December 19, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Rudolph Hell

 Ever heard of Hell? I hadn't, either, but he is considered by some to be one of the most important German inventors of all time!

Rudolph Hell, who was born in Eggmuhl, Germany, on this date in 1901, invented the Photoelectric Image Scanning Tube (TV camera tube), the Klischograph half-tone photo-engraver (which revolutionized printed press technology), the first practical fax machine, a color scanner, and a computerized type-setter. Plus more!

Hell has several nicknames: he has been called the Edison of the Graphics Industry, the Father of Digital Word Processing, and Engineer of the Century.

His Hellschreiber is still used by amateur radio (Ham) operators around the world.

Fax = Facsimile

A fax machine takes all the information from one piece of paper—text, photos, drawings—and sends it digitally over a phone line to be printed (by another fax machine) on another piece of paper. Perhaps one half a world away!

The word fax comes from shortening “facsimile machine,” which is what we used to call the thing a million years ago when it was first invented. Once the name was shortened, it became insanely popular.

I don't know why we in America called the machine a “facsimile machine” in the first place—it isn't as if a French or Italian man invented the first practical version of the thing! But...maybe it's just as well. If we ran around calling the machines Hellschreibers and then shortened that name—well, it would seem very odd to ask, “Do you have a Hell machine?” or “Can I have your Hell number? I'll Hell you the contract immediately.”

(In German, hell means light, bright, pale, or light-colored.)

Even in German, the machines are called der Fax, and the process of using such a machine is termed faxen. Many more recent words and words for newer technologies are the same around the world. For example, the word for fax IS fax, not just in German, but also in languages as varied as Hebrew, Spanish, and Japanese; it is the very simliar faks in Afrikaans and faksi in Swahili.

To learn how a fax machine works, check out eHow

Also on this date:

It's still time for Las Posadas!

Anniversary of Samuel Clemens's first patent

By the way, if you want to read the opinion of Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) on the language of today's birthday boy, check out The Awful German Language.” 

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