Rudolf Hell (1901 – 2002): Electronic engraving, typesetting and color scanning

Rudolf Hell: December 19, 1901 – March 11, 2002
Rudolf Hell: Dec 19, 1901 – Mar 11, 2002

During the twentieth century, printing technology made a major transition from mechanical and photomechanical to analog electronic and digital systems. The process took decades and by the 1990s all the technology of graphic arts production was impacted: design, text and image acquisition, typesetting, prepress, printing, binding and finishing. The result of this innovation was a dramatic improvement in the speed, quality, variety and complexity of printed material.

It is remarkable how the pace of electronic advancement—beginning with Marconi’s December 1901 wireless trans-Atlantic radio broadcast—accelerated throughout the century and influenced every industry and occupation. There were many important theoreticians, scientists and engineers that participated in this progression. A few of the most familiar names from the early 1900s are Planck (quantum theory,) Fleming (diode) and Einstein (relativity).

Rudolf Hell, whose life spanned the entire twentieth century, was an outstanding representative of the generation of engineers who participated in the electronics revolution. Particularly after World War II, Hell was responsible for many critical inventions related to the image reproduction aspects of printing. The truth is that Rudolf Hell is such an important figure and his inventions are so numerous—he is credited with more than 130 patents—that it is only possible to focus here on the most significant of his achievements.

Early years

Rudolf Hell was born on December 19, 1901 in Eggmühl, Germany, about 70 miles northeast of Munich. Rudolf’s father Karl Hell was the train stationmaster for the Royal Bavarian Railway at Eggmühl. The family lived in the romantic style station building and it was here that Rudolf had early exposure to the telegraph.

Young Rudolf Hell
The young Rudolf Hell

Rudolf’s mother was the daughter of a brewery owner and he would later describe her as “vivacious.” It seems that Rudolf inherited his entrepreneurialism from his mother since his father was very much “a proper official” and “quite relaxed and Bavarian in character.” When Rudolf was six years old, his father relocated the family to the town of Eger—now a border town in the Czech Republic—to become the stationmaster of an Austro-Hungarian freight station, an important transfer point to the Saxon and Bohemian railway lines. Rudolf attended school for twelve years in Eger.

While in high school at the Rudolphinum Oberrealschule, Hell earned high marks in math and science. He would later explain, “I was always the best in physics, and in mathematics too. I was mediocre in languages, and poor in the subjects that required me to study a lot.” Just before age eighteen, Rudolf enrolled in the Technical University at Munich (THM) to study electrical engineering.

In 1923, he received a masters degree from THM in electrical engineering at the age of 22. He then became Assistant to Professor Max Dieckmann, a specialist in wireless telegraphy at the university. While continuing his studies, Hell worked with Dieckmann on innovations in radio direction finding and television technology.

Germany is home to the invention of the CRT (cathode ray tube) and the oscilloscope by Karl Ferdinand Braun in 1897. This device is the foundation of the first functioning television systems that were invented more or less simultaneously by Takayanagi (Japan), Farnsworth (US) and Zworykin (USSR and US) in the mid-1920s. For many people, the idea of transmitting moving pictures through a wireless medium was a fantasy. Such was the case with Dieckmann’s superiors at THM who forced the professor to rename his course in “wireless television” to something less provocative.

Professor Max Dieckmann
Professor Max Dieckmann

This did not stop Rudolf Hell. In 1925, he filed a patent along with Dieckmann for a photoelectric scanning tube that was basically a primitive television camera. The concept behind this device—the “image dissector tube”—was that images or scenes could be broken up into small picture elements and transmitted to a receiver for viewing. In that same year, Hell and Dieckmann presented a complete radio-based television system at the Transport Exposition in Munich that included a reception station.

Rudolf Hell’s “image dissection,” transmission and reassembly of picture elements (pixels) is at the heart of his remarkable career. To understand the significance of the accomplishment, it is useful to put it into a modern day perspective. In 1925, Hell’s “image dissector tube” was understood by a handful of engineers and physicists; today, the concept and its practical application are familiar to billions of people all over the world in the form of “megapixel” cameras in their mobile phones.

In 1927, Hell received a Ph.D. for his dissertation on “direct-indicating radio direction finder for aviation.” Far ahead of its time, this system enabled pilots to navigate their flights in poor visibility conditions by homing in on a radio beacon. While initially ridiculed by “experts” because “no one flies in the fog anyway and when the weather is clear you don’t need it,” Hell’s invention became the technical basis of all automatic guidance systems and aircraft autopilot technologies. Rudolf Hell received the present-day equivalent of $750,000 from firms in Germany and the US for the license to use his invention in their aviation equipment.

Hell-Schreiber (precursor to the fax)

The young Rudolf had always said he did not want to remain in academia as an “ivory tower scientist.” He ended his time as Assistant to Max Dieckmann, took the money he had earned and founded his own business called Dr.-Ing. Rudolph Hell Company in May 1929 in Neubabelsberg near Berlin. It was here that Hell began work on a project that would bring him significant worldwide recognition.

1933 Siemens Model Hell-Schreiber and a diagram from Hell’s 1929 patent
1933 Siemens Model Hell-Schreiber and a diagram from Hell’s 1929 patent

On his 1929 patent application, Hell called his new invention a “device for electrically transmitting written characters” and it was later renamed the Hell-Schreiber. The device—in which originals were broken into dots and electronically transmitted, received and reassembled—later became the basis of the fax machine. Rudolf sold the patent for his invention to Siemens for the equivalent of $500,000 and he used the money to invest in his business.

At 28-years-old and married, Hell hired about a dozen employees to work in his company machine shop, design office, laboratory and business office located in a house that he bought in Berlin-Dahlem. In 1931, Hell expanded the production operations of his company to accommodate the growth and influence of the Hell-Schreiber. By 1934 the device was being used by news agencies across the globe including the major German agencies, Reuters and TASS.

When World War II started, news organizations and governments alike used the Hell-Schreiber because it was not susceptible to transmission disturbances that were frequent during wartime. By the end of the war, Hell had sold more than 50,000 units and expanded the offerings of his company to include radio position-finding equipment, radio compasses and encryption devices.

As a businessman who refused to leave Germany during the war, Rudolf Hell chose to maintain his company and its two factories and 1,000 employees throughout the conflict. In the end, the bombing of Berlin between 1940 and 1945 resulted in the partial destruction of the Hell manufacturing facilities and the business was lost.

Post-war printing technologies

Rudolf Hell declined an offer to relocate his enterprise in Britain after the war and instead elected rebuild in the city of Kiel in the north of Germany. Beginning in 1947, Hell started on a path that would lead to important contributions to electronic graphic arts technology.

The reestablishment of The Dr.-Ing. Rudolf Hell Company in Kiel was difficult since resources, materials and tools were in limited supply. Hell’s first post-war contract was with Siemens and he worked on several projects including a fax machine with a spinning drum and a flatbed scanner/printer. These projects were way ahead of their time—Japanese companies such as Canon successful developed and marketed these technologies 20 years later—and Siemens decided abandoned them.

Rudolf Hell’s previous discoveries and accomplishments in image dissection led him in the 1950s to explore electronic systems for the graphic arts that would replace the previous generation of mechanical and photomechanical methods. The following are the most important of Hell’s inventions in this field:

  • The original design of the KlischographKlischograph (1951): Hell first tested this device that scanned originals and converted them electronically into an engraved printing block. The Klischograph, which was released commercially to the newspaper industry in 1954, dramatically reduced the production time required to make halftone plates by combining three stages of production—film processing, screening and etching—into one operation.
  • DigiSet Model T50 and the type character conceptDigiset (1956): In the early 1950s, Hell developed a technology called Digiset. Different from the technology of other phototypesetting equipment of the era—where complete characters are projected onto photographic material from a negative—the Digiset built each characters from digital elements and projected them onto a CRT and then this image was projected onto photosensitive material. With this system, Rudolf Hell invented the first “bitmap” fonts that would become standard technology in desktop publishing three decades later. The system was launched commercially in 1965.
  • The original design of the flatbed ColorgraphColorgraph (1956): By the late 1950s technology firms were locked in an international race to invent an electronic scanning system that could produce process color separations. Rudolf Hell was well positioned to compete. He put significant resources into the development of a flatbed scanning system that could convert an original photographic transparency or print into fully color corrected separations all in one step. Hell launched the Colorgraph system commercially in 1958.
  • The original design of the Helio-KlischographHelio-Klischograph (1961): In October 1959, Hell was approached by a representative of a major German publishing company and asked to devise an electronic system for automated engraving of gravure cylinders. By 1960, Hell had developed a prototype system on a lathe that employed the Klischograph engraving head. Hell’s solution—that enabled mass production of gravure cylinders for illustration, decorative and packaging printing—was debuted at DRUPA in 1962. The Helio-Klischograph system replaced approximately ten separate manual steps in gravure cylinder preparation and is still in use today.
  • The original design of the ChromagraphChromagraph (1963): Throughout the 1960s, Hell perfected the successful scanning and cylinder technologies of the Klischograph and Colorgraph. Striving for the most advanced drum scanning technology of the era, Hell was in a rivalry with John Crosfield of London for the first system to market. By 1967, Rudolf Hell had filed a patent application for his daylight drum scanning technology and the Chromograph DC300 system was brought to market in 1970. Hell drum scanning technology became the standard for high quality color reproduction in the printing industry for the next three decades and some of these systems remain in use to this day.

These inventions taken as a whole represent a stage in the transition of print technology from the mechanical to the digital age. Later referred to as “proprietary” systems, the self-contained computerized solutions of Rudolf Hell—and others like Crosfield, Scitex and Linotype—in the 1950s, 60s and 70s were the precursors to the desktop publishing revolution of the mid-1980s.

Rudolf Hell, who is sometimes called the Thomas Edison of the graphic arts industry, continued to develop these early electronic technologies —along with others like the electronic page composition system called ChromaCom—right up to the 50th anniversary of his company in 1979.

Rudolph Hell retired from the management of his company but remained active as chairman of the board in 1972. In 1981, he sold the business to Siemens and became honorary chairman of the supervisory board. He officially retired in 1989 and the firm was sold again to Linotype creating the Linotype-Hell Company. The assets of Linotype-Hell were acquired by Heidelberg in 1996 and the technologies pioneered by Rudolf Hell were incorporated into the Heidelberg prepress and press systems.

Hell was the recipient of numerous accolades and honors during his lifetime including the Gutenberg Award (1977), Werner-von-Siemens Ring in recognition of achievements in the natural sciences and technology (1978) and Honorary Citizen of Kiel (1979) and a Kiel city street was named after him (2001).  Rudolf Hell died in Kiel on March 11, 2002 at 100 years old.

Herb Lubalin: 1918 – 1981

Avant Garde NameplateIn 1978, when I was a senior in high school, my art teacher gave me some graphic design magazines. Knowing I loved art and design, he told me “Hold on to these. They will be worth something one day.” What he gave me was a nearly complete set of Avant Garde, an innovative arts and culture magazine published between January 1968 and July 1971.

At the time, I could not have understood the significance of these magazines or what they were all about. So, I browsed through them a couple of times and then stuck them in a box. And there they sat for 35 years until a few months ago when I dug them out started looking through them again.

Avant Garde Number 7If you know something about the social and cultural climate in America during 1968-71, you can probably figure out what the magazine was about. For example, issue number 7 from March 1969 had a front cover photograph that is a parody of Archibald Willard’s famous patriotic painting “The Spirit of ’76”; Carl Fischer’s version of the image includes a white woman and a black man as two of the three Minutemen from the American Revolution.

You will have to look up Avant Garde magazine on the Internet for yourself to learn more about its editorial perspective. Suffice it to say that Ralph Ginzburg was the editor and Avant Garde “was extremely popular in certain circles, including New York’s advertising and editorial art directors.”

Most importantly, however, Avant Garde was a breakthrough publication creatively; during its four years of existence, it was the cutting edge of graphic design, especially typography. This is not hard to believe when you learn that the magazine’s art director was Herb Lubalin, one of the most important American graphic and type designers of the 1960s and 1970s.

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Herb Lubalin in his studio in 1975
Herb Lubalin in his studio in 1975

Herbert F. Lubalin was born in New York City on March 17, 1918. As a high school student he did not show a particular interest in the graphic arts, although he liked to draw. He entered art school at Cooper Union at the age of 17 where his interest in typography was nurtured.

Herb graduated in 1939 and first worked as a freelance designer and typographer. It has been reported that he was fired from a position at a display company after he requested a two-dollar raise on his weekly eight-dollar salary.

Soon thereafter, and for the next twenty-five years, Lubalin worked as an art director for advertising agencies. The New York City firms he worked for included Deutsch & Shea, Fairchild Publications, Reiss Advertising and Sudler & Hennessey. During these years, Lubalin established himself as a genius of what would be later called “typographics” or “expressive typography,” i.e. words and letters as imagery with verbal and conceptual twists.

This was achieved through a meticulous creative approach to advertisements, trademarks and logos, posters, magazines and packaging design. In 1952, Herb won a New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal as creative director at Sudler & Hennessey, the first of hundreds of awards he would receive during his career.

After leaving Sudler in 1964, he established his own graphic design consultancy called Herb Lubalin, Inc. This was the first of multiple businesses and subsidiaries that Lubalin would found in both the US and Europe over the next two decades. In 1970, along with Aaron Burns and Edward Ronthaler, Lubalin created the International Typeface Corporation (ITC), one of the world’s first type foundries that had no history in hot metal type design.

Lubalin Smith Carnase
Lubalin established a partnership with Ernie Smith and Tom Carnase in 1967

Herb Lubalin achieved worldwide success as an art director and graphic designer during the “Mad Men” era (of the popular AMC TV series) of advertising. Lubalin became identified with graphic clarity and simplicity embodied in the following statement he made some years later, “Typography is a servant—the servant of thought and language to which it gives visible existence.”

In terms of the technology of type, this was the age of phototypesetting. The replacement of hot type with cold type meant that a new library of modern fonts could be developed. It also meant that type forms could be manipulated in ways that were extremely difficult, if not impossible, with the metal casting.

Although Lubalin’s ITC took up the task of preserving and reviving old classic faces such as ITC Bookman and ITC Garamond, the foundry also specialized in modern sans serif fonts such as ITC Franklin, ITC American Typewriter, ITC Kabel and ITC Bauhaus among many others.

ITC Fonts by Herb Lubalin and Others
Some of the fonts developed by Herb Lubalin and others at ITC in the 1960s and 1970s

Herb Lubalin’s relationship with Ralph Ginzburg—who was convicted in 1963 for violating US obscenity laws—was noteworthy. The two worked together on three of groundbreaking magazines: Eros (1962), Fact: (January 1964–August 1967) and the aforementioned Avant Garde.

Avant Garde magazine proved to be most significant for Lubalin, specifically for his design of the publication nameplate. The Avant Garde moniker became so popular that Lubalin, his partner Tom Carnase and the type designer Edward Benguiat developed an entire font set from it. What became the Avant Garde Gothic type design included a series of ligatures (combinations of two letters into one type element), an innovative development for a sans serif font.

Officially launched by ITC in 1970, Avant Garde Gothic became one of the most popular typefaces of the era. Although it came under criticism and was eschewed by the post-modernist graphic design community for its structural and grid-like consistency, Avant Garde Gothic was eventually included in the set of 35 base fonts on the Adobe PostScript print engine that was launched in the 1980s. For this reason, Avant Garde Gothic continues to be one of the most popular and often used alternatives to Helvetica.

Lubalin LogosHerb Lubalin designed some of the most memorable and lasting images of expressive typography that have ever been created. His publication nameplate for “Mother & Child,” logo for L’eggs and logo for the World Trade Center are part of iconic graphic design history.

Herb Lubalin had a near legendary reluctance to talk with anyone, especially the media and trade publications, about his work and some interpreted his reserved character as a lack of intellectual acumen. However, Lubalin was a very sharp advocate of his approach to his craft and he was not averse to sharing his knowledge with those who wanted to learn, particularly students.

The first edition of U&lc, 1973
The first edition of U&lc, 1973

In 1973, Lubalin launched, became editor and art director of International Typeface Corporation’s quarterly in-house publication called U&lc (Upper and lower case). The journal became an instant force in the industry and rapidly built up a subscription circulation of 170,000 readers. It was in U&lc that some of Lubalin’s conceptions about graphic and type design can be studied and learned about.

The following statement—published in the introduction to Graphis Annual 65/66—shows that Herb Lubalin possessed a sharp, critical and iconoclastic attitude to the industry that he devoted his life to, “Advertising in the U.S.A. is a fairly stupid business. We have made it that way by underestimating the intelligence of the American people. The bulk of our output is devised to appeal to the sub-teen-age mentality of that great big consuming monster that we have created. Who’s responsible? Those of us that put absolute faith in antiquated, ineffective, stereotyped, outmoded, unreliable, unbelievable, valueless research methods such as copy testing. …  If recent statistics are any indication of the value of copy-testing, we would all be advised to spend our research money researching successful art-directors and copy-writers, knowledgeable creative people who have made their reputations not by fancy words and pretty designs, but by creating intelligent advertising that appeals to a surprisingly intelligent audience (the American people).”

Beginning in 1972, Lubalin began teaching graphic design at Cornell University and starting in 1976 he taught a course at Cooper Union where he remained until his death on May 24, 1981 at New York University Hospital.

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I recently searched for copies of Avant Garde magazine on eBay and found that my high school art teacher was right about how they would be worth something. Although a full set of 14 editions is only going for several hundred dollars, I’m glad I still have my copies of an important piece of modern graphic and type design history.

Eduard Hoffmann: 1892 – 1980

Eduard Hoffmann
Eduard Hoffmann

It is a fact of typographic history that the font Helvetica exists today because of Hamburgers … but not the food “Hamburgers.” Eduard Hoffmann, the creator of the ubiquitous typeface, knew the word “Hamburgers” contained the complete range of character attributes in the alphabet; he knew that from this one word the quality of a typeface design could be evaluated, that the features of its anatomy could be examined.

And so, early on in the design of the precursor to Helvetica—called Neue Haas Grotesk—Eduard Hoffmann of the Swiss-based Haas Type Foundry wrote to his designer and confident Max Miedinger, “But our first priority is the word ‘Hamburgers.’ It is the universal type founders’ word that contains all the varieties of letters.”

Helvetica is probably the most successful typeface in all of history. It is everywhere, all the time and there are reasons for this: Helvetica is neutral and easy to read; its different weights and styles effectively embody almost any meaning or message. Helvetica is plain but it is also modern and timeless.

Helvetica came about when typography and printing technology were moving from the metal casting, mechanical and letterpress era to the electronic phototypesetting, word processing, laser imaging and computer age. It rode atop this transformation and became the first truly international typeface. By the mid-1960s, Helvetica emerged as a global standard for public signage, corporate identity and communications.

Sampling of Helvetica Logos
A sampling of corporate identities that use Helvetica.

Regardless of one’s personal opinion of the esthetics and usefulness of Helvetica today, its creation and development—the people who developed it and how they developed it—is one of the most important accomplishments of twentieth century graphic arts.

Eduard Hoffmann was born on May 26, 1892 in Zurich, Switzerland. As a student, he studied technology and engineering in Zurich, Berlin and Munich with a specific interest in aviation. In 1917, the 25-year-old Hoffmann took a position under the direction of his uncle Max Krayer at Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas Type Foundry) in Münchenstein, Switzerland and made a commitment to the profession of typography. In 1937, Eduard became co-manager of the company with Krayer, and after his uncle’s death in 1944, became sole manager where he remained until his retirement in 1965.

As early as 1950, Hoffmann made a decision to introduce a new sans serif typeface into the Swiss market that could compete with those coming from the other European countries. The origins of san serif typefaces date back to the late eighteenth century where it was used with an embossing technique to enable the blind to read. The first fully developed sans serif (also known as grotesque or grotesk) made its appearance in Germany around 1825 and a French type founder first used the term sans serif (without decorative extensions) in 1830.

The sans serif types that Hoffmann wanted to compete with originally became popular and successful in the late nineteenth century. This was true of Akzidenz Grotesk of the Berlin-based H. Berthold AG type foundry, for example, which was originally designed in 1896. But there were neo-grotesk faces that had since entered the market, Bauer’s Folio and Frutiger’s Univers for example, that threatened to eclipse Hoffmann’s venture.

In 1956, as grotesk font use was surging in Europe, Hoffmann thought the timing was right to attempt a specifically Swiss variety. He contacted Max Miedinger, who had been a salesman and type designer at the Haas Type Foundry for the previous ten years, and wrote “he was the only man to design a new typeface for Haas.”

Max Miedinger
Max Miedinger

Miedinger’s role in the process was decisive and many credit him more than Hoffmann for the creation of Helvetica. It is true that Miedinger made the original hand-drawn letters of the alphabet. But the esthetic component was only one side of the value that Miedinger brought to Haas. It was his in-depth knowledge and relationship with the customers of the type foundry that made Miedinger indispensible to the success of Neue Haas Grotesk and later Helvetica.

Miedinger had access to some of the most brilliant Swiss graphic artists as well as advertising representatives from major Swiss corporations—the chemical firm J.R. Geigy AG among them—and through a painstaking and collaborative development process headed up by Hoffmann, Neue Haas Grotesk took shape.

Throughout 1957 and 1958, the two men collaborated back and forth, fine-tuning each character. The record of the exchange between Hoffmann and Miedinger has been preserved and can be followed in detail in the book, Story of a Typeface: Helvetica forever. The book includes photographic reproductions of the letters the men wrote to each other as well as Hoffmann’s project notebook.

Eduard Hoffmanns Helvetica Notebook
A page from Eduard Hoffmann’s Helvetica notebook dated November 27, 1957.

Hoffmann knew that designing a great typeface was not only about the beauty and logical construction of each individual character, even though this was an important aspect. Each character had to fit together with all the other characters in the various combinations that make letters into words. There was also the technical question of how the typeface would look at different sizes and once it was printed with ink on paper.

As Hoffmann explained in 1957, “praxis has shown that a new typeface cannot be correctly and objectively evaluated until it is in printed form. But even then, it is quite curious to find that a letter might be very satisfactory in a word, while seemingly quite out of place in another context. This makes it necessary to consider its design anew, which usually leads to unavoidable compromises.”

Once they were satisfied with the basic letterforms and had designed enough weights and sizes—at that time, the Haas Type Foundry was punch cutting, engraving and typecasting by hand thousands upon thousands of individual characters in metal—the men took their product to market. With the help of some well-designed promotional brochures and an initial buzz at the Graphic 57 trade fair in Lausanne, Neue Haas Grotesk became a hit. By 1959, about ten percent of the printers in Switzerland were carrying it.

Haas Type Foundry Engraving
The engraving room at the Haas Type Foundry. Lintoype ceased the type casting operations at Haas in 1989.

The Haas Type Foundry was majority-owned by the German firm D. Stempel AG. In turn, Stempel was in a contract with the multinational Linotype Corporation for the production of machine manufactured metal type forms. In order to expand the appeal of Hoffmann and Miedinger’s typeface and to bring it to the world of mass production typography, especially in the US, Linotype’s marketing department pushed for Neue Haas Grotesk to be renamed.

Linotype initially suggested that it simply be named Helvetia (Latin for Switzerland). Hoffmann felt that, although it was distinctly a Swiss product, the typeface could not have the exact same name as the country. He came up with Helvetica, which means “The Swiss Typeface,” and all involved accepted the new name developed by its creator.

Into the 1960s, Helvetica gained spectacular popularity and was adopted as the “in-house typeface” of various international corporations, many of which still use it to this day. Commentary on the significance and social driving force behind the success of Helvetica has often referred to post-war economic expansion. There was a thirst in the 1950s within the creative community for visual clues that conveyed optimism about the future. Designers wanted an excessively modern look that helped to put the bad memories of the first half the twentieth century far behind. For many, Helvetica accomplished this goal.

In 1971, Eduard established a foundation with the aim of creating a museum dedicated to the printing industry. In 1980, in the former Gallician paper mill on the Rhine, the museum opened with Hoffmann’s collection of papers on the history of the Haas Type Foundry as one of its main attractions. Eduard Hoffmann died in Basel, Switzerland on September 17, 1980.