Fax Machines

When was the ball point pen invented? What about paper clips, or fax machines? Vic Hollefruend, our Retail Furniture Manager, is on the case, researching and compiling everything you would want to know about who, where, why, when, and how of office supplies. We are pleased to present Vic’s History of Office Stuff.

Ancient Technology

The use of the fax machine to transmit images via telephone lines did not become common in American businesses until the late 1980s, but the technology dates back to the nineteenth century. The earliest facsimile (from the Latin fac simile, “make alike”) device was invented in 1843 by Scotsman Alexander Bain. A clockmaker by trade, he used clock parts to synchronize the movement of a transmitter and a receiver for line-by-line “scanning” of messages and images. While Bain’s lab experiments were promising, Englishman Frederick Bakewell beat him to the patent office with his “image telegraph,” and Bain’s machine never took off.

Early_fax_machineIn 1862, the Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli built a machine he called a “Pantelegraph” (implying a hybrid of pantograph and telegraph), which was based on Bain’s invention but also included a synchronizing apparatus. His Pantelegraph was used by the French Post & Telegraph agency between Paris and Marseilles from 1856 to 1870.

Electric Drawing

To use Caselli’s machine, the fax sender wrote a message or drew an image on a sheet of tin in non-conductive ink. The sheet was then placed on a plate where a transmitting stylus, in a circuit with it, scanned across it in a series of parallel passes. On the receiving end, another stylus, connected by telegraph lines, moved in synchronicity across a chemically-treated piece of paper. As it scanned, the transmitter would conduct an electrical signal when the stylus ran over the blank parts of the tin sheet and cut the current when the stylus hit the ink. The spatial pattern of the original message, translated into the starts and stops of the current, went over the wire to the synced receiver, and the chemical paper changed color where the current went through. The result: a perfect copy of the original.

At a demonstration in Paris, the pantelegraph wowed not only the French scientific community, but also Emperor Napoleon III, who gave Caselli access to state-owned telegraph lines for long-distance transmission experiments; and in Russia, Emperor Nicholas I used it on the telegraph line between his palaces in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Same Concept, Many Names

Elisha Gray (1835-1901), American inventor, born in Barnesville, Ohio invented and patented many electrical devices, including a facsimile transmission system. He also organized a company that later became the Western Electric Company.

In 1902, Arthur Korn (1870-1945) in Germany invented telephotography, a means for manually breaking down and transmitting still photographs by means of electrical wires. In 1907, Korn sent the first inter-city fax when he transmitted a photograph from Munich to Berlin.

In 1925, Edouard Belin (1876-1963) in France constructed the “Belinograph”. His invention involved placing an image on a cylinder and scanning it with a powerful light beam that had a photoelectric cell which could convert light, or the absence of light, into transmittable electrical impulses. The Belinograph process used the basic principle upon which all subsequent facsimile transmission machines would be based. In 1934, the Associated Press introduced the first system for routinely transmitting “wire photos,” and 30 years later, in 1964, the Xerox Corporation introduced Long Distance Xerography (LDX).

Modern Fax

For many years, facsimile machines remained cumbersome, expensive and difficult to operate, but in 1966 Xerox introduced the Magnafax Telecopier, a smaller, 46-pound facsimile machine that was easier to use and could be connected to any telephone line. Using this machine, a letter-sized document took about six minutes to transmit. The process was slow, but it represented a major technological step.

In the late 1970s, Japanese companies entered the market. As you know, they seem to have a knack for improving and downsizing; and soon a new generation of faster, smaller and more efficient fax machines became available. Society has never been the same!!

Thought I’d give you all the “fax”!!!

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