Telautograph

The telautograph is an analog precursor to the modern fax machine. Basically it transmits electrical impulses recorded by potentiometers to step motors attached to a pen, thus being able to reproduce a drawing or signature made by the sender at the receiver's station. It was the first such device to transmit drawings to a stationary sheet of paper, previous inventions in Europe used rotating drums to make such transmissions.

Its invention is attributed to Elisha Gray who is said to have invented the telautograph in 1888. Descendants of Alexander Graham Bell state that Bell submitted a patent for an earlier version of the telautograph in 1875. Gray's patent stated that the telautograph would allow "one to transmit his own handwriting to a distant point over a two-wire circuit". Gray was also famous for having submitted his patent application several hours after Bell had submitted his application for the telephone. It was first publicly exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.


'' An early telautograph, circa 1880s.

As Professor Gray stated in an interview in The Manufacturer & Builder, Vol. 24 No. 4 (1888) at pages 85-6:

By my invention you can sit down in your office in Chicago, take a pencil in your hand, write a message to me, and as your pencil moves, a pencil here in my laboratory moves simultaneously, and forms the same letters and words in the same way. What you write in Chicago is instantly reproduced here in fac-simile. You may write in any language, use a code or cipher, no matter, a fac-simile is produced here. If you want to draw a picture it is the same, the picture is reproduced here. The artist of your newspaper can, by this device, telegraph his pictures of a railway wreck or other occurances just as a reporter telegraphs his description in words.

The telautograph became a very popular device for the transmission of signatures over great distances and the device became popular in banks and in large hospitals in order to ensure that doctors orders and patient information was transmitted quickly and accurately throughout the hospital administration. Telautograph Corporation changed its name several times, in 1971 it was acquired by Arden/Mayfair. In 1993 Danka Industries purchased the company and renamed it Danka/Omnifax, in 1999 Xerox corporation purchased the company and it is now known as Xerox: Omnifax division.

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