Surprisingly, the origin of the process today
called faxing—sending a document and receiving a facsimile of it
via telephone lines or radio waves—is 160 years old.
At that time the technology used was the telegraph, but the
underlying principle was the same.
In 1843, Alexander Bain, a Scottish mechanic and amateur
clockmaker, was awarded a British patent for a Recording
consisted of a pendulum-mounted stylus to sense dark patches on a
metal sheet, transmit that data electronically, and another
pendulum-mounted stylus to reproduce the patches on chemically
treated paper when the electric impulses were received.
The first fax machine to send written or
drawn images was invented by Frederick Bakewell, an English
physicist, and demonstrated at the 1851 World’s Fair in London.
He replaced Bain’s pendulums with rotating cylinders, but
problems with synchronization resulted in poor-quality images. In 1861, Giovanni Caselli, an Italian physicist, patented the
first commercially successful fax machine, the Pantelegraph.
His innovation was to separate the synchronized timers from
the telegraphic current, which made the timers far more accurate.
Caselli operated a fax service between Paris and other
French cities from 1865 until it closed with the onset of the
Franco-Prussian War in 1870.
Afterwards, the invention fell into disuse.
In its August 18, 1888 issue, Harper’s
that Elisha Gray, who in 1876
narrowly lost the telephone patent race to Alexander Graham Bell,
had invented a machine called the Telautograph, which would
transmit “messages long distance in fac-simile handwriting of
the sender.” It was
the first apparatus to reproduce transmitted data on stationary
paper (instead of paper on rotating cylinders).
In 1888, Gray sold his patent rights to a group that
incorporated as the Gray Telautograph Company.
The Telautograph drew large crowds when it was demonstrated
at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
The next year, George Tiffany produced a faster model
Telautograph called the Eureka.
That improved fax machine gained fame in 1895 when the Chicago
News-Record received handwriting samples from delegates to the
Ohio State Republican Convention in Cleveland, 431 miles away.
A feature story
in the July 1, 1905 issue of Harper’s
Weekly on “Electricity at Home and in Business” included a
description and photograph of the Telautograph. (See the introduction
of the article.)
In 1895, Ernest Hummel of Minnesota had
invented the Telediagraph, which transmitted pictures over
telegraph lines. By
1899, the machine was used in the offices of the New York
Herald, Chicago Times-Herald, St. Louis Republic,
Boston Herald, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It took 20-30 minutes to scan and receive a picture.
In 1902, the first photoelectric fax machine
was invented by Dr. Arthur Korn, a German, and by 1910, its system
linked Berlin, Paris, and London via telephone lines. In 1922, Dr. Korn became the first person to
transmit an image via radio waves.
The picture, a photograph of Pope Pius XI sent from Rome to
the state of Maine, was published the same day in the New York
World. In 1941,
the fax machine was used to send orders, maps, and weather charts
during World War II. In
1985, GammaLink manufactured the first computer fax board, and two
years later Canon marketed the first plain-paper fax machine.
In 1995, color faxes were introduced.