Monske & Co GmbH
Protona was a German manufacturer of Minifon miniature wire and tape recorders.
The company initially started as Monske & Co GmbH but the activities
were taken over in 1952 by the newly founded Protona GmbH.
Over the years, the company changed hands several times, and Minifon products
were sold under different names, including Telefunken,
Minifon recorders were sold from 1951 to 1967.
Minifon recorders described on this website:
The world is in shock, when in 1951 the first miniature wire recorder,
the Mi-51 is introduced on the Industriemesse
(Industry Fair) in Hannover (Germany)
For days on end, newspapers and magazines report about this unbelievable
piece of modern engineering. At that moment, the Mi-51 is the worlds
smallest recording device. It runs on batteries and uses a wire to
record over 2 hours of sound.
It would soon become a popular device in the USA.
Initially, the recorder is intended for inconspicious recording of
German electro-mechanical engineer Willi Draheim starts development
back in 1948. Shortly afterwards, he meets Nikolaus Monske,
a Hannover business man, who has the desire to covertly record
business conversations. Monske is irritated by the fact that after a
verbal agreement, his words are always twisted afterwards.
Draheim thinks that his invention could be the solution to that problem,
and together they set out to start a business.
With private money from Monske and help from his WWII Luftwaffe
colleague Ernst Genning,
Draheim establishes a workshop with a laboratory in Faßberg.
After aprrox. two years, the first recorder is ready for production,
and patents are registered in 20 countries.
To allow series production of the recorders, Monske, with help from his
brother and some external investers, on 14 September 1951 establishes
the company Monske & Co. Without help from banks or the government.
One of the first customers, an American company, orders 120,000 machines
and is prepared to pay US$ 50,000 up front. By the end of 1951, Monske
& Co has about 70 highly skilled employees on the payroll and a few
months later, this number has increased to 180.
Because of the world-wide growing interest in dictating machines,
they begin to target the machines at that market as well.
At the 1952 Industry Fair they can be found in the hall with Business
Machines, rather than the hall with Electrical Machines.
In 1952, the company gets into financial trouble because of technical
problems and supply problems in the USA. Many employees are sacked and
even a financial injection of DM 500,000 by competitor Intona GmbH
can't turn the tide.
After negotiations with BRAUN and other potential buyers have failed,
the company is left no other choice than to go into receivership.
At that point, German electronics giant Telefunken gets interested.
The minifon would fit-in perfectly with their existing product range.
It could be combined with Telefunken Microphones
and the recently aqcuired AEG Recorder Division.
They miss the opportunity however, as the newly founded company
Protona GmbH takes over the Minifon activities.
Protona is founded by Liechtenstein business man Reinhold Stach,
and some financial partners.
Stack is also one of the shareholders of competitor Intona.
His unorthodox and firm control will leave its impressions on
the company in the years to come.
Nearly all fired employees are brought back on the payroll and between
1952 and 1955 several 10,000s Mi-51 units are produced. Although this
may seem like a high volume, it isn't nearly enough to fulfil all orders.
The production capacity never reaches its full potential.
The majority of machines that come off the production linew,
are sold to the USA and the United Kingdom.
In April 1955, the Mi-51 is succeeded by the all-new
P-55. It is presented to a selected audience, just a
day before the opening of the 1955 Hannover Messe (Hannover Fair).
The recorder is received very well, despite the fact that it is still
wire-based, whilst the industry is moving towards the use
of magnetic tape.
The reason for this is simple. The P-55 can record for more than
2.5 hours on a single wire and battery (later models even 5 hours).
No tape device can do that.
In the following years, many P-55 units are built and newer models
are introduced. In 1958, one of the shareholders gets involved in
a schandal, but the company manages to escape another bankrupcy.
The Minifon is extremely popular in the English-speaking world.
In England it is sold by EMI.
In the US, Protona is initially represented by GEISS, but from 1961 onwards,
Minifon is sold in the US under the ITT brand, for a price of US$ 330.50.
In 1958, Protona moves away from the use of minature valves, when their
first all-transistor recorder is developed:
the Minifon Liliput.
It measures only 13.6 x 8.7 x 4.3 cm and is the smallest recording
device in the world at that moment. Like the previous machines, it
is still wire-based.
Liliput is a beautiful machine, but their are problems as well.
The battery, especially designed for this unit, isn't nearly powerful
enough to enable the full advertised recording capacity of 4 hours.
Only a few Minifon Liliputs have survived the years and it seems likely
that they were only produced in small quantities.
A good description of this model can be found in Ronald Schellin's
excellent book Spion in der Tasche
Although Protona engineers keep believing in the strength of wire-based
recording, they also see the need for tape-based systems.
After a few years of development, they finally succeed, and in 1959,
the Minifon Ataché is introduced.
It is one of the first recorders in the world to use a tape cartridge.
This cartridge would be the basis for a whole range of tape-based
devices, such as the Minifon HiFi (for music recording),
the Minifon Office (desktop dictating machine) and the
In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, Protona introduces a recorder
that is developed especially for the espionage business:
the Minifon Special.
Although all newer Minifon devices use magnetic tape, the Minifon Special
is wire-based again, because of its capability to make long uninterrupted recordings. It came in two models: S (standard) and L (long-play).
The L-version allows recoring of 5 hours without replacing
the battery of the wire spool, whilst the S-version had a 2.5 hour limit.
The size of the Minifon Special is just 10 x 17 x 4 cm, making it the ideal
companion for body-worn covert recordings. Including batteries and wire
spools, it weights approx. 800 g.
It will become a popular recorder with the various intelligences services
around the world, despite its relatively high price of DM 985.
It will be one of the last wire-based recorders in mass-production.
Early in 1962, Protona runs into trouble again.
Due to a variety of technical problems with the
Minifon Office, the inability to deliver machines
in time and the increasing stocks, Protona is rapidly losing money.
On top of that, Protona loses its 'motor' when owner Reinhold Stach
dies after a brief but serious illness in February 1962.
In August 1962, the company is bought by Telefunken.
Production of all Minifon models - including the wire recorders -
continues, with the exception of the Minifon Office.
The Minifon Office is cancelled, but in 1963 it is reborn when
a completely redesigned Minifon Office is introduced. It is sold
under the Telefunken brand and looks different from the rest of
the Minifon series.
Even under Telefunken control, the tide can't be turned.
Each year there are fewer orders and each year the stocks, and hence
the costs, increase, until once day all interest in Minifon and
its technology seems to be lost completely.
Finally, in 1967, the curtain falls for Protona GmbH and its Minifon.
From 1967 to 1978, Minifon repairs are handled by the newly established
company Fechner-Schulte. After that, until 1985, Minifon units are
repaired by former Protona employee Herbert Scheibner.
Since then, Minifon has become a highly wanted collectors item.
One of the most important reasons for their downfall is probably the
introduction of the Compact Cassette by Philips in 1964.
It revolutionized the market for portable recording devices and
became the world-wide standard for tape cartridges.
Minifon inventor, Willi Draheim did not take any part in this.
He had already left the company in 1952, after he sold his invention
to Nikolaus Monske for DM 5000.
He went to work for Engineering Company Bölkow in Stuttgard (Germany)
where he designed the first all-transistor tape recorder the Tel-Tape.
Over 50,000 Tel-Tape units were sold for the extremely low price of
DM 89.50 (against DM 680 for the Minifon Mi-51).
The Tel-Tape was based on Willi Draheim's latest invention, known as the
Butterfly Patent. In later years, many hundreds of thousands of Japanese
tape recorders would be based on this drive mechanism.
Index of Minifon recorders
- Protona Watch/Microphone
- Minifon Holster
- Minifon Tape Cartridges
- Table Speaker
- Minifon KW - Transmitter and Receiver
- Minifon REX - Pocket Radio
- Combi Minifon RC
- Roland Schellin, Spion in der Tasche
Detailed history of Protona and the Minifon recorders
ISBN: 3-936012-00-8 (German)
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