Who was the inventor of the fax machine? Who established the first commercial fax service?

It is interesting to know that many of the inventions and technologies that became relatively common today are actually older than we think, and one of these fascinating human creations is the fax machine. A fax machine is a device that is used to transmit a printed material over another even at a longer distance. The full name given to the device is the “Telefascimile machine,” which combines the “tele” word used for telephone and “facsimile,” meaning “exact copy.” Despite the domination of internet-based technologies during the machine’s invention and the rise of internet fax services, the fax system is still popular worldwide.

The transmission of images using fax machines and telephone lines only picked up steam in the 1980s, but the technology dates back as far as the first half of the 18th century. The first model of the fax machine was created in 1843, as a result of experiments done by Scottish mechanic Alexander Bain. The device is comprised of two pens that are connected to two pendulums. The pendulums are then joined by a wire that could control the pens to write on an electrically conductive surface. Bain applied for a patent for his device, which he named the “Electric Printing Telegraph.”

Who was Alexander Bain?

Alexander Bain was born on October 12, 1810, in Caithness, Scotland. Despite being considered as a genius today, he despised school and did not excel in his academics, but he did find a job on something that he is good at, clock-making. When he was working as an apprentice clockmaker in the town of Wick, he learned more about the inner-workings and intricacies of the clock, but due to his passion for the more in-depth understanding of the art of clock-making, he sought jobs in various clock-making companies around Clerkenwell, London while also visiting lectures at the Adelaide Gallery and the Polytechnic Institution.

Besides being the inventor of the fax machine, Bain was also the creator of the first electronic clock in 1840. However, his patent for this invention was smeared with controversy. His invention was stolen by Charles Wheatstone, who saw Bain’s electric clock during a demonstration to entice people to invest in his creation. Wheatstone then demonstrated the clock to other people after reading Bain’s blueprint and claimed that it was his invention. Unfortunately for Wheatstone, Bain already applied a patent for the electric clock, and the thief was forced to give Bain 10,000 euros for damages. The company that Wheatstone co-founded, the Electric Telegraph Company, gave Bain a position as a manager. Wheatstone eventually resigned from the company. A few years later, Bain would experiment on creating a machine that can send written material to another machine.

The First Fax Message

The first successful fax transmission was sent almost two decades after the invention of the first facsimile machine. The man behind the process was an Italian priest and physicist named Giovanni Caselli. Caselli was a man who was crazy about science and was always in pursuit of science books and journals that will further enhance his knowledge on the subject. Because of his enthusiasm for science, he even converted his residence to a functioning laboratory and brought all kinds of scientific equipment in it, with some people even describing him as an eccentric person because of his deep passion for his hobby.

During the time when Samuel Morse’s telegraph was gaining traction on the news, Caselli studied the intricacies of the device and found many drawbacks. One of the downsides of the telegraph was that only messages could be sent through it, so you won’t be able to transmit an image or a drawing on the machine. Another negative aspect of the said device was that it was unable to transmit documents in their original form, as the sent message would sometimes be blurry, or some texts won’t even show up at all.

To fix the problems of the telegraph, Caselli decided to build a machine that could transmit documents in its original state. He conducted multiple experiments for a long time, and it took him seven years to finally create the device of his dreams. After finishing his working machine, he named it the “Pantelegraph.” The word was supposed to be a combination of “Pantograph,” an existing tool that copies drawings, and “telegraph.” His machine was mainly inspired by Bain’s invention, and it even included an apparatus to make the two devices work together.

Caselli succeeded in transmitting a copy of a letter over a long distance with his creation. The machine was capable of reproducing handwritten messages, documents, and detailed pictures. Moreover, the Pantelegraph could also send many messages through one wire while the telegraph was only able to carry a single message.

After a few test transmissions, the French government decided to use Caselli’s invention in 1865, which they would then utilize to successfully send messages from Paris to Lyon through a special fax line. In 1867, the fax line was extended to reach Marseille. The machine of the French government was able to transmit at least 40 documents in an hour. Caselli’s fax system was the first commercial telefax service in history. Impressed with the success of the Pantelegraph, the French government decided to set up several fax lines in the country, and when other countries began noticing its effectiveness in sending documents in long distances, they started to install fax lines in the areas that they occupy as well.

The fax system saw several advancements throughout the years. There was Elisha Grey’s Telautograph in 1888, Ernest Hummel’s Telediagraph in 1895, Arthur Korn’s Bildtelegraph in 1900, and Rudolf Hel’s Hellschreiber in 1929. All of these improved Pantelegraphs are major landmarks in the history of the fax service. However, the most significant advancement on the fax machine was developed in 1964, when Xerox Corporation introduced the very first commercial model of the modern-day fax machine called the Xeronic Computer Printer, which was easier to handle according to feedback and reviews. The company had such a huge impact in the industry that the term “Xerox” is often confused with having the same meaning as “photocopy” in some countries.

Additional reading:

  • Fax (Wikipedia)

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