5 cool facts you didn’t know about fax
Fax. Noun. An exact copy of a document made by electronic scanning and transmitted as data by telecommunications links.
The fax machine has a very long and rich history. Spanning for over 175 years, the fax machine is still a reliable communication method in the 21st century.
But how much do you really know about the fax machine? Do you know why it was invented or how it actually worked? We spent some time digging up the history of the fax machine to bring you 10 cool facts you didn’t know about fax.
1. The fax machine is older than the telephone
What we call the facsimile or ‘fax machine’ these days has changed dramatically from its first invention by Alexander Bain, a Scottish clockmaker, in 1843. It was patented as the world’s first ‘Electro-chemical copying telegraph’ for “Certain improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in electric time-pieces, and in electric printing and signal telegraphs.”
Bain’s fax machine was made from a combination of parts from clocks and telegraph machines. It worked by scanning a flat metal surface using a stylus mounted on a pendulum. The stylus picked up images from the metal surface.
The telephone, on the other hand, wasn’t invented until 1876 – over 30 years later!
2. The world’s oldest fax message still exists
in 1847, Frederik Bakewell improved on Bain’s invention of the ‘electro-chemical copying telegraph’ and invented the ‘image telegraph’. He replaced the pendulum in Bain’s fax machine with synchronised rotating cylinders.
Bakewell’s ‘image telegraph’ transmitted the world’s first fax message. We may not know exactly what the first fax message sent through Bain’s “Electro-chemical copying telepgraph’, but if you’re ever visiting London, you can see the world’s oldest fax message at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). It’s being held in a non-acidic envelope for preservation.
3. The first photograph sent by fax was a picture of President Calvin Coolidge of the United States
In 1924, Richard Ranger invented the world’s first wireless radio fax machine, the photoradiogram. He used this to send a picture of President Calvin Coolidge from New York to London. The picture was accompanied by a hand-typed note (in Spanish).
Upon receiving the picture of President Calvin Coolidge in London, a picture of British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was sent back to New York in reply.
4. The first computer-based fax machine was invented in 1985
Hank Magnuski, an entrepreneur, invented PC-to-fax technology in 1985 and co-founded GammaLink Co. to commercialise his discovery. GammaLink introduced the first computer-based fax board called the GammaFax.
This invention was a major advancement for fax technology, allowing computers to join the same network as fax machines, dramatically increasing fax machine use during the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
Computer-based faxing allowed those who owned a fax machine to transmit fax broadcasts across the globe.
5. Fax is still widely used around the world in the 21st century
As fax still remains embedded in many industries and businesses around the world, internet fax, or online fax, was built to merge the functions of the fax machine with the convenience of the internet.
Online fax allows anyone with an internet connection to send and receive faxes, without the need for a clunky fax machine that runs on an old, connected phone line.
History of the fax: A brief timeline
1843 – Alexander Bain invented the first mechanical fax machine, the ‘electro-chemical copying telegraph’
1850 – Frederick Bakewell invented the image telegraph, the first fax machine to be demonstrated
1880 – Shelford Bidwell invented the scanning phototelegraph, the first fax machine to scan a two-dimensional original image
1924 – Richard Ranger invented the photoradiogram, sending the first image via a wireless radio fax machine
1966 – Xerox introduced the first mainstream commercially-used fax machine
1985 – Hank Magnuski invented computer-based fax technology
2021 – Fax is still used by thousands of businesses worldwide
Coopersmith, J, Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.
The invention of the telephone, Ericsson, https://www.ericsson.com/en/about-us/history/changing-the-world/phones-for-everyone/the-invention-of-the-telephone.
Fax Machines: Complete Guide to Buying Fax Machines, INC, https://www.inc.com/magazine/19911001/4883.html.
Fax, Oxford Dictionary, https://www.lexico.com/definition/fax.
The History of Fax (from 1843 to Present Day), FaxAuthority, https://faxauthority.com/fax-history/
Fax, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fax