Paul Eisler

Paul Eisler


Paul Eisler (b. 1907 – d. 26 October 1992, London) was an Austrian inventor born in Vienna. Among his innovations relevant to the screenprinting industry were the printed circuit board and the rear window defroster.

Eisler graduated in engineering from the Vienna University of Technology in 1930. Being Jewish, antisemitic German-Nationalist organizations prevented him from getting an engineering job in Vienna, so he obtained employment with the English recording technology firm (Gramophone Company, EMI from March 1931) operating under its His Master’s Voice brand in Belgrade.  His task was to eliminate radio interference on the music broadcast system on trains running from Belgrade to Niś. The project was a technical success but a financial failure because the Serbian railroad could only pay HMV by barter in grain, not pounds sterling, due to a foreign exchange crisis. As a result, he had to return to Vienna.

He was still prevented from working as an engineer. Still, he found work as a journalist and printer, first at Randfunk (which developed a low-cost method of tabulating a radio program guide at the printer) and eventually landing at a social-democratic publisher, Vorwärts. His experience in printing proved crucial later. However, after the 1934 putsch by Austrian fascists and due to the social-democratic nature of Vorwärts, it was shut down.  Working independently, he patented some ideas from his doctorate at the university (on graphical sound recording and stereoscopic television). He leveraged them to obtain a visa to visit England to offer the patents to companies there in 1936.


Paul Eisler with the first radio set using a printed circuit chassis and aerial coil. (Photo: Maurice Hubert, Multitech UK)

Living in a Hampstead boarding house, without work or a work permit, he began to fabricate a radio using a printed circuit board while trying to sell some of his ideas. Around this time, Odeon1 hired him to work on their cinema technology. One of the common problems there was coping with theatergoers who spilled foods such as ice cream on the seats. Eisler devised a yellow fabric to cover affected furniture for the next theatergoer’s benefit and flag it for removal and cleaning at the next opportunity.

Though he was able to help several members of his family escape Austria, he was subject to internment by the British as an enemy alien after the onset of World War II. After being released in 1941 and a short spell in the Pioneer Corps, he was able to engage Henderson and Spalding, a lithography company in Camberwell run by Harold Vezey-Strong, to invest in his printed circuit idea via a specially created subsidiary of Henderson and Spalding called Technograph but forfeited rights to his invention when he neglected to read the contract before signing it. It was a pretty standard employment contract in that he agreed to submit any patent right during his employment for a nominal fee (one pound sterling). Still, it also gave him 16.5 percent ownership of Technograph. It drew no interest until the United States incorporated the technology into work on the proximity fuze vital to counter the German V-1 flying bomb. However, he did obtain his first three printed circuit patents for a wide range of applications. They were split from a single application submitted in 1943 and finally published after lengthy legal procedures on 21 June 1950.

After the war ended, the United States opened access to Eisler’s printed circuit innovation, and since 1948, it has been used in all airborne instrument electronics. Few companies acknowledged or licensed Technograph’s patents, and the company had financial difficulties. He resigned from Technograph in 1957. Among his projects as a freelancer were films to heat “floor and wall coverings” and food. The wallpaper idea was viable, but interest waned after the advent of less expensive energy resources with the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea.

Eisler invented many other practical applications of heating technology, such as the pizza warmer and rear window defroster, but was not so successful in their commercialization.

In 1963, Technograph lost a lawsuit against Bendix over most of the claims in the US versions of patents.

The French government awarded him the Pour le Mérite. The Institute of Electrical Engineers awarded him the Nuffield Silver medal. In 2012, Printed Circuit Design & Fab Magazine named its Hall of Fame after Eisler.

1. Odeon is a cinema brand name that has been operating in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Norway since 1928. UCI Cinemas and Nordic Cinema Group is part of the Odeon Cinemas Group subsidiary of AMC Theatres. It uses the famous name of the Odeon cinema circuit, first introduced in Great Britain in 1930.