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The Fax Machine (17 Jul 2004)
They saturated the mass market in the 1980's, but it is surprising to learn that the Fax Machine was invented over 150 years ago. We are indebted to Alexander Bain, a Scottish clockmaker who came up with the basis of the modern fax machine in 1842. He never sent a facsimile - we have Giovanni Caselli, an Italian Abbot to thank for that. But this was an invention ahead of its time, and conventional telegraph services killed off the fax machine. In1910 it became part of specialist use such as the post-office, but just like early computer technology, fax machines were incompatible and it was decades before they really took off. In the 1950's the meteorological office used them to transmit weather charts and as Michael Fish remembers, this saved each weather man in each office across the country from hand drawing their own charts. Yet, it wasn't until the late 1970's that technical advances, combined with a number of postal strikes, forced businesses to look for an immediate alternative way of sending information. By the 1980's no self-respecting place of work, freelance journalist or designer could operate without one. And if you couldn't afford one at home, nip down to the local library or pop into the office and your message or valentines message could be sent across the world at the touch of a button. It has been displaced by email but as design guru James Dyson argues, "it is not yet a DoDo as it is still the best way of conducting any business that involves design drawings". It still has legal status as Helena Kennedy QC explains and try sending an email to Kazhakstan where they don't have the internet, if it's a visa you want, only a fax will do.
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