Pioneers of Printing: Fritz Karl Preikschat, Inventor of the Dot Matrix Teletypewriter

The dot matrix printer exists longer than the PC: It has already celebrated its 50th birthday. Despite all the succeeding printing technologies it is still alive and appreciated highly among certain users. Here are some insights into its inventor’s career.

Fritz Karl Preikschat was born on September 11, 1910 in Prussia, Germany. In 1934, he finished his school and university education with a degree in electrical engineering from Hindenburg Polytechnic in Oldenburg. Soon after his graduation from university, he got caught in the vicissitudes of World War II. But even when the war was over, he remained a pawn in the hands of the global powers. In 1946, he was forcibly brought to the Soviet Union, where he contributed to the country’s rocket und satellite programmes. After his release in 1952, he returned to Berlin. Soon after his arrival he met an American military policeman who put him into a safe house. Preikschat spent two months in there, getting debriefed by the U.S. Air Force on the Soviet Union’s rocket programme before he was finally reunited with his wife and children in September 1952.

Inventive Mind Endured Until Old Age

However, the turmoil of war did not impair his engineering ambitions. From 1952 until 1954, Fritz Karl Preikschat submitted five patents for his invention of a teleprinter with seven print wires for a 7×5 dot matrix. In 1956, his employer, the Telefonbau und Normalzeit GmbH (TuN) offered the device to the German Federal Post Office, which showed no interest.

In 1957, Fritz Karl Preikschat emigrated to the US and continued his career as an engineer in the aerospace sector. Several further inventions paved his way, including a blind-landing system for airports, a phased array system for satellites, a new moisture meter, a hybrid car system and a particle-size analyzer. At the age of 83, Fritz Karl Preikschat died in Kirkland, Washington.

Dull Start of the Dot Matrix Teletypewriter

It was not before 1968 that the dot matrix printer started its career as a commercial product, produced by the Japanese company OKI, which named the device OKI Wiredot. But despite the rapid developments in the printing industry in the following years, the dot matrix printer is still alive.

Of course, its printed image is not as delicate as the ones that laser or ink jet printers produce today. This is due to the concept of the dot matrix teletypewriter which is based on a print head containing 24 needles. Depending on the structure of the content to be printed these needles shoot out of their holders onto the ribbon and thus produce the desired image. This looks a bit rougher than the printouts of modern printers.

Technologically Valuable Heritage

The advantage of the anachronistic seeming device is the following: Only dot matrix printers actually use “pressure” and can thereby fill multi-ply paper with content to the very last sheet. Therefore, dot matrix printers are still in use in the medical, commercial and regulatory sectors. In 2013, OKI even received the title “Technologically Valuable Heritage” for the dot matrix printer.