With modern science churning out inventions so quickly that our phones are obsolete 48 hours after we buy them, we tend to assume that pretty much every awesome thing in our lives is a relatively recent innovation. And as we've reported before, that impression often lands ridiculously far from the truth. Many of the technologies we automatically peg as modern are actually way, way older than we think.
5The Fax Machine Was Invented Before the Civil War
Unless you're super old school or you live in Japan, you probably know the fax machine mainly as that mysterious thing gathering dust at the corner of your office. But some of us do remember a time when these machines seemed like magical saviors that prevented us from having to wait a week for documents to get delivered (or lost) by the postal service. It wasn't that many years ago -- that is, before email was a thing -- that the fax was the cutting-edge king of the information superhighway.
Rickrolling was a downright hassle back then.
Actually Invented In ...
1843. This means that faxes, which use phone lines to transmit data, actually predate telephones (the first phone was patented in 1876). Imagine how loud you'd have screamed "Bullshit!" if during the movie Lincoln one of the characters had gotten up to send a fax.
" ... it's a warning about some sort of play. Probably best to just ignore it."
But it's true -- the Civil War was still a full two decades away and the Oregon Trail was experiencing the height of its dysentery-ridden rush hour when the fax machine was built by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. He had just patented the first electric clock, and apart from being a pioneer of electricity, Bain enjoyed dabbling in communication technology: He contributed to telegraph lines on the railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and invented an electric timing system for railway engines while he was at it.
It was the 19th century. Inventing things and typhus were the only pastimes.
The electrical telegraph was an extremely new technology, but Bain was a natural. He figured that if telegraph transmission was good enough for transmitting the sound of Morse code, it should be good enough for pictures.
"Finally, the world will know what my junk looks like."
And before anyone could explain to him that sounds and pictures were two completely different things, he had already converted parts of his electrical clocks into an image scanner and rigged it to the telegraph system. Did it work? Did it ever! What's more, it looked like this:
Damn, this guy was into steampunk way before it was cool.
Various inventors tinkered with the design, and by 1899, newspaper offices were actually using them. Sure, it'd take 20 to 30 minutes to send a single photograph, but that's a hell of a lot faster than having a dude deliver that shit by horse.