Fax Machines

A facsimile (fax) machine is a machine that copies the image of a document, sends it to another location, and reproduces it exactly. Early facsimile machines were developed in the nineteenth century, but in its modern form, compact and cheap enough for household use, the fax machine is a product of the late twentieth century.

Nineteenth century facsimile machines, such as those developed by Alexander Bain and Frederick Bakewell in England and Giovanni Caselli in Italy, used mechanical methods of copying and reproduction. The contents of the document were traced by a pen and the movement of the pen was recreated at the other end. This technique was slow and laborious. In 1873,Willoughby Smith showed that pulses of light converted to pulses of electric current and sent by wire could be reconverted by a selenium photoelectric cell. This technique was used to send newspaper photos. A breakthrough occurred in Germany in 1902, when Arthur Korn invented a method for transmitting photographs by electric wire. This process, telephotography, was used to send the first intercity fax, between Munich and Berlin in 1907. The first machine to employ document scanning, as in the modern fax machine, was the Belinograph, invented by the Frenchman such machines expensive to use. In the 1970s, Japanese companies began to develop faster, smaller, cheaper, and more efficient fax machines. Japan was also the country with the highest level of ownership. By 1985, the number of fax machines in use in the United States had grown to 550,000, whereas Japan had 850,000 and Europe only 120,000. From the mid-1980s, the availability of combined telephone and fax machines made the fax machine more appealing for home use. By 1989, there were 4 million fax machines in the United States.

Fax technology has continued to improve. Early fax machines required expensive thermal paper impregnated with carbon. In such machines, the thermal paper, held on a drum, is heated when current flows through the stylus, releasing the carbon to the paper surface to recreate the transmitted document. To improve print quality and enable the use of ordinary office paper, manufacturers developed “plain paper” fax machines that use either ink film or ink-jets. The Japanese company Canon launched the first plain paper fax machine in 1987. Ink film still relies on thermal technology but the ink is transferred from a thermal film to plain paper, whereas ink-jets spray ink through tiny perforations in the printer head directly onto plain paper. Early fax/phones had to be manually set to act as phone or fax, which could be frustrating. This was solved by the development of automatic fax/phones that could detect whether the incoming message originated from a telephone or fax machine and respond accordingly. Today, the top range fax machines are fully compatible with personal computers, so that they can fulfill a variety of scanning and printing functions.