the Museum agreed to pay the cost of the restauration of the mini writing ball. Hence, in 2017 the Museum paid 30 000 DKK to the Society to this effect. Our Vice-President Dieter Eberwein, who carried out the restoration, has graciously offered to donate this amount to our Society. Hence, in the words of the President, we have this year two extraordinary examples of generosity from two members: the donation of the writing ball and the donation of the restoration costs!


The Treasurer also informed the meeting of a third act of extraordinary generosity, namely the recent transfer of no less than 1000 USD by Fritz Bech, meant to cover past, present and future Society membership fees.


The combination of these generous acts, the Treasurer reported, was that our financial situation presently is stronger than ever before; however, too many members still do not pay their fees, although they are set at the very modest level of 300 DKK per year. Please note that the membership fee is our main and only source of income (except for the recent exceptional case of the writing ball donation) and that we do need funding to keep the website in good shape and for all other society functions and expenses. The board members do not receive any fee for their duties, and they do not charge for the considerable amount of time (and travel costs) that they contribute with in connection with their research and efforts involved in securing illustrations etc etc.


The meeting agreed to keep the membership fee at the same level – 300 Danish kroner per member and year.


The meeting had no objections to the financial reports presented, and hence they were approved.

4.  Election of members to the Management Board


The President informed that meeting that all present members of the board are willing to continue in their functions for the next two-year period. No alternative suggestions in terms of candidates have been put forward. Hence, the board continues as follows:


Paul Bech, member

Uwe Breker, member


Jane Skou, member and responsible for research into RMH and his freemason lodge.


Sverre Avnskog, Vice-President and responsible for illustrations and the website.


Lars Mathiesen, Treasurer


Dieter Eberwein, Vice-President, with responsibility for writing ball issues – patents, registration of existing balls and research on technical issues.


Jørgen Malling Christensen, President and responsible for all other research issues.

Jørgen Malling Christensen
Dieter Eberwein
Sverre Avnskog
Lars Mathiesen
Uwe Breker
Jane Skou
Paul Bech

As a response to Jane Skou's proposal at the General Assembly, a Malling-Hansen Facebook group has been established.

5. Any other business: Jane Skou raised the issue of ways to attract more new members and suggested the use of social media on the internet, such as Facebook, twitter, youtube and pinterest etc. A discussion ensued, and there was general agreement about the need for new members; however, no conclusion was reached about how to bring that about.


6. Presentation by Jørgen Malling Christensen: Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s main achievements as a principal – in his own words!


The President showed RMH’s “Life-line”, i.e. the ups and downs in his life and career from 1835 to 1890 and highlighted the year 1865 as a wonderful and successful year for Malling-Hansen. In that year he graduated from the University after many years of theological studies; he started experiments with the placement of letters on the future writing ball (a process which was to take 5 years initially); he married Cathrine Georgia Heiberg (1841 – 1876); he was appointed principal of the Royal Institute for the Deaf-Mute in Copenhagen, taking over this job from his father-in-law, Søren Johan Heiberg (1810 – 1876), who graciously stepped down, paved the way for the ministerial appointment of Malling-Hansen, vacated the 11-room apartment that came with the title, and moved 100 kms south to become a minister at the Kjeldby church, situated on the island of Møn. And last, but not least: He had the wonderfully good fortune that a new director of the Institute was appointed, name Jens Peter Trap, his immediate superior, with whom he enjoyed 19 years of blissful and smooth cooperation, characterized by almost total delegation of authority to Rasmus Malling-Hansen.


The 19 years of happy and privileged working conditions were abruptly interrupted in 1884 when Trap had to resign for health reasons and was replaced by Friedrich Hermann Wolfhagen (1818-1894), appointed in the end of November 1884. Their completely different personalities and management styles brought the two strong-willed men to a violent clash, culminating with the letter of complaint Malling-Hansen wrote to the Ministry of Education on January 7, 1885. As one of the appendices of that letter, Malling-Hansen listed his main achievements, as he perceived it, of his career as principal of the institute. These achievements are listed in the adjacent 24 points, translated from the Danish original.


We have never found any autobiographical texts from Malling-Hansen’s hand; however, these 24 points provide a very important expression of Malling-Hansen’s personal assessment and thinking.


You will find the complete letter of complaint on our website (so far only in Danish) in the section of RMH letters, see the letter dated January 7, 1885 from Malling-Hansen to the Ministry of Education.

Cathrine Georgia Heiberg, 1841-1876. Foto: Privat
Søren Johan Heiberg, 1810-1861. Foto: Heiberg-museet i Sogndal.
Jens Peter Trap, 1810-1885, Foto: Interett
Hermann Friedrich Wolfhagen, 1818.1894. Foto: DKB.

7. Presentation by Dieter Eberwein: “The development of the typewriter keyboard”.

Dieter Eberwein explained and illustrated the development of the writing ball keyboard and convincingly demonstrated that it was – and remains! – ergonomically sound, and that it clearly took into account the placement of the most frequent letters of the alphabet in the typing spots that correspond to those fingers which are able to strike most rapidly. He showed statistical tables, based on extensive alphabetical research, and the conclusion is that most of the European main languages share approximately the same frequency features with those of the Danish language. And that the Malling-Hansen keyboard is successfully adapted to promote the most rapid and convenient typing possible. However, for historical reasons, connected with the early success of the Remington typewriter, the QWERTY keyboard prevailed as from the early period of the 1870s until today. Other keyboards have emerged during the 20th century, such as Azerty, Colemak and Dvorak, but in spite of being more efficient (in principle) than QWERTY, it has not been possible to change the fact that QWERTY continues to dominate the typewriting and the computing world.

The museum text adjacent to their writing ball. The text is not correct in all respects! Photo: Jørgen Malling Christensen.
A very well preserved specimen of the writing ball is in the Heinz Nixdorf collection. It is displayed together with its original wooden box for transportation. The box is also in pristine condition.

8. Guided tour of the Heinz Nixdorf Museum


In the afternoon, the members were treated to a very interesting guided tour through the fantastic museum collections. Together they show the history of writing and communication, and particularly the collection of antique typewriters was amazing. Among them is a beautiful specimen of a writing ball. The wooden Mitterhofer machine was another highlight. We were privileged to have an excellent and very animated guide, but we, as a group, were also able to make many contributions to her information and to add to her knowledge. In particular Uwe Breker was a fountain of knowledge, due to his personal friendship and commercial contacts with Heinz Nixdorph, and a large number of the museum items were acquired by Uwe, commissioned by Nixdorph, back in the 1980s. Uwe is part and parcel of the history of Heinz Nixdorph and the history of the museum!


Following the guided tour, members were able to stroll around individually.


In the evening, the Society offered members a dinner at the nearby Welcome Hotel, whereby the discussions continued.


Reported by Jørgen Malling Christensen

Presentation by Jørgen Malling Christensen at the 7th General Meeting, Paderborn June2, 2018.

Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890. Photo: Private.

JMC: The 24 points below have been translated from Danish. However, Malling-Hansen did not number them – the numbering was added by me for ease of reference. The Danish version can be found on our website as an annex to the letter.


Rasmus Malling-Hansen’s Personal Assessment of his main Contributions and Achievements as a Principal 1865-1885,
as formulated in his letter to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Clerical Issues dated January 7, 1885.


Highlights of my career as a principal (1865-1885).

1. Substantially contributed to the establishment of an institute for the deaf-mute on Iceland.


2. Having carried into effect that mentally retarded deaf-mutes are not sent back home without education, rather that specific education was set up for them.


3. Introduced and established the division between the congenitally deaf-mutes (“egentlige døvstumme” (“proposer deaf-mutes”)) and the deaf-mutes with some degree of hearing (“uegentlige døvstumme”, “non-proper deaf-mutes”))(“the Danish Division”).


4. Having had accepted and established that the age of admission to education be 8 years.


5. Having introduced and had officially decided that the 6 year curriculum be extended to 8 years.


6. Presented proposals, and having them accepted, for a new institute for the deaf-mutes in Jylland (Fredericia)as well as regulations in that respect, seeing them all accepted and carried through, thereby assuring that the Fredericia institute would apply the speech method.


7. Elaborated and presented (to the Ministry of Education) several proposals concerning new buildings and extension at the Institute for the Deaf-Mute, Copenhagen.


8. Demonstrated at this institute (1866-72) the viability of satisfactorily teaching results by the speech method, based on a trial group of proper deaf-mutes.


9. Improved the sign method, essentially by placing sign language in the same relationship to the sign method, as it is in relationship to the speech method.


10. Authored and produced the following textbooks for the teaching here:
- A textbook on Religion
- A manual and syllabus for Mathematics for the primary level
- A Geography manual
- A language syllabus for grades 2 and 4


11. Brought together a large collection of teaching materials and implements for the primary and secondary levels of teaching.


12. Worked hard and successfully to improve the employment conditions of the teaching staff.


13. Increased the number of teachers.


14. Completely changed the entire workshop training and the needlework section from serving the pecuniary interests of the institute into serving the interests of the children.


15. Closing down the bookbinding workshop and setting up a needlework and woodwork training for the boys(“haandgjernings-skole”)


16. Changes to the institute school year, whereby we gained regularity in relation to the summer vacation and also increased the actual education time by a full month.


17. Having had established since 1867 that all pupils have been sent to their homes during the summer holiday.


18. Having established a completely new timetable (“Dagsorden”) at the Institute, more healthy and more productive than the previous one.


19. Improvements to the diet and clothing of the pupils.


20. Carried out improvements in the hygienic conditions of the Institute, as well as presented proposals for several such measures, currently awaiting approval.


21. Carried out daily weighings and height measurements of the pupils, likewise useful for their health.


22. Taken the initiative to a reorganisation, by an expert, of the institutional library, including the elaboration of a catalogue of its collection and a catalogue of names of authors.


23. In collaboration with a physician, developed new forms for reporting about deaf-mutes (reports from the clerical offices); also organised a system of cabinets and registers etc etc for future statistical information about the aetiology (study of causes) of deaf-muteness, about the usefulness of the speech method etc etc.


24. Carried out research regarding the origin of the capital assets of the institute and about the trust founders (“legatstiftere”) of the Institute.

Heinz Nixdorf Museum-blogg om skrivekuglen

I forbindelse med jubileet for det første danske patentet på skrivekuglen 25. januar, har HNM publisert et blogg-innlegg om skrivekuglen. Nyttig lesning for dem som behersker tysk!

Besøk også gjerne museets webside. Mange spennende utstillinger!

Foto fra museets blogg.