History of the Fax Machine

What are the words that first come to your mind when you hear about someone sending a fax? If you’re like others, you’ll wonder why that person is still using such outdated technology. After all, there are many ways to share documents - messengers, social networks, or email. This is true for now, but in the past, people had to send by post a handwritten or printed letter or hire a courier to get their papers delivered. And only after the creation of the fax machine, it became as easy as nowadays. Let’s recollect the glory days of this invention and discover some curious facts about old fax machines.

History of the Fax Machine

A brief history in questions and answers

What is a fax machine?

A facsimile machine, as its full name sounds, is a device used to send and receive various kinds of documentation and pictures via a telephone line. It allows users to share papers even being thousands of miles apart. These devices had been highly popular before the era of computers and instant messaging began.

When was the first fax machine invented?

It was Alexander Bain who invented and patented a primitive version of the fax machine in the distant 1843. Mr. Bain improved the technology of the telegraph created by S. Morse, using telegraph lines to transmit text messages with the help of long and short pulses. But still, that wasn’t the same mechanism as we use now.

When did the fax machine first come out?

It took more than one hundred years after the invention of the very first fax machine to create a tool enabling the distribution of messages faster than any device of those times. In 1947, Alexander Muirhead, an electrical engineer from Scotland, became the inventor of the fax machine, which changed the way people share information. The mechanism was upgraded by a rotating drum scanner and became very successful. 

Present-day machines combined the basic functions and tools of their predecessors with modern features, which made them quite popular means of communication. But that was true only till the end of 2010’ when more convenient, fast, and effective technologies replaced them.

How does it work?

The process is relatively simple. For example, you have a contract you need to send to a new hire. You download the file and the machine digitizes it: divides into a grid of dots, each of them is either black or white, on or off respectively. These dots are bits, on is for 1, and off is for 0. As a result, the device translates your contract into a series of ones and zeros, making it look like a traditional computer file. The second device receives the document and prints it. That’s it!

What is a fax machine used for?

Although you may think that almost no one utilizes this technology to distribute documents, there are spheres that can’t give up on it. These are organizations, which work with personal information required to be professionally secured: government, public authorities, medicine, education, banking, and insurance industries. They send and receive:

  • Legal documents
  • Medical prescriptions
  • Signed papers
  • Police reports
  • Contracts
  • Texts written in hieroglyphic languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean

Why isn’t it dead yet?

Most people believe that storing important files on cloud services and working on them together using Google Drive or Office 365 is more convenient, safer, and faster than sending faxes. But as long as there are organizations adopting this technology and people preferring paper documentation over electronic, faxing will exist. 

Fortunately, many services for online document distribution have been created over the last couple of years, helping us to save on the use of paper, and increasing the speed of file sharing. Moreover, many of them represent an all-in-one remote workplace for collaboration within a company. Whoosh - for online meetings, Slack - for corporate communication, eFax - for advanced work with documentation. These platforms and many others will save you much more time than any vintage appliance.

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