The Exhibitions.

The Writing Ball's successful tour through Europe and USA

Was the writing ball exhibited in Stockholm 1866 and Altona 1869?


During the past year, new and hitherto unknown information about Malling-Hansen’s participation at some of the early industrial expositions has been discovered both from German, Swedish and Danish sources. It is claimed in the old articles, that the writing ball was exhibited at the Industrial Exhibitions in both Stockholm in 1866 and Altona in 1869. If this is correct, we will have to reconsider everything that has been known up until now concerning when the first writing ball was constructed. We know for a fact that Malling-Hansen started to experiment with the placements of the letters on a porcelain ball in 1865! And he probably worked contiously throughout the late 1860's to develope a prototype. I have my doubts that a machine was finished already in 1866, but that a model was ready in 1869, and probably even earlier, I am quite sure of. In his first patent application from january 1870 RMH wrote:


"With these investigations as a basic, I started to build an apparatus for fast speed writing, and this apparatus eventually developed to be the one that I have tried to show in the achieved drawings, and that I will eventually try to describe."


Evidently RMH had the first writing ball ready when he wrote the patent application, and considering the time it will take to make the rather complicated text and the drawings in the patent application, the first model must have been finished at the latest in 1869.



A medal from The Scandinavian Industrial Exhibition in Stockholm 1866
Probably the writing ball was not exhibited at this exposition

Stockholm - 1866

In an undated and anonymous article from the archive of the Technical Museum in Stockholm the author suggests, that the writing ball might have been exhibited in the Industrial Exhibition in Stockholm in 1866. To support this claim he points out, that the official catalogue of the exhibition, in Group 4, Teaching material, shows, that two writing apparatuses were displayed: No. 79, a writing apparatus for blind people constructed by C. E. L. Guldberg from Copenhagen and No. 80, imprints, writing samples and writing apparatus exhibited by the Royal Institution for the Blind in Copenhagen. In the author’s opinion it is the specimen No 80 that may have been an early model of the writing ball. There seems to be a widespread apprehension that Malling-Hansen’s aim was to make a remedy for blind people when he constructed his writing ball, and in the anonymous article from Sweden it is wrongly stated that Malling-Hansen was a teacher at the Royal Institution for the Blind. That is probably why the author draws the conclusion that the exhibition object No. 80, a writing apparatus from The Institution for the Blind, might have been a writing ball. Malling-Hansen never worked as a teacher there! And in spite of the fact that the Institution for the Blind is situated very close to the Institution for the Deaf-mutes, where Malling-Hansen worked as a teacher and principal, nothing can be found in Malling-Hansen’s own writings about his invention to support the idea, that the writing ball was made to help blind people. On the contrary – Malling-Hansen always claimed that his machine was made to be a fast speed writing machine, and that it was his observations of the deaf children using sign language, “speaking with their hands”, that convinced him, that it would be possible to write letters on a machine as fast as the children could form letters with their hands. In the sign language of that time, each letter of the alphabet had its own sign. He was also inspired by the thought of a pianist playing on a piano keyboard at an extremely high speed – pressing down each key at a much higher speed than anyone was able to write a letter with pen and ink. But he never mentioned in his writings that he was inspired by blind people, and it is difficult to be sure of where this idea came from.



From the official catalogue of the 1866 exposition in Stockholm: Group 4, educational material
A view from the localities of the 1866 exposition
As the list of participants at the Stockholm exhibition shows, Guldber's writing apparatus for blind people was exhibited in 1866. This is how it was presented in the journal, "Nordisk Tidsskrift for Blinde-, Døvstumme og Aandsvageskolen" in 1877



It could possibly have to do with the fact, that the very first attempts to make writing machines by others, were motivated by the wish to help blind people. And even though this was not the case with Malling-Hansen, it may have been reasonable to assume this, if the journalist was not well informed, and when it was first written down somewhere, a “fact” that was only a false assumption, could easily be repeated in other publications. In some presentations in magazines and newspapers from the early 1870’s it is mentioned, that the writing ball would be of tremendous help for blind people, but this was not the words of Malling-Hansen himself, it was the article writers own evaluation. It must also be admitted that Malling-Hansen in some of his advertisements for his writing ball listed blind people as one of the category of users that would have great benefit from using a writing ball, but only as one of several different groups of potential users. And Malling-Hansen did make writing balls specially designed for blind people - but at a much later time. At the Paris-Exebition in 1878 he received both a gold medal for the writing ball as a writing apparatus, and a silver medal for the writing ball as an educational apparatus for blind people. It is known that Malling-hansen participated with four machines in Paris, one small model for paper strips, one "standard" specimen of the tall model with colour ribbon - and possibly one or two writing ball with the braille or moon alphabet on the keys instead of the ordinary letters.



As can be seen in these two old advertisements for the writing ball, it is mentioned that the machine is very suited for the use of blind people. Copyright: Døvehistorisk Selskab
Altona as it looked like in 1860

Altona - 1869

An early writing ball-model, shown on an old American poster in a series of posters called "The growth of Industrial Art" by Butterworth, 1888. It is not possible to know for sure if this is just a box-model placed on a table, or if the ball is actually integerated in the table. There are no batteries inside, but one can clearly see a key connected to a spring mecanism.

It is far more difficult to form a strong opinion about the probability that the writing ball was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Altona in 1869. The most secure evidence would of course be if Malling-Hansen’s invention was listed in the official catalogue of the exhibition. This is not the case, unfortunately. There is no mentioning of typing machines whatsoever in the official catalogue. One could of course claim that this is a “waterproof” evidence that the ball was not exhibited, but one has to keep in mind that the catalogues of these early industrial exhibitions were in no way complete – some participants were listed but did not turn up, and other participants turned up, that were not listed. So it is still a possibility that Malling-Hansen went to Altona in person and presented his invention to the German audience.


But it has not yet been possible to find detailed information to confirm this. Although it is mentioned in several articles that the writing ball was exhibited in Altona, none of them contain further information about the writing ball model in question or about the circumstances around the event. But there is no doubt that a ready made writing ball actually existed in 1869. RMH started to work on his invention already in 1865, and we must assume that he continously worked to create a model throughout the late 1860's. Everybody who has tried to transform an idea into a product, knows how long time it takes to develope a prototype. And RMH probably worked out two different prototypes, one where the paper was fastened to a frame that was moved by hand, and one table-model, where the paper was attached to a sylinder, that worked by the means of a pedal. Any of these two models may have been exhibited in Altona.



Johanne Agerskov in her leaflet “Who is the Inventor of the Writing Ball” (Copenhagen 1925;  in Danish), page 31, explains as follows: The German magazine “Zeitschrift für Büro-Bedarf” had an article about the writing ball with the information that the writing ball had been exhibited at the “Allgemeine Industrie-Austellung” in Altona in 1869.  The Author, Mr J. Burghagen, had this information from a book entitled “Die Schreibmaschine”, published by Mr Otto Burghagen, the founder of “Bürobedarf”. He added that “Bürobedarf” no 76 of October 15, 1904 had a comment on the writing ball and stated the year of the invention as 1865. Mr J.Burghagen, however, had checked the exhibition lists from Altona 1869 and found that the writing ball was not included.  Furthermore, Engelke Wiberg in a letter to Prof Hannover of 26 May 1924, comments concerning the information about Altona 1869: “It is likely that a friend of my father’s (I don’t recall his name) showed the writing ball in Hamburg at a company called “Donner & Co” in 1869 to representatives of the newspapers and magazines, and this demonstration was possibly related to the Altona exhibition; but since the patents were acquired only later, the idea of partaking in the exhibition was abandoned”.



If RMH exhibited a writing ball in Altona 1869, it must have been one of the two models on the first patent drawing from january 1870. In the patent application from early 1870 RMH writes that he had built the writing ball that was described in the application text, and the first model was certainly finished in 1869, probably even earlier.
This drawing of the first patent model of the writing bal is made by Dieter Eberwein. According to RMH this model was built, but unfortunately no such model is known to exist today, but it may well have been exhibited in Altona in 1869. Copyright: Dieter Eberwein
A beautiful specimen of an Altona-medal from 1869



Malling-Hansen was probably well known in the Altona area, as he had worked for 3 years as a teacher and headmaster at the Institution for the Deaf-mutes in Schleswig, when Altona, which today is a suburb of Hamburg, was a large city belonging to Denmark. Malling-Hansen also later made trips to visit institutions all over Europe and on holidays, so it would be no surprise if he also travelled to Altona in 1869.


And there is a way that we can find out for sure, whether Malling-Hansen really went to Germany in 1869, and the information can very well be hidden in the archives of Danish industrial funds, which donated financial support to Danish constructors to travel abroad. Further investigations in the archives of these funds can give us more secure evidence about Malling-Hansen and the Altona-Exhibition in 1869. It has been claimed that Malling-Hansen at some point received financial means from the “Reiersenske reisefond” but this information has not yet been confirmed.  

Until certain evidence can be found, we are left to value the reliabillity of the different articles that claims that the writing ball was exhibited in Altona. Personally I am certain that there existed at least one prototype of the writing ball in 1869, and I will not shut out the possibillity that it was exhibited by RMH in Altona, either at the official exhibition or to the press and visitors at a private event.

Oslo, 09.09.08

Sverre Avnskog



A page from the article that is kept in the archives of Technical Museum in Stockholm where it is suggested that the writing ball was exhibited in Stockholm in 1866
A blind woman writing on a writing ball. This picture was used in at least two Swedish articles about the writing ball. It is definitely not Malling-Hansen's wife, as claimed one place - and the woman looks very unskilled in writing on a writing ball
The official catalogue of the Altona Exposition. Malling-Hansen and his writing ball is not listed in the catalogue
This is one of the articles in which it is stated that the writing ball was exhibited in Altona; "Schreibmaschinen-Zeitung in Hamburg from 1904

London - 1871

For a long periode of time it has been the general view that the first time the writing ball was exhibited, was at the large Art and Industry Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1872. Just recently it was discovered through an article in the German periodical, Annalen der Typographie from 1871, that the writing ball actually had been displayed on what is often refered to as the South Kensington Exposition in 1871. The British arranged annual world exhibitions during the years 1871-1874, but unforunately it has not been easy to find information about these events. The Art Journal published large articles wich contained evaluations and extremely beautiful illustrations of many of the objects at the Exhibitions in 1871 and 1872, but unfortunately only the art work were presented, and an official catalogue of the event has not been possible to find yet. But in a letter from the spring of 1871 Malling-Hansen writes that he is planning a travel abroad very soon.


We know for sure that the first of them took place from May to September 1871. There were illustrated articles in the London Illustrated about the Exhibition, and a dramatic Cantata with words by T. Taylor, specially composed by Arthur Sullivan for the event, was performed at the opening of the London International Exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall, London, of May 1871. It has not yet been possible to find the official catalogue of the London Exhibition, and neither a list of the prize winners, but according to Annalen der Typographie the writing ball was one of the items that stood out and was noticed for it's outstanding qualities.


According to an article in the Danish newspaper, Berlingske Tidende, from the 22.nd of January 1872, there were two writing balls at display in London. We don't know with 100% certainty exactly when the first flat model was built, and it is not impossible that it was ready for the Kensington exhibition, but most likely only the cylinder model was exhibited at this event. May be one with wooden box and one open cylinder-model?




View from the official opening of The Royal Albert Hall of Art and Science by Queen Victoria in 1871
Two early illustrations of the writing ball. The one above was published in Annalen der Typographie on the of November 1870
And this engraving, of the open model without the wooden box, was used to illustrate an article in Illustrirte Zeiting on the of April 1872
In this article in Annalen der Typographie from august 1871, it is told that the writing ball was exhibited at the International Exhibition in London
The objects did not compete against each other in London, and only a very few participants were awarded with medals

Copenhagen - 1872

This drawing of the Exhibition Building was presented in "Illustreret Tidende" in 1870 - two years before the Copenhagen Art and Industry Exhibition took place. According to the newspaper the building was built according to the plans, with just some minor adjustments. Photo: Illustreret Tidende

Several models  of the writing ball could be seen at the Scandinavian Art, Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1872. For his invention, Rasmus Malling-Hansen received the First Price medal. In the same year he also received the Danish Merit medal. According to private letters from Malling-Hansen to Mr. Christensen this year, several different models were on display, and Malling-Hansen also switched the placements of the writing balls during the event. Models available at this point: Box model, open cylinder-model, flat model and takygraf.



This is probably one of the writing ball models that was exhibited in Copenhagen in 1872. The illustration above was used in Polytechnisches Journal in an article about the writing ball at the exhibition. Their information was based on an article in the "Engineer" from August 1872. Malling-Hansen worked constantly to improve his writing ball during the 1870's, and the model with the flat carriage replacing the cylinder, was finished some time in 1871, as were the open cylinder-model and the takygraf
From the official catalogue of the Copenhagen Exhibition - Group 6, one can read that Malling-Hansen exhibited four different speciemens of his writing ball and also some writing samples
Map showing the area of the exhibition in Copenhagen in 1872. Copyright: The Royal Library
The Danish King, Christian IX, handing over the awards and medals to the price winners. Doesn't the man waiting in the stairs have some resemblanse with Malling-Hansen?
On a vacation in Lillehammer, Norway, in the summer of 2021, my attention was drawn to a window decoration at the outdoor museum at Maihaugen. It showed a collection of old coines.
To my great surprise, included in the collection was the commemorative coin of the large exhibition in Copenhegen in 1872, where Malling-Hansen was awarded with the first prize for his writing ball.

Vienna - 1873

In 1873 Malling-Hansen personally travelled to Vienna with his writing ball, to show it to the European public, and he received the First Price medal, called The Vortschritts medal at this exhibition too. The same year he was also honoured with the Austrian Goldmedal, "pro literus et artibus";. According to an article on the website of the Royal Library in Copenhagen, Malling-hansen applied for financial support from official Danish funds to afford to attend the event, but his application was turned down. Instead he was personally invited by the director of the exhibition and was offered to get all his expences covered, including a daily amount as long as he stayed in Vienna. Malling-Hansen was also very proud that his writing ball was placed in the impressing main building of the exhibition, the rotunda. A man who was very well aquainted with the writing ball had a seat in the jury in Vienna, the Danish industrial historian, Camillus Nyrop, who wrote an article about the writing ball in "Illustrated Journal"; (Illustreret Tidende) in 1876. We know with certainty from the reports from the Exhibition that 3 different models of the writing ball were exhibited in Vienna. Exactly which models is uncertain though, but probably one of the cylinder models, with or without the wooden box, the flat model, and the takygraf.




This is the 1. prize medal that Malling-Hansen received in Copenhagen in 1872. Photo: Sverre Avnskog
And from Vienna in 1873. From Vienna he also brought back with him several orders for writing balls. The first prize medal from Paris, 1878 was unfortunately stolen from the family in a breakin. Photo: Sverre Avnskog
This is how it looked inside the machinery hall at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873.
This very impressiv building, The Rotunda, was built to house the event!
In an obituary in Politiken from the of September 1890 one can read that also Malling-Hansen's copying-technic, the xerografi, was exhibited in Vienna in 1873
On December 14. 1873 the English newspaper Lloyds Weekly Newspaper reported that the Austrian Emperor had decided to give the Austrian Medal "Pro Literus et Artibus" to Malling-Hansen and Jürgensen for their invention of the writing ball
A Swedish visitor wrote this about the writing ball in "Uppfinningarnas bok" after having seen the writing ball in Vienna
Inside the Rotunda, where the writing ball was exhibited

Leeds - 1875

Yorkshire Exhibition, ARTS AND MANUFACTURES, Leeds 1875

Official Catalogue.

No. 19       HOLTEN, SOFUS E., 32 Ludgate Hill, London, E.C.

                     An ingenious instrument devised by the Rev. MALLING HANSEN, by 
                     which any one, even the Deaf and Dumb, may write or print with great speed and accuracy.




This notice from the official catalogue shows that the writing ball was exhibited at the Yorkshire Exhibition in 1875
Two models of the writing ball that might have been exhibited in Leeds, as they both use electricity.
Malling-Hansen patented his first tall model without the use of batteries in 1875, but this model was obviously not ready for the Yorkshire Exhibition, as it was stated in the catalogue that the writing ball exhibited there was an electric typewriter.
RMH's british agent, Sofus Emil Holten, 1836-1885. Unfortunately he didn't have much success promoting the writing ball.
Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835-1890, principal, minister, inventor, scientific researcher.
This picture shows the 1875 model of the writing ball - the first model that didn't use elelctricity, but had a mecanical soution to the paper movement. Photo: Deutsches Museum, Munich
As one can see fro the patent text, Malling-Hansens British patent was owned by Sofus Emil Holten, but was not sealed until the 5th of November 1875 - too late to participate in the Exhibition.
The official catalogue of the Yorkshire Exhibition in 1875
Page from the official catalogue showing that the writing ball attended the Yorkshire Exhibition
Official prospect of the Yorkshire Exhibition in Leeds, to be inaugurated on Thursday, of May 1875 by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Exhibition was held in the Coloured Cloth Hall, and was open from May until September 1875.
Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, 1844–1900.
Prince Alfred was married to Mariya Aleksandrovna Romanov, Grand Duchess of Russia in 1874.
22nd May 1875. Two engravings taken from the Illustrated London News commemorating the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Leeds. The Duke, Prince Alfred, arrived in Leeds on 13th May 1875 to open the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufacturers which was held to raise money for Leeds Mechanics Institute. The left view shows the town clerk, Mr Capel Augustus Curwood, standing towards the right next to the Mayor H.R. Marsden, giving the address to the Duke of Edinburgh who stands on a raised platform in the centre. The Exhibition was held in the Coloured Cloth Hall. The choir and orchestra stands to the left. Behind the Duke is a 6-pounder field gun made by Greenwood and Batley. The lower view shows the ball held in Victoria Hall in the Town Hall later in the evening. The ball was given by the Mayor, Mr Marsden and the Mayoress. In this view, the Duke is in the centre with Mrs Marsden, beginning the first quadrille.
Visit of the Duke of Edinburgh 1875 to open the Yorkshire Exhibition of Arts and Manufacture. The main purpose of the exhibition was to pay off the debt incurred by the building of the Mechanics Institute. The Duke of Edinburgh travelled by train to Leeds, arriving in time for lunch at Avenue House, the residence of the Mayor, H R Marsden. The Prince then went on to open the exhibition which was held in the Edinburgh Hall which had been specially erected in the central yard of the Coloured Cloth Hall. These two illustrations and the captions originates from
After a short rest at the Mayor's house the Duke left for the Mayor's dinner in the Town Hall.
The dinner was followed by a ball in the Victoria Hall, which the Duke attended for a short time before leaving for the station and his train back to London.
Illustration from The Illustrated London News, May the 22.nd, 1875.
The original notice.

Richmond & Ripon Chronicle 1875.06.19.

Research, transcription and comments by Jørgen Malling Christensen.

Illustrations and publication be Sverre Avnskog.


The text below is a passage from a long article describing some of the more interesting items exhibited at the Arts and Manufactures Yorkshire Expedition in Leeds in the summer of 1875. The writing ball was exhibited by Malling-Hansen’s agent in London, Sofus Emil Holten, 1836-1885.


Amongst the many singular contrivances in this section, there is nothing more so than the writing ball, invented by the Rev. Malling Hansen, of Copenhagen, for the use of the blind. It has since been applied in this country, to writing out, or, more properly speaking, printing messages as read off the Morse or Wheatstone instruments[1].


It presents a very curious appearance, resembling a metal hedgehog bristling with spines. Each one of these spines is a piston, which, upon being pressed by the finger, prints a letter upon the paper below. In fact, by this little instrument, an individual can print from dictation, or from his own reading, as fast as his fingers can play upon the little pistons.


These are not in a straight line but are arranged as to be easily under the hand. It can be worked at the rate of ten letters in a second. The motive power for moving the prepared paper, &c., is a single electromagnet.


[1] JMC: That is: instruments for telegraphy.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, 1791-1872, American painter and inventor, especially remembered for his telegraph apparatus and for the associated signaling system.
Charles Wheatstone, 1802-1872, British physicist and inventor. Regarded as the founder of modern telegraphy.
The original notice.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 1875.08.11.


Research and transcription by Jørgen Malling Christensen.

Publication by Sverre Avnskog.


- - - - -



 ……. Mention should also be made of “The Writing Ball”, an ingenious invention of the Rev. M.Hansen, superintendent of the Royal Deaf and Dumb Institute at Copenhagen, for enabling the blind to write or print matter, either original of from speech or dictation, and to obtain or produce  multiple copies of their work; …..

Preston - 1875.

Malling-Hansen's british patentagent, Sofus Emil Holten, 1836-1885.

A Writing Ball Exhibited in Preston August 1875.

Research, transcription and comments by Jørgen Malling Christensen.

Illustrations and publication by Sverre Avnskog.


We have previously documented, that Rasmus Malling-Hansen exhibited an electrical model of the writing ball at the Arts and Manufactures Exhibition in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, which ran from May 13 until sametimes in September 1875. The writing ball was presented by Malling-Hansen's agent, Sophus E. Holten.


Evidence has now surfaced about yet another exhibition, where Holten exhibited an electrical version of the writing ball, namely at the Preston Exhibition of Works of Art and Industry. This exhibition opened on August 10, 1875 and was organised at Moor Park, Preston, Lancashire.


The town of Preston was a good choice by Malling-Hansen and Holten: "Preston was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, becoming a densely populated engineering centre, with large industrial plantsll (Wikipedia). Also, it was not far away from Leeds, where presumably the same writing ball was exhibited            from mid May that year. The distance between Leeds and Preston is approximately 70 kms, and the two important towns were connected by rail.


The information about the writing ball being exhibited in Preston was found in an article in "Preston Heraldl, June 26, 1875, the relevant text transcribed below:

The original notice.


On Wednesday evening the weekly meeting of the General Committee was held at the Town-Hall....... (JMC: The members are presented by name and function)...


The sub-committees then presented their reports, which included the following additional promises: - Natural History and Scientific Committee: An electric writing ball (which will be worked by one of the employees from the Blind Institute) by Mr. S. E. Holten, London.

A picture from the Preston Art and Industrial Exhibition in 1875. Illustration from the internet.

Philadelphia - 1876

This is the little notice in the official catalogue from 1876, telling about Malling-Hansen's writing ball and the takygraf

From Rasmus Malling-Hansen's great-grand son i USA, Poul Bech, we have received information that RMH participated at the International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. If someone think they have heard the name Bech in connection to RMH before, they are probably right, because one of the daughter's of Malling-Hansen, Zara, 1870-1910, was married to Fritz August Bech, and their son, Erling Bech, emigrated to USA. His descendants are still living in USA.

At the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, Malling-Hansen had two items on display, a writing ball and the takygraf, wich worked by the means of electricity. We have some very few pictures of the takygraf, so it's a fact that it was made in at least one specimen - but what happened to it, and where it may be today, is a great mystery!

As for the writing ball at the exhibition, it is not known wether it was the first tall model, that was patented in 1875, or if it was the flat model with a carriage, patented in USA in 1874, but most likely it was the tall model. I base this on the formulation in the ofiicial catalogue, where it is stated that the takygraf was operated by electricity, and that the writing ball was operated by hand. The tall model without colour ribbon from 1875 was the first model that was operated only by hand - without electricity.



The large machine hall at the International Exhibition in Philadelpia in 1876
The entrance of the Danish section
The official Catalogue of the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia. According to the catalogue Malling-Hansen had two inventions at the exhibition; the takygraf and the writing ball
The Catalogue of the Danish participants at the exhibition, made by the Danish Commisioner, Thomas Schmidt, who also was Malling-Hansen's agent in New York
An old picture of the 1875 model of the writing ball. This writing ball has gained it's well known tall shape, but is not equipped with a colour ribbon. This was the first model that worked without electricity, and was probably the model exhibited in Philadelphia in 1876
Nobody has yet succeeded in finding a takygraf, in fact a few photos is the only evidence that one was actually once built. It is one of the Malling-Hansen Society's great wishes - in the future to find a specimen of this takygraf...!
Malling-Hansen's writing ball was awarded with the gold medal at the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition. Above is an old engraving that shows what the medal looked like. Oddly enough Malling-Hansen didn't use this medal in his marketing of the writing ball - only the Copenhagen, Vienna and Paris medals. Why, we don't know
This little article in Appletons' Annual Cyclopædia from 1890 about the writing ball is the source to our knowledge that the writing ball won the first prize medal at the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition
The writing ball pictured in the article is the model for paperstrips developed for the 1878 World Exposition in Paris





The main exhibition building at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. According to a letter to his brother, Johan Frederik Hansen from the same year, Rasmus Malling-Hansen had 4 models of his writing ball at display at this event, and he won one gold and one silver medal. The gold medal for the writing ball as a typewriter, and a silver medal for the writing ball as an aducational apparatus for blind people

Paris - 1878

Then in 1878 Malling-Hansen attended the World Exhibition in Paris, and for this event he had worked out four models of the writing ball, two of them shown in the information folder of the Danish Section. The writing ball had gone through several important improvements, and now it was equipped with a colour ribbon and did not longer use an electromagnetic battery, and thus the weight and the size were reduced drasticly. Also in Paris he received the First Price medal in gold. At the same exhibition his competitor, the American typewriter inventor Densmore, also exhibited his Sholes&Glidden typewriter produced by the Remington Factory. His typewriter was at this stage very big and heavy, and received the Silver medal in Paris, a fact that Malling-Hansen refers to in some of his letters from this period. It's obvious that he was extremely proud that the experts valued his writing ball higher than the American Remington machine. But as we know, he still lost the commercial competition, as the improved Remington machine only a few years later was sold in a number of probably more than 2500 specimens, while the writing ball produced never exceeded more than a couple of hundreds. According to private letters to his brother, Johan Frederik Hansen, Malling-Hansen exhibited 4 different models in Paris. From the official papers we know that the new tall model with colour ribbon and the small model for paperstrips on a wooden foot were developed for this exhibition. The two other models may have been writing balls with Braille and Moon alphabet, because Malling-Hansen also received a silver medal for the writing ball as an educational apparatus for blind people in Paris.



A drawing of the Danish section at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. Photo: The Roal Library in Copenhagen
Malling-Hansen had made great efforts to develop a new model of the writing ball available for the exhibition. And his work was rewarded with the First Prize medal.
A beautiful gold and silver medal from Paris 1878
They are not Malling-Hansen's medals
The medals belong to vicepresident of the RMH Society, Dieter Eberwein
All photos: Dieter Eberwein
The 1878 model of the writing ball. This model was exhibited in Paris. Photo: Uwe Breker
So was this small model on a wooden foot to be used for paper strips. Photo: Sverre Avnskog
There is a great possibillity that also a model with braille or moon alphabet was exhibited in Paris. Photo: Sverre Avnskog
Two specimen with the moon alphabet on the keys are known today. This is one of them. Photo: Peter Pluntky
The full German text of the folder promoting the writing ball in Paris in 1878.
Fra det franske nationalbiblioteks katalog over verdensudstillingen i Paris 1878.

Rasmus Malling-Hansens forberedelser for deltagelse i Verdensudstillingen i Paris 1878.

Transkribering og kommentarer af Jørgen Malling Christensen.


Vi har fundet den blanket Malling-Hansen brugte i forbindelse med anmeldelsen til den danske Komité for deltagelse i verdensudstillingen i Paris i 1878, hvor han viste fire forskellige skrivekugler og indhøstede stor, positiv opmærksomhed – og desuden adskillige bestillinger fra forskellige lande! Han belønnedes med guldmedalje for skrivekuglen i sin skrivemaskine-form – den smukke og elegant høje model med farvebånd og uden batteri - , og en sølvmedalje for en skrivekugle med braille eller moon-alfabet til brug for blinde. Fra en anden kilde – en avisartikel i Berlingske Tidende fra 17.oktober 1878 – ved vi at tre af skrivekuglerne skrev på almindeligt papir, medens den fjerde skrev på en smal telegrafstrimmel.


Vi har også (se brevsamlingen) et brev fra RMH til hans bror Johan Frederik, dateret 2 juni 1878, i hvilket han fortæller: “Jeg har nu fire Maskiner færdige at gaa til Paris. De ere alle forskjellige. Hr Duch reiser med dem, vistnok paa Onsdag.”


Hr. Duch var en dansk telegrafist, som åbenbart havde to vigtige egenskaber: Han kunne betjene skrivekuglerne; og han kunne forklare deres funktion på flere forskellige sprog. Duch var ansat på det Store Nordiske Telegraph-Selskab og blev velvilligt udlånt – på orlov – fra sin tjeneste for at kunne hjælpe Malling-Hansen med at på betryggende måde transportere skrivekuglerne frem og tilbage og med at demonstrere dem på verdensudstillingen. Denne velvillige, og for RMH sikkert meget vigtige, assistence hænger sammen med at Carl Frederik Tietgen (1829-1901), den tids store industri- og finansmand, havde fået øjnene op for den nytte skrivekuglerne kunne gøre ved telegrafstationerne. Tietgen havde ved et par tilfælde lånt RMH penge – fra mæcenens private tegnebog – for viderudvikling af skrivekuglen for telegrafstrimler. Dette fremgår af de “hemmelige arkiver” Tietgen brugte for visse transaktioner.


I det følgende gengives RMHs anmeldelsesinformation, som er skrevet med hans karakteristiske håndskrift på et stort papirformat. Se også en kopi af den originale blankets to sider.


Blankettens første side:



Tilbagesendes i to enslydende Exemplarer til Komiteens Sekretær, Industriforeningen, Holmens Kanal 12, Kjøbenhavn K.__________________



Verdensudstillingen i Paris 1878.


Undertegnede    R. Malling Hansen.


Boende            Kgl. Døvstumme-Institut, Ørebro, Kjøbenhavn.


Har afsendt til (Komiteen for Danmarks Deltagelse) direkte til Verdensudstillingen i Paris nedenstaaende Gjenstande:




Gjenstandens L.b. Nr. -  Danemarque, Copenhague, R.Malling Hansen (to ord ulæselige), Hr. A. Duch, L’Exposition Internationelle à Paris.


Gjenstandenes Benævnelse  -  4 Exemplarer af Skrivekuglen.


Salgspris i Francs  -   Maa ikke sælges.


Total Værdi for hver Kolli  -  Ialt Kr. 1500.



Afsendte den 9 Juli 1878



R. Malling Hansen.



Blankettens anden side:


På anden side har RMH tegnet en skitse, som anviser hvorledes de fire maskiner skal fremvises, og han giver desuden detaljerede informationer om alle mål og instruktioner angående placering, sikkerhedsaspekter etc:



NB: Alle  Maalene  ere  fremgaaede  af  en  nøie  Overveielse og  maatte  -  om  muligt  nøie  overholdes.   R. M-H.


Figur 1: - - -


A er  en  Glaskasse,  der  er  9  Tommer  høi  og 3  Quarter  Alen lang  og  bred,  indvendigt  Maal.  Den maa være  til  at  tage  helt  bort  fra  Bordet, naar  Operateuren[1]  arbeider  med  Maskinerne;  men  maa  ogsaa  paa en  eller  anden  Maade  kunne  lukkes  fast  til  Bordet, saa  at  ingen  uvedkommende  kan  tage  Kassen  af,  naar  Operateuren   er  borte.  a, a, a, a  er  4  Skrivemaskiner[2] , alle  indb. forskjellige.  –


B er  et  Bord  af  sædvanlig  Bordhøide  (5 Quarter);  Pladen  er  2  Alen  paa  den  ene  Led  og  1⅓ Alen  paa  den  anden; den  maa  være  noget  Tyk  (for  at  Lyden  ikke  skal  blive  for  stærk  under  Skrivningen)  og  betrukken  med  grønt  eller  brunt  Klæde. 


C er en  Stol , helst en  let  Contoirstol,  Dreierstol,  eller  Rørstol  med  Sædet i en  Høide af  1 Alen  1 Tomme  fra  Gulvet,  altsaa  7  Tommer høiere  end almindelig  Stolesæde-Høide.  –


E,E  - - - er den ene Side – mod hvilken den Skrivende vender Ryggen, den maa gjerne være dækket af en Væg eller en  Monter;  de andre 3 Sider derimod maa yde fri Adgang for Publicums  Øine, dog  saaledes , at Folk paa ingen Maade maa kunne komme tæt hen til Bordet, omringe dette under Skrivningen, pille ved Maskinerne  o.s.v.  -  Derfor er


D.D  - - - et  Rækværk, der er 4 Alen langt paa den ene Led og 3 fem sjettedelen Alen paa den anden Led, det er 1 ¼ Alen høit og bestaar af


F,F F - - -  Jernstænger, 1¼ Alen lange  med et  Øie foroven (og i en  Afstand af 1 Alen fra hinanden), hvorigjennem kan føres


GG  - - -  et pænt, farvet Reb.


NB: en Skuffe  ønskes anbragt et eller andet Sted i Bordet, dog ikke paa den Side, som Skriveren sidder ved. – Bordet maatte helst staa paa en Forhøining, der er saa  stor at Stolen ogsaa kan faa Plads  paa den.  - 


Figur 2:  - viser Rækverket set fra Siden : F. Jernstængerne med 1 Alen imellem.



19-6-78                       R. Malling Hansen.




[1] JMC: Operateuren var altså den omtalte Hr A. Duch.

[2] JMC: Det er yderst interessant at RMH her bruger ordet ”skrivemaskiner”!  Det er en meget tidlig brug af ordet – og langt inden det var gængse sprogbrug i Danmark!

Altona - 1881

Research, transcription, translation and comments by Jørgen Malling Christensen.

Illustrations, comments and publication by Sverre Avnskog.


In Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung from 1881.09.02 it is stated that the writing ball was exhibited in Altona in 1881 taking part in: “Die internationale Ausstellung von Arbeits- und Kraftmaschinen zu Altona” (International Exhibition of workshop machines and power engines), which opened on August 18,1881.


Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung had a reporter present, and his three part article about the exhibition were published on August 19 (evening edition, front page), on August 26 (morning edition, page 5) and on September 2, 1881 (evening edition, page 5). The latter edition is what interests us most, because of the comment on the writing ball being exhibited and demonstrated.

The original notice in .Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung from 1881.09.02.
The medals from the exhibition in Altona in 1881 can be bought on the internet.
We don't know if Malling-Hansen,s writing ball was awarded with a medal at the exhibition.

This part of the text is transcribed and translated below:

Wanderungen durch die internationale Ausstellung zu Altona.

Von unserem Spezial-Berichterstatter.


- Zum Schlusse under heutigen Wanderung besichtigen wir noch die gleich am Eingang aufgestellte Schreibkugel von Malling Hansen, welche 8 Zoll im Durchmesser und in 54 Stempeln alle Buchstaben, Zahlen und Unterscheidungszeichen enthällt. Ob sich das Schreiben auf derselben leicht entlernen läßt, vermögen wir nicht zu beurtheilen; jedenfalls handhabten die in der Ausstellung anwesenden Vertreter sowie eine Junge Dame sie mit große Geschicklichkeit, und die Buchstaben kommen deutlich und exakt auf das Papier. Möglich, daß die Schreibkugel unserer gewöhnlichen Schreibfeder einmal wirksame Konkurrenz macht.


In English:

Walking through the international exhibition in Altona.

By our special reporter.


....At the end of our walk tour today we examine Malling Hansen’s writing ball, exhibited right at the entrance, 8 inches wide and with 54 keys containing all letters, digits and punctuation marks. Whether it is easy to learn writing with the machine, we cannot judge; nevertheless, the representatives present at the exhibition used it very skilfully – including a young lady -, and the letters are printed clearly und with precision on the paper. It is possible, that the writing ball, one day will become a real competitor to our ordinary pen.

The author of the article does not give much information about the exhibited writing ball, only that it was eight inches wide and had 54 keys. Based on that, we have to assume that it was the 1878 model from the Paris World Fair that was on display. Photo: Breker Auction Team.
The writing ball that August Lyngbye developed may also fit the description, but according to our previous research it was not completed until 1885. Moreover, Lyngbye then exhibited it under his own name. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.
The heading of the Norddeutsche Allgemaine Zeiting as it appeared in 1892.

Copenhagen - 1888

The last exhibition, in which a writing ball was exhibited, was at the Scandianavian Art, Agricultural and Industrial exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888. The mechanic, August Lyngbye, was now in charge of the development of the writing ball, and his mechanical establishment had collected not less than seven writing balls for the event, showing the development of the writing ball from 1870 and up to 1888. The newest model, created by Lyngbye, had a colour ribbon and a paper platen, and was much lower than the well known, tall form. Lyngby recieved the First Price medal for this writing ball, but it was not made in a high number, as Malling-Hansen died only two years later, and all orders were cancelled. According to adverisements from Aug. Lyngby, he could build writing balls with both small and capitol letters, but no such machine is known to exist today...



The view inside the main building of the Art, Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition in Copenhagen, 1888. Photo: The Royal Library, Copenhagen
This is the 1888 model of the writing ball. It was now much lower, and equipped with a paper platen, worked out by the mechanic August Lyngbye, who now was in charge of the development of the writing ball. Photo: Dieter Eberwein
Another picture of August Lyngbye's version of the writing ball. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.
This is a picture of the hemisphere photographed from above. One can see August Lyngbye, Kjøbenhavn, engraved on the largest screw. Photo: Jørgen Malling Christensen.
This is how it looked when the prizes where handed out at the exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888, where Aug. Lyngbye received the first prize medal in silver for the last version of the writing ball. Drawing in "Nordstjernens Aarsrevue" by K. Gamborg
A map showing the exhibition area at the exhibition in Copenhagen in 1888
On a vacation in Lillehammer, Norway, in the summer of 2021, my attention was drawn to a window decoration at the outdoor museum at Maihaugen. It showed a collection of old coines.
To my great surprise, included in the collection was the commemorative coin of the large exhibition in Copenhegen in 1888, where mechanic August Lyngbye was awarded with the first prize for his version of the writing ball.

Winner of honour - looser of the commercial competition

The 1877 model of the "type writer" invented by Sholes and Glidden, and developed further by James Densmore. It was produced by the Remington factory, and is also known as the Remington 1
The writing ball, developed by Malling-Hansen, model from 1878 with a colour ribbon, as displayed in Paris in 1878. Photo: Dieter Eberwein



When comparing the "Type writer" and the "Writing ball", one notices the eyestriking differences between the ways of thinking that lies behind the two inventions. Even though they are both designed to make typed writing, the principles of their functions are miles away from each other.


The Remington 1 is a socalled "upstriker", which means that the letters strike the paper from underneath. The writer can thus not see what he is writing, but has to lift the upper part of the machine to view the writing. The "arm" from the key to the letter is articulated, and to prevent the arms from entangling into each other, Sholes invented the qwerty-keyboard, where the letters that are most frequently used, are placed far away from each other. The writing speed was not a motivation in the placement of the letters on the keys.


The Malling-Hansen writing ball, is based on totally different principles. Compared to the Remington, the pistons are extremely short, and strikes from above, in a radiant angle through the ball and directly on the paper, giving a very stable and punctual writing. It is much smaller, weighing much less, and the whole construction is open, and in principle very simple, but extremely finely crafted. In order to see what he has written, the writer may bend his head and watch underneath the ball. Malling-Hansen arranged the letters on the keys, after a lot of experimenting, in the way that made possiple the fastest writing speed, the most frequently used letter being manipulated by the fastest writing fingers.


In an article in "The Illustrated Paris Universal Exhibition" from 1878, the author compares the Malling-Hansen writing ball and the Remington typewriter like this: " In the year 1875, a quick writing apparatus, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, manufactured by Mr. Remington, was introduced in London. This machine was superior to the Malling-Hansen writing apparatus; but the writing ball in its present form far excels the Remington machine. It secures greater rapidity, and its writing is clearer and more exact than that of the American instrument. The Danish apparatus has more keys, is much less complicated, built with greater precision, more solid, and much smaller and lighter that the Remington, and, moreover, is cheaper."


The patent rights and the right to produce in the Remington name, were soon sold to others, but Densmore's brother developed another, very similar typewriter, The Densmore, which was made in several versions.


Malling-Hansen seems to have more and more lost the interest in working further with his invention. In the 1880's his mind was occupied by his scientific discoveries of the growth of children in periods. The further development of the writing ball was left to the mechanic, August Lyngbye, who designed a new model which was displayed in Copenhagen in 1888.


Maybe Malling-Hansen in his mind felt that he could not win? He had very few supporters - and all by himself had taken care of the production, the advertising and the sale. I have the suspicion that Malling-Hansen at a certain point got worn out - and needed to let his mind go on to other projects. But his daughet, Johanne Agerskov tells that he had great faith in August Lyngbye's model, and before his dead Malling-hansen placed an order for 100 writing balls at his establishment. But after his sudden and tragic death in 1890, the order was cancelled, and no more writing balls were produced.


If the writing ball already at this point was totally outconquered be the American typewriters we really don't know. The first Remington-machine was supposedly sold in 5000 specimens during the years 1873-1877, but many of the numbers from the factories can not be trusted 100%, they often exaggerated to make their machine more attractive. Mure trustable numbers kan be found in other, more reliable sources, and 1560 machines from 1873 until 1882/83 is a more realistic figure.


Oslo 10.12.06

Sverre Avnskog