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Significant Scots
Alexander Bain


Many of the inventions concerned with telecommunications spent some time languishing on the sidelines before society found a profitable use for them. The fax machine was certainly no exception. The patent for the fax machine was granted on 27 May 1843, 33 years before the patent was given for the telephone.

The inventor was a Scotsman called Alexander Bain. He was apprenticed to a clockmaker in Wick where he also invented the first electric clock which was powered by an electromagnet propelling a pendulum. He patented the fax machine on his move to London. As usual, this innovation was slow to take off. The first commercial fax service was opened between Paris and Lyon in 1865 and they were called pantélégraphes. Faxes really came into their own in 1906 when they found their first major use, to transmit photos for newspapers.

The way that a fax machine works is very simple. The page to be sent is divided into strips. Each line is then broken up into black and white segments which can then be sent like the dots and dashes of Morse Code and put together at the other end. Digital fax machines have only changed this principles slightly. Pages are now divided into tiny squares called Pels, each of which can be either black or white.


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