Today I am celebrating the birthday of Rasmus Malling-Hansen who was born in Lolland, Denmark in 1835. He was an inventor and also Principal at the National Institute for the Deaf. There are three things I like about him. Firstly, he did a lot to improve the lives of institutionalised deaf children. The children worked hard for long hours in cramped conditions and mortality rates were high. He recognised their need for recreation and also gave them the opportunity to work outside in the open air. Secondly, because he was also concerned for their physical development, he began to weigh and measure the children. It turned into quite a project. Sometimes he weighed and measured them several times a day. He even built a massive set of scales so he could weigh up to ten of them at once. Through this slightly obsessive project, he discovered that growing children do not gain height or weight steadily but grow taller in the spring and summer but gain weight in the autumn winter. It was a phenomenon unknown to science at the time. He also began to study the growth of trees and found the same principal applied there too. He didn’t figure out what caused it, but guessed it was something to do with the variations in heat from the sun.
The other thing he did that I really like was invent a very beautiful typewriter. The Hansen Writing Ball was the first commercially produced typewriter. He invented it in 1865 and patented it in 1870. It was made from a large brass hemisphere with fifty-two keys and looks a little like a pincushion. He experimented with the placement of the letters to find out which arrangement would be the most efficient. Each key was also attached to a small piston which meant people could type pretty quickly with it. There were several different models that employed different methods of moving the paper around underneath the typing ball. I like his 1875 model best. It has a semi cylindrical frame which holds the sheet of paper. Very elegant. Compared with Remington’s desk typewriter, it was also reasonably portable. It was expensive to produce though and never really took off. It’s a shame because it’s a really lovely looking machine. In 1878 he patented a very high speed writing machine for stenographers which he called the Takygraf. It seems to have worked on a similar principle. We know he must have made at least one because there is a photograph of it, but no one knows what became of it.