Invented Earlier than You’d Think – Pt. 1 – Fax Machines

Here is the first installment in a series I’ll be posting this week that goes by the oh-so-clunky name “Invented Earlier than You’d Think”.  In this series I’ll be taking a look at early examples of modern technologies that are not as modern as they seem. In this part we’ll be looking at a some of the early innovations in fax machines.

The earliest fax-like machines actually predate these by quite a bit, but these are all culled from this site, so that’s what you get. There are more fax related articles available available here.

Secret Documents Sent by Radio (Jan, 1932)
Early fax machines all seem to have one thing in common: they weren’t really fax machines in the sense that we use it to day. The early examples are all radio-fax systems. They don’t transmit over a normal telephone line. This machine however, does have the added bonus of apparently encrypting your image.


New Radio Pen Reproduces Pictures Put on the Air (Jul, 1934)
In the 1930’s the idea of the radio-newspaper was everywhere. I have literally dozens of articles about them. This one was obviously way ahead of it’s time since you can clearly see an early print version of a Mac vs. PC ad on the left.


Television Will Carry the Mails (Mar, 1935)
While the device pictured  is another radio-fax machine, the linked article does also talk about telephone based faxes as well. As with all new technologies, pictures of scantily clad women lead the way.


Telegraph Kisses Are New Fad (May, 1938)
Now we’re getting somewhere. Long before cybersex, there was the much more low key, though decidedly more stylish telegraphisex.

“Mail Box” for Telegrams Transmits Messages (Jun, 1939)
This actually seems like a really handy machine. You write your message on a form, drop it in the slot, and it automatically gets faxed… somewhere.


Pictures by Radio (Jun, 1939)
Another radio-newspaper system, though this one actually was actually put into production and had available content for a time.

The left picture gives you a good view of the printing mechanism and picture quality. On the right is the rather handsome looking home receiver. Though with a print speed of three feet per hour, you better hope that lady is a very slow reader.

xlg_pictures_by_radio_1 pictures_by_radio_2

World’s First Color Fax Machine (Nov, 1947)
This article just floored me. You really have to look at the full size images to appreciate it, but this machine is gorgeous. The left image is of the print mechanism which is composed of a rotating set of actuated color pencils. And just to make sure you knew which pencil went where, they made the rollers out of colored velvet. You don’t get style like that in fax machines anymore.

The print quality is actually pretty stunning considering, you know, its a friggin color fax machine from 1946.  The output reminds me a lot of a mid 90’s era color inkjet printer.


Desk-Size Facsimile Machine (Jun, 1952)
This is the closest thing to a modern fax machine, although all of your calls have to be routed through a central switchboard.