How do fax machines work?

How do fax machines work?

Like a cross between a telephone and a printer, fax machines copy documents in one location and print them out in another — even thousands of miles apart. Before the ubiquity of computers and high-speed internet and when the other options were snail mail or a courier, a fax could relatively quickly transmit medical records to doctors, photos to newspapers and invoices to clients. But how do fax machines work?

“Basically, a fax machine scans an image or a document line by line, then transmits that scan to a receiver where it’s printed out and reproduced,” said Jonathan Coopersmith, author of “Faxed: The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015) and professor of history at Texas A&M University. Faxes operate on telephone lines today, but early faxes (short for facsimile machines) used telegraph lines, which transmitted text messages using codes of long and short pulses, such as Morse code. In fact, the fax was invented in 1843, three decades before the telephone. Faxes have kept the same fundamental design and function since that time, but the mechanics have changed, Coopersmith said.

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