display | more...

Danish minister, administrator and inventor. Born 1835, died 1890.

In 1859, shortly after graduation from the teacher's seminary, Malling Hansen was employed at Det Kongelige Døvstummeinstitut ("The Royal Institute for the Deaf and Mute"), in Copenhagen. In 1865, he completed the "theological examination" (teologisk embedseksamen = a Master's degree in theology), and was later that same year appointed head of and minister to the institute.

For decades, Malling Hansen promoted extensive pedagogical and organisational reforms in the deaf-mute system in Denmark. In 1881, at his suggestion, a second institute was set up in Fredericia. In 1889, he authored the commission report on deaf-mute affairs in Denmark that led to the government taking over the hitherto-private De Kellerske Døvstummeanstalter, consolidating all deaf-mute institutions in Denmark under the government aegis.

Throughout his lifetime, Malling Hansen was also involved in other innovative projects, although all were related to his everyday work with the deaf. In 1867, he came up with the idea for the world's first true typewriter1, the "typing ball" (Danish: skrivekugle), to which he was granted a patent in 1870. The typing ball was produced in many different versions, across the world. In 1872, a version of the typing ball, called the tachygraph, made especially for telegraphy, was presented by Malling Hansen. The typing ball, for all its charm2, was soon surpassed by the American Remington typewriter (1873).

Also in 1872, Malling Hansen unveiled his new invention, xerography (or dry copying), which utilised a form of mechanical duplicator using carbon paper and rollers.

During the 1880s, Malling Hansen published a series of seminal discoveries about the growth and development of children, based on detailed measurements of diet, height and weight of pupils at the Deaf-Mute Institute. It turned out that there were regular periods in the growth of children, "growth spurts". Previously, it had been believed that children grew at a steady pace.

This discovery led Malling Hansen to study the growth of trees, and a number of other physical relationships all over the world - from which he concluded that all life grows in intermittent, regular bursts. Presented at the International Medical Congress in 1884, and in a book (Perioder i Børns Vækst og Solens Varme, "Periods in Children's Growth and the Sun's Heat", 1886), his research brought international acclaim.


1 "Typewriters" using Braille-like scripts for the blind had been around since the 1830s, but Malling Hansen was the first to think of using the system to produce regular printed text.

2 Not that everyone would agree on this "charm": Friedrich Nietzsche owned a typing ball, a Christmas present from his mother and sister. The device, which Nietzsche didn't really like to use - and which, consequently, is in very good condition even today - is on exhibit in Nietzsche's final home, in Weimar, Germany.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.