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RingCentral Team
October 21, 2009

History of the Fax Machine

Faxing has become one of those technologies that you can’t do without.

Do you ever have those moments in life when you wonder how people survived in the past without a certain technology? I often ask my mother how she grew up on the Texas coast without air conditioning and she always says “we didn’t know any better”.

Every time I send a fax online, I wonder the same thing. The introduction of the fax to the mainstream business world started a worldwide shift in how we do business. Things didn’t halt for a few days waiting on the client to get the contract and then have it sent back. It set up the current ideology that we can have things now rather than later.

If you needed to get a document to someone in the past, you would have to hire a courier or package delivery service especially if it needed to get there overnight. This involved putting the document together, calling the courier, giving it to them only to have them put it on a plane (or delivery truck), hope and pray that something bad doesn’t happen and then have the document handed to the person it was meant for.

If you lived close, this was a fairly quick process, but what if you wanted to get a document from Miami to Seattle in the late-1950s? Very rarely would it happen overnight unless you sent one of your employees to Seattle and even that might be pushing it.

3407786186_1d4427bb79_mLuckily, the fax machine has changed all of that. Many think that it was invented in the 1980s and they will be surprised to find out that fax technology was actually created in 1843 by a little known Scotsman named Alexander Bain. The telegraph machine had been created by Samuel Morse in 1835 and Mr. Bain used that technology to help evolve his idea of “improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces and in electric printing and signal telegraphs”.

While the telegraph machine sent dots and dashes across the world, Alexander Bain’s machine used a stylus mounted on a pendulum that would scan a flat metal surface containing images.

This was a breakthrough in communications during a time when new inventions seemed to happen every day. Since that time, the fax machine was improved upon by several different inventors.

  • 1850 – F.C. Blakewell invented the Copying Telegraph.
  • 1860 – The first fax was sent between Paris and Lyon using a Pantelegraph, invented by Giovanni Caselli.
  • 1895 – A watchmaker from America named Ernest Hummel invented the Telediagraph.
  • 1902 – Dr. Arthur Korn took a big leap when he invented the Photoelectric System.
  • 1914 – Edouard Belin realized the benefits of using remote fax for journalism.
  • 1924 – Politicians got involved and started using the Telephotography Machine to send political convention photographs to newspapers. AT&T developed the machine.
  • 1926 – RCA created the Radiophoto which faxed documents using radiowaves.
  • 1947 – The very first successful fax machine as we know it was invented by Alexander Muirhead.
  • 1955 – First radio fax transmission was sent to the other side of the continent.

In the past 5-10 years, the biggest improvement has been online fax machine technology. It helps to save on paper costs and can be lightning fast. It also allows the receiver to file the fax virtually so that it can be referenced quickly in the future. You simply send the fax with your computer and the receiver gets it. What could be faster than that? Telepathic faxing, maybe?

The next time you are sending a fax, be it physically or by internet fax, think about all of those thinkers before you that worked hard to bring this technology to fruition and ask yourself, how did we live without it?

Photo by cliff1066