Single-tone analogue telegraphy
The Hellschreiber was a telegraphy device
for transmitting and receiving
text-based messages via telephone lines or radio, invented in 1929
by Rudolf Hell in Kiel (Germany).
The system works by scanning each character line-by-line
from a pre-defined shape, and transmitting it as an on/off audio signal (tone).
The system is also known as Typenbildfernschreiber (typeface teleprinter).
At the receiving end, the image is reconstructed by pushing a paper
strip against an inked helix spindle in the rhythm of the on/off signal.
As it is basically a non-synchronized system, the rotation
speed of the receiver's helix spindle has to match the scanning speed
of the transmitter.
If the speed does not match, the line of text will be sloped and appears to
be 'running off the paper'. The spindle therefore has a double helix,
which causes each character to be printed twice. This guarantees that
the text remains readable, even if the receiver's speed is somewhat off.
The main advantage of this system is that the text can be transmitted
over noisy narrow band radio channels without loosing its readability.
Radio noise and interference from other signals, will be visible as random
dots in the character image, but generally speaking, the human brain will
be able to determine the actual text.
This makes the Hellschreiber far more fault-tolerant than a
5-bit digital telegraphy system (telex).
Although strickly speaking the Hellschreiber is neither a
nor a facsimile device (fax), we have listed it under
telex as it is used
for the transmission of text-based messages. Like a teleprinter,
it is a telegraphy system that is used for sending telegrams, but
rather than using the
of a character, it scans the
character shape from a cylinder, much like a fax machine does.
Is some ways, the Hellschreiber can be seen as a forerunner of the 1956 fax. 1
Below, some aspects of the Hellschreiber are highlighted.
For further information, please visit the website of
which is a far more complete repository of information and backgrounds
on the Hellschreiber, and contains many examples, photographs and further links.
Not many people know that Hell also made
to learn more about this.
➤ More about Rudolf Hell
The fax or facsimile was also invented by
Rudolf Hell (1956).
The basic operating principle of the Hell transmission system is
very simple. When typing on the keyboard, the image of the character
that is entered, is scanned from a rotating cylinder. This image is
then sent by means of a simple ON/OFF signal, where ON indicates the
presence of a dot or pixel. The ON signal can be sent over telephone
lines or via radio channels as an audio tone.
At the receiving end, the audio tone is used to drive a solenoid
that presses a moving strip of paper against a rotating inked
helix. By transferring the ink from the rotating helix to the paper,
the image is rebuilt. In principle, this is a non-synchronized
system, which means that the motor speed of the receiver has to
match that of the transmitter.
There are also synchronous variants.
- Presse Hell
First version of the Hellschreiber, also known as F-HELL.
Uses a 14 x 7 pixel font 1 that is transmitted at 245 baud (5 cps).
Initially current keyed, but later converted to 1000 Hz tone-keyed
Army variant of the Hellschreiber, made by Siemens & Halske
for the German Army. Uses the same 14 x 7 pixel font 1 as Presse Hell,
but transmitted at the half the speed: 122.5 baud (2.5 cps).
The information is tone-keyed at 900 Hz.
Asynchronous version of the Hell system that uses a start bit
before each 14 x 7 pixel character. Transmits at 300 baud
(6.1 cps), using a single tone (1000 or 3000 Hz depending on the model).
The last version of the Hellschreibers used asynchronous
Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) with 1625 Hz (white) and 1925 Hz (black) tones,
plus an additional tone (1260 Hz) for line signalling.
It uses a different 9 x 7 pixel font and
transmitted at 315 baud (5 cps).
Post-war East-German asynchronous variant with start/stop signalling
and a transmission speed of 225 baud (4 cps).
Like with the Feldhellschreiber, the information is single tone-keyed
at 900 Hz. Each character is defined in a 7 x 7 pixel grid.
Non-synchronized HELL used a font with a raster of 14 x 7, but as
each character is printed twice (i.e the spindle has a double helix)
the raster is effectively 7 x 7, or 49 pixels.
The initial version of the Hellschreiber was used by press agencies
world-wide for sending news items around the world via telephone lines
as well as via radio (HF and VLF frequencies). It is therefore also known
as Press Hell or Presse Hellschreiber. It was introduced immediately after
its invention in 1929 and was used well into the 1990s, when it was replaced
by digital technology.
Presse-Hell is a quasi-synchronized system that transmits characters,
defined in a 14 x 7 pixel raster, at 245 baud or 5 characters per second (cps).
The intial version was current keyed and was suitable for use over land lines
only. The system was later changed to tone-keying, using 1000 Hz to indicate
the presence of a dot. Presse Hell devices were made by
The Feldhellschreiber is arguably the most well-known and widely spread
variant of the Hellschreiber. The format was first introduced on the
Siemens & Halske
A2 Feldfernschreiber (field teleprinter),
of which more than 30,000 units were built for the German Army.
Feld-Hell uses the same 14 x 7 pixel character set as the
Presse Hell, but transmits them at half the speed: 122.5 baud
or 2.5 cps. Like Press-Hell it is single-tone keyed, but uses 900 Hz
instead of 1000 Hz.
Feldhellschreibers were usually grey, but the image on the right shows
a rather rare green variant that was made in 1936 especially for the
Czech Army. It was restored in 2013 and is now fully operational again.
➤ More information
Following WWII and the separation of East-Germany from West-Germany,
the DDR developed its own variant of the Hellschreiber in 1954/55,
using knowledge and parts that were left behind in East-Germany.
As it was strickly forbidden in the DDR to use Wehrmacht nomenclature,
the machine was designated ATF; the abbreviation of Abtastferschreiber
The ATF was an asynchronous system, similar to GL-Hell, and was based on
the Siemens T typ 58 Feldfernschreiber that was used by the German Army
during WWII (Wehrmacht). It used single-tone (900 Hz) ON/OFF communication
with start/stop signals at 225 baud (4 cps).
ATF was intially developed for the Kasernierte Volkspolizei (KVP)
and entered service in 1954. In 1956 it was also introduced at the
Nationale Volksarmee (NVA), the National People's Army of the DDR.
All ATF systems were phased out in the late 1950s probably for reasons of
➤ More information
Although the HELL-principle was patented by Rudolf Hell, and the HELL
company produced its own telegraph systems, the principle was used by
a wide variety of other manufacturers. The following manufacturers
are known to have used the HELL-principle :
- EMA (Meilen, Switzerland)
- FIAT - Fabbrica Italiana Apparati per Teledomunicazioni (not the car manufactuer)
- GPO - General Post Office (UK)
- LMT - Le Matériel Téléphonique
- PTW - Post- und Telegraphen Werkstätte (Salsburg, Austria)
- RFT (ATF Schreiber)
- Siemens & Halske
- Teletype (Model 17)
- Toho Denki KK
- US Signals Corps (RC-58-B, BC-908/BC-918-B)
- Gretag (ETK 14-bit teleprinter)
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Wednesday 29 June 2016. Last changed: Saturday, 09 July 2016 - 10:40 CET.