Today in history: Fax machine patented

Fax machine

Nowadays fax machines are pretty much old hat, with very few companies relying on them as a primary means of communication.

But those of us slightly longer in the tooth know it wasn't always like that and that there was a time 1980s where fax machines could do no wrong. And we have Alexander Bain to thank for that.

Scottish mechanic Bain came up with the idea to scan documents back and forth on a line by line basis by mirroring the movements of electric clock pendulums.

Bain's device relied on metal pins placed on a cylinder that were probed by an electric current. Electrochemically sensitive paper overlaid with a chemical solution was present at the other end to receive the transmitted message.

Bain's patent claimed "improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces, and in electric printing, and signal telegraphs."

And back on this day in 1843, Bain, patented his idea.

Bain's design was then tweaked by Frederick Bakewell who demonstrated the modified device at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

After that, many great inventors either followed suit or worked to move forward their own independently-generated ideas of long distance document transmission.

The first commercial fax machine, the Pantelegraph, appeared on the scene in 1861 thanks to the work of Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli. While in 1881, the next innovation was a little closer to home, courtesy of English inventor Shelford Bidwell when his scanning phototelegraph was born.

Fast forward many years and many inventors' attempts later, and, in 1924, Richard H Ranger created the transoceanic radio facsimile as part of his work for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). It is widely regarded as the forerunner of the fax machines we know and love today.

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.