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Fax Machine Patented
Alexander Bain (1811–1877), Giovanni Caselli (1815–1891)
“Before the telephone, before radio, there was the fax machine. It wasn’t the fax machine of the 1990s — the machine that transmitted information over ordinary phone lines — but rather a machine comprising of a pair of synchronized pendulums connected to each other over distance by an electrified wire.
Alexander Bain was a Scottish clockmaker with an interest in both electricity and invention. In 1843, he built an “electric printing telegraph” that used a pair of precisely timed pendulums, one configured to function like a scanner, the other to function as a remote printer. A message scanned by the first pendulum would print out at the second.
The scanning pendulum had an arm that moved back and forth across a metal plate holding raised metal printers type. After each swing, the plate advanced in the perpendicular direction. Thus, the arm scanned a path of parallel horizontal lines across the type. When a small contact on the arm swept over part of a letter, a circuit would be completed and an electric current would flow down the wire to the remote system, where the synchronized pendulum was scanning horizontal lines over a piece of chemically treated paper. When electricity flowed, the paper under the second pendulum would change color.
Although Bain’s system worked, he ended up in disputes with both Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875) and Samuel Morse (1791–1872). Bain died in poverty in 1877.
Italian inventor Giovanni Caselli improved on Bain’s basic idea with a more compact device called a pantelegraph, which transmitted a message written with insulating ink on a metal plate over a set of wires. Commercial operation of the pantelegraph began in 1865 between Paris and Lyon, mostly to verify signatures on banking instructions.
The discovery that the element selenium was also a photoconductor meant that its electrical resistance changed with light, making it possible to send photographic images. This was put to use in 1907 with a “wanted” poster that was sent from Paris to London help catch a jewel thief. Soon newspapers were routinely printing photos that had been sent by wire. In 1920, the Bartlane cable picture transmission system routinely sent digitized newspaper photographs from London to New York, taking three hours to transmit each photograph.”
SEE ALSO First Digital Image (1957)
Alexander Bain’s “electric printing telegraph” paved the way for later fax machines, such as this 1960 machine by Alexander Muirhead.”