Magazine article American Libraries

Ye Olde High-Tech; the Facts Behind Fax Show That This Technological Breakthrough Is Actually a Century Old

Magazine article American Libraries

Ye Olde High-Tech; the Facts Behind Fax Show That This Technological Breakthrough Is Actually a Century Old

Article excerpt

The facts behind fax show that this technological breakthrough is actually a century old

MY FRIEND Larry is the sort of librarian who is enamored with technology. He's installed a local area network to connect the microcomputers in his library's circulation system, has acquired several CD-ROM reference databases, and has labored over the selection of just the right microfilm reader/printer. I mean, he really enjoys this sort of thing. I'm sure you know the type.

Larry called the other day to proudly announce that his library had acquired a telefacsimile machine - a fax unit. "I'm joining the state's fax network. Pretty impressive, eh?" Larry was gloating.

"Did you know that fax technology is over a century old?" I inquired innocently. "What?" he sounded a little deflated. "Did you know," I continued, "that the first fax machine made its appearance in 1888, only two years after the invention of the telephone? Why, fax is as old as the hills!"

"Listen," Larry interjected,"I have a board meeting coming up. I really need to ...." I blithely ignored him and pressed on. "The original patent for the so-called telautograph stated that this new-fangled machine |enabled one to transmit his own handwriting to a distant point over a two-wire circuit.' The first fax machines were certainly crude, and excruciatingly slow (six minutes per page), but they were in essence conceptually the same as today's machines. Professor Elisha Gray's |Standard' fax model drew record crowds at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

"Fax machines eventually found limited commercial success, primarily in banking and hotel applications. Things really opened up in the mid-1960s with a landmark court decision allowing non-telephone company communications products access to telephone company lines. And, as you know, there's been a tremendous surge of interest in facsimile in the last couple of years."

"I know ..." he protested. Again I forged ahead. "I'll bet you're interested in learning a few salient points about fax. A fax machine resembles a small office copier in appearance. It sends and receives copies over ordinary telephone lines. Fax saves time because it can send anything on a page to anywhere on earth in seconds. Fax saves money because you only pay for the price of a phone call each time you send a single or multi-page document. There are over 600,000 fax units installed throughout the U.S. and Canada, and that number is growing each year." I was really beginning to warm to the subject.

Faster than mail

"Fax can exchange vital, time-sensitive information in just seconds a page, while the post office requires days. …

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