Add a Comment to this Note (list members only)
Dead medium: Bain's Facsimile Telegraphy
From: From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): "The fax boom that came a century late" by by Lars Fimmerstad, ERICSSON CONNEXION

(((This World Wide Web article was first published in CONNEXION, the quarterly trade magazine of Ericsson Corporation, a Swedish multinational telecommunications company == bruces)))

"While Queen Victoria never actually said, 'I'll drop you a fax,' she might well have done so if the history of telecommunications had taken a slightly different turn. The principle for facsimile transmission over wires was first patented as early as 1843, seven years after the invention of the electric telegraph, by Scottish psychologist Alexander Bain.

"Bain himself never performed a fax transmission, but it is clear from his patent application for 'improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces and in electric printing and signal telegraphs,' that his invention made facsimile transmission entirely feasible.

"Bain's invention used two electric pendulums, one at each end of the wire. Each of the pendulums was made to oscillate synchronously over a rotating roll. The sender wrote the text of his message using an electrically conductive material, then wrapped the message round the roll. As the pendulum swung over the paper, the transmitting needle picked up impulses where there was text, but no impulse where there was a gap in the text. At the other end of the line, the receiving needle made marks on photosensitive paper corresponding to the signals from the sending needle, thus reproducing the text being transmitted.

"Proof that Bain's principle was sound was eventually provided by Frederick Blakewell, an English physicist, who demonstrated a working facsimile machine at the World Exhibition of 1851, the largest exhibition of new technology ever held. His device was based on the same principle as Bain's design, also using rotating cylinders and styluses for recording and writing. So Queen Victoria could indeed have sent a fax, had she been so inclined, when she visited the exhibition in the huge Crystal Palace!"