Zerograph Telegraph Typewriter


1895 - 1918

Kamm's Zerograph Syndicate Ltd.

London, England, UK


Leonard "Leo" Ulrich Kamm (1860 - 1926) is regarded as one of history's better inventors, just not in the realm of typewriters, or even telegraphy, for that matter. Kamm is most celebrated for his contributions to cinema, in particular, for his filmless movie projector, the Kammatograph. With that said, the Zerograph (patent no.572,760), a "printing telegraph," was so far ahead of its time that it deserves significant recognition, too. the Zerograph was a telegraph that could instantly transmit and print actual text. I believe that would make the Zerograph the first telex machine.

Leonard "Leo" Ulrich Kamm
Leo Kamm (Zerograph) Factory

Leo Kamm first applied for a patent in 1895 for his Zerograph, though with a straight keyboard, which was awarded in 1896. Also in 1895, Kamm's Zerograph Syndicate, Ltd., designated as a "typewriter manufacturer" was formed in London. It was to produce and sell "printing telegraphs." Almost as soon as the company was formed, it seemed to be in a perpetual, gypsy-state in constant relocation. At first throughout London; from 1895 to July, 1897 on Old Street. From July, 1897 to September, 1898 on Bridgewater Street. And finally on Powell Street. The company would stay at the Powell Street location until it was dissolved in 1918.

Based on the lack of success of the Zerograph, it is safe to assume that Leo Kamm invested very little effort in its development and marketing. He did, after all, have a separate, more lucrative company for his projector business. On paper, Kamm ran both businesses concurrently from the same Powell Street location.

Kamm's Zerograph Patent
Kamm's Zerograph Ad

The Zerograph was a machine capable of sending and receiving messages, like a telegraph. It had a common keyboard so anyone able to use a typewriter could also, theoretically, operate a Zerograph. Furthermore, the Zerograph could automatically print text without a recipient present. Unlike telegraphs that transmitted dots and dashes, the Zerograph transmitted actual words, at 25 words per minute.

Leo Kamm (Zerograph) Factory
Zerograph Telegraph Typewriter

At a purported cost just higher than a standard typewriter, but without the need to employ specially trained telegraph operators, Zerographs were well within the budgets of most businesses. Reviewers of several credible periodicals stopped short of gushing over it so one would think that these machines were poised for commercial success. They were not. Zerographs were too heavy, big and slow, and Leo Kamm was too immersed in other ventures to further develop it. 

Zerograph Telegraph Typewriter

Though, in 1904, it was written that after some successful tests in a few Post Offices around London, several more Zerographs were being installed in other branches, as well as a few banks with private phone lines. Where, oh where, have all those Zerographs gone?

The secret of how the Zerographs operated was their pendulums. When the pendulum of one machine was actuated and swung back and forth, a synced pendulum of a second Zerograph matched the distance of each swing. It then translated that distance to a corresponding character and typed it up. The pendulums swung a unique distance for each character. Each swing of the pendulum varied in duration for each of the 36 characters but no more than a 1/2 second. After each swing, the pendulum returned to a "zero" position, hence the name Zerograph.

Kamm's Zerograph Patent

There were essentially two models; a Zerograph No.1 and a Zerograph No.2. The No.1 version had a straight keyboard. It was the larger of the two and its size was often cited as its primary hindrance. In 1900 Leo Kamm was awarded a second patent (patent no.643,379) for a revised model. The most obvious difference was the keyboard, now curved. The weight and size were reduced in part by limiting the amount of needed solenoids. The straight keyboard model hasn't yet been found. Of the curved keyboard models found, each seems to have been improved slightly on its predecessor's design.

Leo Kamm with Zerograph
Zerograph Telegraph Typewriter
Zerograph Telegraph Typewriter

Leonard "Leo" Ulrich Kamm, born in Würzburg, Germany. He passed away on September 16, 1926 in London and is buried there at Highgate Cemetery. In 1897, nearly three decades before his departure, Leo Kamm was interviewed by the New Zealand Herald. The following is a rather jaw-dropping and prophetic exchange between Leo Kamm and the interviewer from the very end of the story:


Reporter - "Could the Zerograph be connected to the telephone exchange?"

L. Kamm - "Certainly; the telephone wires will transmit type-written messages as readily as the human voice."

Reporter - "Then I take it that the time is not far distant when every office will be provided with its Zerograph, as well as its telephone; in fact, when the fingers will be more active than the voice in transmitting messages from office to office and from house to house?"

L. Kamm - "That must certainly come sooner or later.

Oil Painting of Leo Kamm
Oil Painting of Leo Kamm & Descendants

In 2012 Leo Kamm's four grandsons donated an oil painting of their grandfather to the University of Exeter.

I would like to thank Laurence Kamm and Stephen Kamm, as well as collector Flavio Mantelli, for their help putting this page together.

Please email me if you happen to have more information on the Zerograp or, better yet, if you have one!

Leonard Ulrich Kamm
Leonard Ulrich Kamm
Leo Kamm