The history of the fax machine goes back over 160 years. Alexander Bain is credited with inventing the first fax machine patented in England in 1843. "Bains Telgraph" was simply two pens attached to pendulums connected by a telegraph wire. The pendulums passed over chemically treated paper and made stains when an electrical charge was sent down the telegraph wire.
The next major advancement in fax technology occurred in 1848 when Frederick Bakewell invented a conducting roller. Revolving drums covered with treated tin-foil were used to transmit and receive recorded images. Amazingly, this technology was widely used into the 1960's.
In 1860 Giovanni Caselli patented a "Pantelegraph" in France which eventually became the first commercial fax machine. A fax service was established between Paris and Lyon and was used from 1865 to 1870. Reportedly the service transmitted over 5000 faxes per year.
American inventor, Professor Elisha Gray founded Gray National Telautograph Company in 1888 which later became Western Electric Company. Gray had patented a process whereby handwriting could be transmitted between distant points over a two-wire circuit. Gray's Telautograph was the first fax machine that used standard stationary paper. Incidentally, two years earlier Elisha Gray lost out to Alexander Graham Bell by three hours for the patent on the telephone.
During 1902, Dr. Arthur Korn from Germany developed a photoelectric process for telephotography which broke down and sent still photographs over telephone lines. From 1907 to 1910 Korn established a major commercial enterprise which linked Berlin, London and Paris thus becoming the world's first facsimile network.
Edouard Beeline from France made the next major contribution to the fax machine in 1913. His "Belinograph" incorporated the use of photoelectric cells that could convert light into electrical transmissions. This technology is still in use today.
The first transatlantic fax services
The 20's and 30's saw the continued advancement and use of the fax machine. In 1922 the first transatlantic fax services were provided by RCA. In 1925 AT&T introduced the wirephoto. RCA followed up with the radiophoto in 1926.
The first major users of fax services were newspapers that transmitted and received photographs from around the world. The next major users were weather services that faxed weather charts around the world. Leading up to World War II, fax services were also used by the military to transmit maps, orders and weather charts.
Fax machines are still in use today
For many years fax machines were expensive, large and difficult to operate. Their use was primarily limited to large business and government. By the 1980's however, fax machines were being designed that were smaller, faster and easier to use. They could just be hooked up to existing telephone lines. The use of fax machines by small to medium enterprises (SME's) increased greatly during this period. It has been estimated that there were approximately 50 thousand fax machines in the USA in 1970. By the end of the 1980's there were over 4 million fax machines in use.
The use of fax machines has greatly impacted the history of the world over the last 160 years. Their use has been credited with the downfall of governments, including Communism in Eastern Europe. To calculate the impact on business locally as well as internationally would be impossible. New innovations in fax technology continue to emerge. Internet or IP fax is rapidly becoming part of our everyday lives at home as well as in business.