The Invention of the Fax Machine

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The Invention of the Fax Machine


With its convenience and ease of use, the invention of facsimile communication has permanently changed business operations in the modern world. This transmission device, commonly referred to as the fax machine, is now used worldwide by businesses, governments, and households. Its ubiquitous presence in offices and homes is due to its low cost and expediency in transmitting documents. The fax machine has had a direct impact on the advancement of communications technology since its humble invention in the 1800s.


The earliest form of the fax machine is attributed to Scottish inventor Alexander Bain (1818-1903). In 1843 Bain created and patented a device that simulated a two-dimensional image, making significant improvements on the telegraph. Although Bain's creation was never officially tested, in 1841 English physicist Frederick Blakewell first demonstrated the use of another type of facsimile that differed from Bain's invention in its method of transmission. In 1863 Italian abbot Giovanni Caselli (1851-1891) created the first commercial facsimile system, first used in France between the cities of Paris and Lyon. His invention continued to be used commercially in the years to come. Later, in 1902, German inventor Arthur Korn (1870-1945) proved the ability to transmit photographs through optical scanning, and in 1906 people were using his particular machines regularly in the newspaper industry. Today, nearly every business and household owns a modern type of fax machine that is capable of transmitting both colorful images and hard copy text.

The fax machine functions by scanning an image on paper and transmitting that image over telephone lines to be reproduced on paper through another fax machine. Contemporary fax machines use rolls of thermal paper with thermal printers equipped with an automatic paper cutter to separate the sheets after printing them. The thermal paper is very lightweight and inexpensive but tends to fade or turn sallow after time. Thus, it is often wise to make a photocopy of faxed documents of importance because of this problem. However, many newer fax machines are designed to print on individual sheets of standard paper much like a computer printer.

The scanning process of a document functions by taking a minimal horizontal line of the item to be faxed into the machine, where it is scanned for light and dark qualities. These lines are given a number sequence called a binary code made up of "0"s and "1"s. The quality white receives a 0, and darker qualities such as black that create the given image receive a l. These qualities are regarded as pixels. On the average, there are 1,728 pixels per line. The facsimile that is sending the information appoints that specific binary code made up of the 0s and 1s that identifies the image made up of pixels. The scanned image is then sent, identified by the number sequence called a "bit" to the receiving facsimile, usually though telephone lines, though radio broadcast waves can also be used, and is reproduced on the other machine.

The total amount of lines per page is calculated together to create a bit sequence that can be a number that is represented in the millions. Fax machines calculate the bits per second to reproduce the image that is being transmitted from the original facsimile to the receiving facsimile according to the bits comprised of the total amount of binary codes that identify the image scanned. The images transmitted can include handwritten or typed text, graphs, charts, maps, and drawings. The images can be in black and white or color, depending on whether the receiving end is able to accommodate a colored transmission. Compatibility between each facsimile machine is necessary for the entire process to take place.

Improvements continue to be made concerning the speed of fax transmission. The process of coding the scanned information into a more compressed reading, such as using a run-length code that utilizes multiplication to cut the total amount of codes transmitted, reducing the number of bits and time spent transmitting them, is becoming standard in newer fax machines. The effect of this compressing of numbers speeds the sending and receiving of the faxed item. The speed of one's modem also impacts the rate at which an item can be sent. A good modem can transmit an item in one minute or less with elaborate images.

Facsimiles function best when a modem is the vehicle for transmission. Modems are necessary in efficient facsimile transmission because they convert digital information into analog information from a variety of telecommunication devices. Modems are either voiceband or cable operations ready. Facsimiles rely on the voiceband modem to transmit information from one machine to another in the form of number codes over telephone lines. The advancement of digital technology involves the use of digital circuitry to create an even faster printing fax machine at less than 10 seconds. This type is not common among most businesses or households at this time, however, due to limited digital transmission circuits.


Since the invention of the fax machine, improvements have been made to create better methods of transmission. The International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT), a branch no longer independent of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that has been an agency of the United Nations since 1947, created a standard for all voiceband modems to follow so that communication worldwide would be at its best when using a fax machine. Since both the sending and receiving fax must be compatible in order to adequately transmit information from one machine to the next, the committee assured that operations such as matching speed of transmission, encoding, and signaling would be harmonized. In 1980 the CCITT accepted the standard Group 3 type of fax machine, which calculates bits per second at a rate between 2,400 and 9,600 and produces a scanned image in around one minute using digital transmission through modems.

Because of the adoption of this standard, the growing affordability of the facsimile (due in part to mass manufacturing), and its recent compatibility with personal computers, most people and businesses own a facsimile. Prior to the CCITT decision to adopt Group 3 facsimiles, the Group 2 fax machines functioned as a much slower rate and, though they were useful in businesses for transmission of uncomplicated, plain-text documents, those machines were not suitable for home use. As a result of the adoption of the Group 3 standard fax machine, this invention has become popular not only among businesses, but in households as well because of its expedience and affordability.

The invention of the fax machine has greatly changed correspondence. The fax machine has practically made the use of the telegraph obsolete because of the facsimile's expedience, as well as its cost efficiency and its easy-to-use mechanisms. Since the adoption of Group 3 type facsimiles, these machines are easier to use because of their computer modem compatibility. It is common to have one's computer printer also convert to a fax machine and the use of the modem for online service doubles to transmit fax documents as well.

The fax machine makes the task of sending a letter to a friend halfway around the world a simple task. All one has to do to operate a fax machine is place the paper to be sent into the feeder of the fax machine, dial the number of the fax machine it is to be sent to, and wait for about minute for one's friend to receive the item on his or her fax machine. The simplicity and convenience of this machine makes sending hard copies of documents easy. They can be used 24-hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere around the world.

The mass production of the fax machine has caused this invention to be more affordable than other methods of communication. Modern businesses have long since dispensed with their old telegraph machines and are relying on fax machines for quicker transmission of written information. The current rate of sending facsimile documents categorized in Group 3 is around one minute or less now, and that includes complex graphical text and color imaging. Although a Group 4 facsimile standard has been adopted by the CCITT, accommodating a fax machine running on pure digital networks and capable of transmitting a single page of data in under 10 seconds, the lack of availability of digital networks has caused this type of facsimile to be less popular at the present time.

Sending documents instantly is what makes the fax machine such an asset to any business. There is no more need to rely on the postal system to transport most documents. The use of couriers for paper documents is also becoming a thing of the past. Unless the documents in question must be originals and require an original signature, also referred to as a "wet signature," the need for any other communication device besides the fax machine is unnecessary. Businesses can communicate through faxing as easily as e-mail with attached documents, without the concern that one may not check one's e-mail regularly.

Facsimiles provide instant messaging in the form of a tangible document. Because of their convenience and necessity in the fast-paced modern business world, these machines will continue to be used and improved upon. The ongoing advancements in facsimile transmission, such as the development of digital circuits for practical widespread usage of Group 4 facsimiles, will have a direct impact on communications in years to come.


Further Reading

Bodson, Dennis, Stephen Urban, and Kenneth R. Mc-Connell. FAX: Facsimile Technology and Systems. 3rd ed. Boston: Artech House, 1999.

Margolis, Andrew. The Fax Modem Sourcebook. New York: Wiley, 1995.

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The Invention of the Fax Machine

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