Geek Trivia

Which Of These Inventions Dates Back To The 19th Century?

Fax Machines
Vacuum Cleaners
Quartz Clocks
What Was The First Modern Collectible Card Game?

Answer: Fax Machines

The fax machine seems, at first glance, like it must surely be a relic of the mid-20th century—something invented in the golden age of global economic growth and development, and ushered in with the atomic age. The history of the fax machine reaches so much further back, however, even preceding the invention of the telephone.

In 1846, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain conducted the first successful test of a mechanical fax machine that was able to recreate graphic signs over wires at a distance. He called his invention, and patented it as such in 1843, the “Electric Printing Telegraph”. Other inventors quickly improved upon his design and in 1865, the Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli used his “Pantelegraph” to open the first commercial telefax service between Paris and Lyon in France. This development proceeded the invention of the telephone by over a decade.

By 1880, the technology had improved to the point that any two-dimensional original (document) could be scanned and reproduced over wire. In 1908, the technology was good enough to transmit a wanted-person photograph from Paris to London. By 1924, further refinements made it possible to transmit photos suitable for newspaper reproduction from one city to another (the first test being between Cleveland and New York City).

Image of an early fax machine, courtesy of The New York Herald/SunStar Strategic.