The Fax Is Older Than You May Suspect

When you talk to older co-workers you will almost always reminisce about the fax machine. Love them or hate them they were a part of our office life well into the first half of the 2000s.

It was during one of these conversations that a colleague and I began to discuse the history of the fax machine and its use 11 years before the invention of the telephone by Giovanni Caselli.

Scottish inventor Alexander Bain worked on chemical mechanical fax type devices and in 1846 was able to reproduce graphic signs in laboratory experiments. He received British patent 9745 on May 27, 1843 for his “Electric Printing Telegraph.” Frederick Bakewell made several improvements on Bain’s design and demonstrated a telefax machine. The Pantelegraph was invented by the Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli. He introduced the first commercial telefax service between Paris and Lyon in 1865, some 11 years before the invention of the telephone.

In 1880, English inventor Shelford Bidwell constructed the scanning phototelegraph that was the first telefax machine to scan any two-dimensional original, not requiring manual plotting or drawing. Around 1900, German physicist Arthur Korn invented the Bildtelegraph, widespread in continental Europe especially, since a widely noticed transmission of a wanted-person photograph from Paris to London in 1908, used until the wider distribution of the radiofax. Its main competitors were the Bélinographe by Édouard Belin first, then since the 1930s the Hellschreiber, invented in 1929 by German inventor Rudolf Hell, a pioneer in mechanical image scanning and transmission.

The 1888 invention of the telautograph by Elisha Grey marked a further development in fax technology, allowing users to send signatures over long distances, thus allowing the verification of identification or ownership over long distances.

On May 19, 1924, scientists of the AT&T Corporation “by a new process of transmitting pictures by electricity” sent 15 photographs by telephone from Cleveland to New York City, such photos suitable for newspaper reproduction. Previously, photographs had been sent over the radio using this process.

The Western Union “Deskfax” fax machine, announced in 1948, was a compact machine that fit comfortably on a desktop, using special spark printer paper.

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