Just the Fax

By: Gerard J. Holzmann

True or False: The Fax Machine

is a relatively recent invention that depends on telephone lines for its transmission?
Answer: False.

Alexander Graham Bell filed his famous patent on the telephone on February 14, 1876, more than 122 years ago.

But; the first patent on a working fax machine had already been filed and granted before Bell was even born! It went to the Scottish clock maker and inventor in the year 1843.

Bainís method for sending a facsimile image cleverly exploited the transmission of electrical signals over telegraph wires. The telegraph was a relatively new device in Bain;s day but was rapidly gaining in popularity. Both amateur and professional inventors were trying their utmost to find a new way to use it, just as today both amateur and professional technophiles are striving to come up with new ways to use the Internet

The principle behind Bainís faxing process was quite simple.

The sending machine used a detector to scan an image or text line by line, point by point. As the detector swept over the page left to right, it emitted an electrical signal, which registered at one strength as it passed through the imageís black points (ink) and at another as it passed through the imageís white points (absence of ink) The two distinct signals traveled over the telegraph wire to the receiver, which applied them to chemically treated paper. As the signals passed through the paper they left behind the black and white dots that had defined the original images. Remember the smelly fax paper from the 1970's?

(It was all Bainís fault.)

Bainís biggest problem was figuring out how to synchronize the detector and the receiver so they would begin and end the scan lines at the same point.

He solved it by constructing the sending and the receiving machines as large metronomes----using one pendulum to control the swing of the scanning detector at the sender and another pendulum to hold the recording device at the receiver.

The pendulums had to be synchronized once, at the start of a session, but would then reliably stay in sync without requiring further adjustment.

The Italian Giovanni Caselli built a huge version of Bainís fax machine in 1856, which he called a pantelegraph (All- purpose telegraph) Casselliís machine was used in November, 1860 to send the first long-distance facsimile between two citiesóa message that traveled the 70 miles from Paris to Amiens. The device employed synchronized pendulums stretching about eight feet highónot quite a desk-top device yet.

But, by the 1920's facsimile transmission had become sufficiently precise to allow photographs to be transmitted between New York and London for use in newspapers, though the process still took several hours per photo.

Fax machines as we know them (desk-top) did not become popular until the late 1970's. Indeed, it took the fax machine a long time to become an overnight success.

Source: Tech, Inc.
1998, No. 3 (Page 148)

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