Your RightFax server may be the pinnacle of fax technology, but things weren’t always so advanced in the world of fax. It has taken mankind more than 165 years to go from the first fax ever sent to high-quality email-to-fax technology.
The First Fax Technology
The first known fax technology is credited to Alexander Bain, a Scottish inventor and engineer who specialized in clocks. He was the first inventor to patent an electric clock and also installed the railway telegraph lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In the early 1840s, he built an experimental fax machine and used a clock to synchronize the movements of two pendulums that scan an image line by line. The image was initially placed on a cylinder, scanned by the sending machine and reproduced by the receiving machine using a chemical solution.
The images were usually of very low quality.
Developed in the 1850s by Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli, the pantelegraph was one of the earliest precursors to the modern fax machine. It was used throughout the 1960s to send handwriting and images over telegraph lines, and was most commonly used to verify signatures during banking transactions. Documents sent using the device could measure up to 15 cm by 10 cm.
The pantelegraph worked over long distances, but was slow. A single sheet of paper measuring 111 mm by 27 mm (4 inches by 1 inch) that contained about 25 words would take almost two full minutes to transmit. This is because the device, like Bain’s original machine, used a regulating clock and a pendulum that kept the scanning stylus of the sending machine in lockstep with the writing stylus of the receiving machine.
Two pendulums, weighing 18 lbs each and mounted on 6.5 ft frames, allowed for two messages to be sent at once. The messages were written using insulating ink on fixed metal plates. They were then scanned and the message transmitted via telegraph lines to the receiving apparatus, which would reproduce the images using paper containing potassium ferricyanide, a substance that darkens when electric current from the writing stylus passes through it.
There are few pantelegraphs left today, and two were demonstrated in 1982. They were left to run for six hours a day for several months.
They produced no errors during transmission.
Radiofax, also known as weatherfax and HF fax, is an analogue method of transmitting monochrome images. It was primarily used in the 1950s to transmit weather charts across the U.S. using landlines. Messages were eventually sent internationally via high frequency (HF) Radio.
This precursor to telephone line fax machines was traditionally known by the term “radiofacsimile,” and it uses similar fax technology to transmit messages. Documents are scanned line by line and encoded into electrical signals that are sent via physical lines or radio waves.
Radiofax is still available and used today by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to send weather charts, satellite weather images, and forecasts to ships at sea.
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