Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: When was the fax machine invented?

October 28, 2013

USB Typewriter | UncommonGoodsElectrical transmission of documents and images didn’t begin with the Internet, of course. But for those of us who remember the heyday of the fax machine, it may be more surprising to know that faxing also didn’t begin with the telephone. Thirty years before Alexander Graham Bell got his patent, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain was developing images via telegraph lines in 1843. Trained as a clock-maker, Bain used synchronized pendulums at the sending and receiving end to scan the message, and the facsimile would be printed out using a special, electrically sensitive paper. Unfortunately, Bane’s invention had some major flaws—the pendulums were never perfectly synchronized, and the quality of the image was very poor—and by the time he tried to patent it in 1850, other inventors had already patented superior versions of the device.

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