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Die schreibende Enigma
Printing Enigma machine · 1924-1926

Die schreibende Enigma (English: the printing Enigma) was an electromechanical cipher machine, developed between 1924 and 1926 by Scherbius & Ritter oHG in Berlin-Wannsee (Germany), as the successor to the so-called Handelsmaschine. It was the second machine to be sold under the Enigma brand and was succeeded in 1929 by the improved Enigma Model H29, or Enigma H.

Unlike Die Handelsmaschine – which featured a rotating print wheel that was unreliable at high speeds – the Schreibende Enigma featured the more common type-bars, which were already used widely in the typewriters or the era. For this reason, the machine is also known under the name Typenhebelmaschine (type bar machine).

The rare photograph shown on the right, shows the large and heavy machine, mounted onto a metal base that houses the electromechanical parts that drive cipher mechanism and cause a letter to be printed on the paper. Many of the parts, such as the keyboard, the type-bars, the ink ribbon and the carriage, had probably been 'borrowed' from an existing electric typewriter.

The keyboard consists of 60 keys, divided over 6 rows, plus a space bar with a special SHIFT-key at either side. The leftmost one is used to switch to figures, whilst the rightmost returns to letters. Pressing either one automatically inserts a space.
Top view of 'Die schreibende Enigma'. Photo courtesy FRA [1].

The coding wheels had only 26 contacts, so only the letters A-Z were included in the ciphertext message. A clever system for switching between alphabets was used, such as the one described in German patent DE425566 of 28 February 1924. In the patent, inventor Paul Bernstein describes a system to use the letters 'J' and 'Q' for switching to numbers and back to letters. In the output, the 'J' is replaced by an 'I' and the 'Q' is replaced by a 'K', so that the text is still comprehensible.

The machine is very similar to a standard type­writer, but has a large extention on the right. The message key can be entered with the knobs on the right side of the machine. The current settings, consisting of 4 letters and 5 numbers, can be read from a window at the front of the large extension. The actual coding parts are mostly hidden behind the machine's front cover.

The image on the right shows the machine with its front cover removed, so that the four cipher wheels are clearly visible. Both photographs were found in the archives of the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) in 2009 [1].
Schreibende Enigma on supporting table, seen from the front. Photo courtesy FRA [1].

Development of the machine was started in late 1923, with a projected introduction sometime during 1924. Although several prototypes were made, the design met various production and reliability problems, and it was not before 1926 that the printing mechanism was reliable enough for release. It is currently unknown how many units were produced, but given their high price of RM 8000, it seems likely that only a modest quantity was ever made. In 1929, the machine was succeeded by the Enigma Model H29 (designator Ch.14) — the last printing Enigma machine.

In the meantime, a smaller and much more affordable machine had been introduced in 1924. Known as the Glühlampenmaschine (glowlamp machine) it used light bulbs for its output and was easier to handle as it was a reciprocal system. The first machine of this type was the Enigma A, soon followed by Enigma B and Enigma C. It was the beginning of a long line of cipher machines that ended with the Enigma IM4 that were used by the German Armed Forces during WWII.

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CONFUSION — Over the years, the general understanding of the model names and designators of the various Enigma machines, has changed several times. For a long time, it was assumed that the machine described on this page — i.e. Die schreibende Enigma — was known as the Enigma B, but from archived documents it has meanwhile become clear that Enigma B was one of the first lamp-based Enigmas (Glühlampenmaschine) [2]. It seems likely that the first two printing Enigma machines did not have a single-letter model name.
Help required
At present, no further information about Die schreibende Enigma is available. If you have any information that is not already on this page, please contact us. We would also like to know whether any samples of this model have survived, so that they can be researched further.

  1. Försvarets Radioanstalt (FRA), Photographs of Die schreibende Enigma
    Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment. Received September 2009.
    Photographs reproduced here by kind permission of the FRA.

  2. Frode Weierud, Forthcoming Enigma History publication
    Personal correspondence. September 2009 — January 2019.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Sunday 13 September 2009. Last changed: Monday, 14 September 2020 - 21:57 CET.
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