History of the Fax Machine

Alexander Bain received the first patent for a fax machine in 1843

fax machine

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Faxing is by definition a method of encoding data, transmitting it over a ​telephone line or radio broadcast, and receiving a hard copy of the text, line drawings, or photographs at a remote location.

The technology for fax machines was invented a long time. However, fax machines did not become popular with consumers until the 1980s.

Alexander Bain

The first fax machine was invented by Scottish mechanic and inventor Alexander Bain. In 1843, Alexander Bain received a British patent for “improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces and in electric printing and signal telegraphs”, in laymen's terms a fax machine.

Several years earlier, Samuel Morse had invented the first successful telegraph machine and the fax machine closely evolved from the technology of the telegraph.

The earlier telegraph machine sent Morse code (dots and dashes) over telegraph wires that was decoded into a text message at a remote location.

More About Alexander Bain

Bain was a Scottish philosopher and educationalist in the British school of empiricism and a prominent and innovative figure in the fields of psychology, linguistics, logic, moral philosophy and education reform. He founded Mind, the first ever journal of psychology and analytical philosophy, and was the leading figure in establishing and applying the scientific method to psychology. Bain was the inaugural Regius Chair in Logic and Professor of Logic at the University of Aberdeen, where he also held Professorships in Moral Philosophy and English Literature and was twice elected Lord Rector.

How Did Alexander Bain's Machine Work?

Alexander Bain's fax machine transmitter scanned a flat metal surface using a stylus mounted on a pendulum. The stylus picked up images from the metal surface. An amateur clockmaker, Alexander Bain combined parts from clock mechanisms together with telegraph machines to invent his fax machine.

Fax Machine History

Many inventors after Alexander Bain, worked hard on inventing and improving fax machine type devices. Here is a brief timeline:

  • In 1850, a London inventor named F. C. Blakewell received a patent what he called a "copying telegraph".
  • In 1860, a fax machine called the Pantelegraph sent the first fax between Paris and Lyon. The Pantelegraph was invented ​by Giovanni Caselli.
  • In 1895, Ernest Hummel a watchmaker from St. Paul, Minnesota invented his competing device called the Telediagraph.
  • In 1902, Dr. Arthur Korn invented an improved and practical fax, the photoelectric system.
  • In 1914, Edouard Belin established the concept of the remote fax for photo and news reporting.
  • In 1924, the telephotography machine (a type of fax machine) was used to send political convention photos long distance for newspaper publication. It was developed by the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) worked to improve telephone fax technology.
  • By 1926, RCA invented the Radiophoto that faxed by using radio broadcasting technology.
  • In 1947, Alexander Muirhead invented a successful fax machine.
  • On March 4, 1955, the first radio fax transmission was sent across the continent.
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Bellis, Mary. "History of the Fax Machine." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/history-of-the-fax-machine-1991379. Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). History of the Fax Machine. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-fax-machine-1991379 Bellis, Mary. "History of the Fax Machine." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-fax-machine-1991379 (accessed March 24, 2023).