Fast Fax Facts: A Brief History of the Fax Machine

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 by The eFax Team

The fax machine has a much longer history than you might think! Invented back in 1843 by Alexander Bain, the "Electric Printing Telegraph" was the world's first faxing device. Since then, faxing has transformed many times, and is still widely used today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the AT&T Corporation advanced fax technology by sending photos via wire transmission. Soon after, The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) successfully transmitted a wireless fax across the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn’t until decades later though that the first modern-day, commercialized fax machine was introduced by the Xerox Corporation.

 

Over the past 75 years, fax transmission time has reduced from an average of six minutes to an average of one minute. The classic "fax machine" of the 1980s (which cost $20,000 in 1982!) has also become obsolete, and faxes are now routinely sent from computers, smartphones or tablets.

eFax has paved the way for 21st century faxing with the convenience of online fax. Simply snap a photo of your document and digitally sign the fax right on your iOS or Android device, then send along to anywhere in the world with the tap of a button. Faxing has never been easier than it is now! Sign up for eFax today and see for yourself.

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History of Fax Machine Infographic

The History of the Fax Machine

If there’s one invention that’s benefited from the passage of time, it’s the fax machine. Invented back in 1843 by Alexander Bain, the first fax machine was a far cry from the compact fax machines we know today. 

The image quality was poor and transmissions were less than expedient. Considering the technology at the time, though, this was to be expected. Bain used “pendulums” and a “clock” to synchronize and capture images on a line by line basis – not exactly a speedy way of doing things. The images were then reproduced, giving way to the first fax. 

It wasn’t until English physicist Frederick Bakewell improved on Bain’s original “fax machine” that faxing began to take shape – although not at breakneck speed. Bakewell’s fax machine used “rotating cylinders” and a “stylus” to create faxes. In spite of debuting at the 1851 World’s Fair in London to curious stares, it failed to be a runaway hit. Thankfully, Bakewell’s fax machine served as a blueprint from which other inventors could later draw inspiration. 

By the late 1860s, Giovanni Caselli had come up with a fax machine known as the Pantelegraph. Unlike its predecessors, though, it was a hit – forming the basis of the modern-day fax machine. It would take another century before fax technology truly found its stride, though.

Xerox

In 1964, Xerox invented the Long Distance Xerograph (LDX), a fax machine that could transmit regular-size documents (one page at a time) to any fax machine in the world. Unfortunately, it took around six minutes to do so. The LDX would remain the standard in fax until a Japanese telecommunications corporation created the “ITU G3 Facsimile Standard” in 1980. But it wouldn’t take long before a new development in fax would take over. 

The Rise of Analog Faxing

There are a number of reasons why analog fax machines helped to take fax to the next level. For starters, all you needed to do was plug your fax machine into a regular phone line, and wham! You were ready to send your next fax. This was a big incentive back in the ‘80s and ‘90s – largely because the internet hadn’t yet taken off and people still believed that fax was the safest way to send private data.

But as corporations began to rely more heavily on analog fax machines, the cost to maintain them began to add up. There were paper costs, ink costs, maintenance and repair costs, and more. Plus, there was the inconvenience of having administrators run documents back and forth to the fax machine – impatiently waiting for a busy signal to give way to a much-needed ringtone. And when faxes did transmit, administrators would have to distribute them one-by-one to their intended recipient.

So what’s the takeaway here? Fax technology was transforming, but it was still a pain.  

Multifunction Devices

Adding fax machines to copiers or multifunction devices (MFDs) was supposed to make faxing more convenient. And in a lot of ways it did. You could scan, print, fax, and copy documents from one standalone machine – hooray! But the cost factor was still a major problem for owners. In many instances, the cost to run a MFD was more than the cost to run a traditional fax machine. And we’re not just talking about the price tag, but also the cost to repair them. 

This was around the time that corporations began switching to fax servers to improve the function of their MFDs and standalone fax machines. On the whole, fax servers were great. Fax machine owners could reduce paper costs and send faxes faster. But as with any next-generation technology, the cost to set up a fax server was expensive. So expensive, in fact, that one server could run thousands of dollars to buy, set up, and run.

That’s not to say that fax servers didn’t bring convenience – they did. Users could send faxes directly from their desktop – without having to deal with an actual printer or fax machine. Further, fax servers answered the all-important question of how to handle private information, which HIPAA law prevents from lingering out in the open on, say, an old-fashioned fax machine, for example.

As fax servers became the new norm for corporations, however, small business owners and individuals were still looking for ways to make faxing easier for them.

Internet Faxing

As the world migrated to the web for most of its data needs, including email, cloud storage, and document editing, a new evolution in fax began in the mid-1990s. For the first time, anyone could send a fax from their computer using an online fax service. The cost was affordable and the technology was simple. All you needed was an internet-ready device and an online fax account.

Unlike traditional fax machines, online fax is fast and convenient. You can send faxes from wherever you access the internet, connecting to fax machines around the world in seconds. Best of all, you don’t have to pay the expensive cost of owning a fax server. For very little money, individuals and businesses alike could send faxes on the go – enjoying the same features you’d expect from a traditional machine, like cover sheets, free local fax numbers, and transmission verification reports. 

In addition, online fax services provide end-to-end audit trails, confirming the transfer of your faxes the moment they’re complete. You could even add a cover letter or input a digital signature to sign a contract. 

Online fax service companies offer both email fax and mobile fax capabilities from one electronic device, such as an iPhone. Whereas before you needed a bulky fax machine to send faxes, with a fax app, all you need is your cell phone. You can send, read, edit, and manage all your faxes from one administrator-controlled account. 

The Impact of Fax Today

Fax remains an important technology today thanks to leading online fax companies like eFax®. With the eFax Mobile App, you can send multiple faxes to multiple people in seconds. Your faxed documents print out like real faxes, and you can track every stage of the transmission process—including the time and date of completion. 

Putting a fax machine into the pockets of busy people and business owners revolutionized the way people send and read fax information. Once we were beholden to old-fashioned fax machines, fax servers, phone lines, printer paper, ink, and IT experts. Today, we can send a fax as easily as we can send email. 

Faxing has transformed significantly since its initial entry into our business and personal lives. But one thing’s clear: its impact continues to grow. We can use online fax to stay connected, increase responsiveness, save time, safeguard private data, and more.

Bain and Bakewell may not have received the credit they deserved in their lifetime, along with the countless other inventors who followed in their footsteps. But they certainly have changed the way we think about data transmission, and that’s worth an honorable mention!

Timeline of Fax Machine History

1843: Mechanical Fax — Alexander Bain invents the ‘Electric Printing Telegraph’ machine in 1843 which is the world’s first fax device.

1880: Scanning PhotoTelegraph — The English inventor Shelford Bidwell invents the Scanning PhotoTelegraph machine, which is the first telefax machine capable of scanning and sending a two-dimensional image.

1888: TelAutograph — In 1888 the TelAutograph machine was invented by Elisha Grey which allowed users to send signature images over long distances.

1924: Wire Transmission — Scientists at the AT&T Corporation advance fax technology further by sending photos by telephone/wire transmission.

1924: Wireless Transmission — The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) develops the TransOceanic Radio Facsimile and successfully transmits a photograph between New York and London.

1924: Color Fax — The AT&T Corporation invents a fax device which is capable of transmitting the world’s first color facsimile.

1924: 6 mins — It took 6 mins to send a single page fax.

1960: Satellite Fax — The U.S. Army sends the world’s first photograph via satellite facsimile from America to Puerto Rico.

1964: Telephone Transmission — The first commercialized version of the modern-day fax machine is introduced and patented by the Xerox Corporation using telephone transmission.

1974: 3 mins — It took 3 mins to send a single page fax – how long does an eFax transmission take?

1982: $20,000 — A fax machine cost $20,000.

1982: Computer Based Fax Board — GammaLink introduced the first computer based fax board, the GammaFax.

1996: Internet Fax — The first internet fax service is made available to the general public allowing users to send and receive a facsimile via a computer without fax machines.

2010: Internet Fax via Apple Devices — eFax launches iOS app, allowing users the ability to fax directly from their Apple devices.

2011: Internet Fax via Android Devices — eFax launches Android app, enabling users with Android devices to send faxes.

 

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