The history of the QSL card: then and now

QSL cards are almost as old as amateur radio itself. Before the QSL card, radio amateurs still used letters to transmit information, especially about the reception quality of their transmissions and the geographic spread of a transmitted signal. But as this became more and more costly, the QSL card soon developed.
Today, QSL cards are used as proof of radio communications, to apply for amateur radio diplomas, and are popular collectibles.

The beginning of the QSL card

In the early days of amateur radio, radio amateurs sent a handwritten letter to their contact after a successful radio connection. All relevant information and observations were noted in this letter. In the process, abbreviations from commercial telegraphy operations were already adopted. As amateur radio grew in popularity, multiple daily radio communications also became more common. Writing long letters, with all the details about the connection, therefore became more laborious and time-consuming, and the letters became more and more formal.
Soon, instead of letters, people began to send postcards with the essential data. In 1916, the first confirmed radio signal was detected by means of a postcard in the USA. The idea of the postcard quickly found favor and was further elaborated. Normal postcards became special cards, with the callsign, address and other fillable fields – the QSL cards. Since then, QSL cards have become an indispensable part of amateur radio.

Examples of old QSL cards

Who invented the QSL card?

According to many sources, as well as the official obituary of the British Amateur Radio Association RSGB, William Edward Frederick Corsham, had the first QSL card printed in January 1922. Corsham was a member of the Amateur Radio Research Association (ARRA) and the British Wireless Relay League (BWRL) and a jack-of-all-trades in radio operations.
Already during his military service he dealt with almost all radio and tube transmitters and receivers of the military.

But also Don A. Hoffmann from Akron (Ohio) had used the first preprint of a QSL card already in 1919. On his future QSL cards, he referred to himself as the founder of the “QSL hype.”
In addition, when amateur radio was reauthorized after the war, many radio amateurs adopted Hoffmann’s suggestion of “How to Design a QSL Card.” This proposal appeared as a letter to the editor in QST, a U.S. amateur radio magazine, in late 1919.

Examples of QSL cards in retro design

Digital QSL cards (eQSL)

With technological progress and increasing use of the Internet, there are now also new opportunities in the field of amateur radio.
In 1998, eQSL was created, a digital system that completely eliminates the need for QSL cards in their traditional paper form and provides the ability to exchange QSO confirmations in digital form. In the process, the data of the radio connections are recorded and compared in a database. However, the spectrum of amateur radio diplomas and the information required for their acquisition can hardly be covered by the software and the assistance of the users is necessary for data maintenance.

Although QSL cards in electronic form offer a few advantages, there is no substitute for the nostalgic value of a printed QSL card filled out by hand and the anticipation of receiving it.

Until today, QSL cards serve as formal confirmation of a successful radio communication or are required when applying for amateur radio diplomas… but sometimes also to beautify the walls.

Examples of modern QSL cards

Order QSL cards online now

Choose from one of our many QSL card templates and order online or design your cards completely yourself with our intuitive QSL card designer.