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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Just the Fax: 1927

Just the Fax: 1927

Washington, D.C., 1927. No caption on this Harris & Ewing glass plate of what seems to be facsimile equipment. View full size.

To stay online without a paywall or a lot of pop-up ads, Shorpy needs your help. (Our server rental alone is $3,000 a year.) You can contribute by becoming a Patron, or by purchasing a print from the Shorpy Archive. Or both! Read more about our 2019 pledge drive here. Our last word on the subject is: Thanks!


Radiofax weather charts for the benefit of ships at sea are still broadcast worldwide by organizations like the NOAA and the Deutscher Wetterdienst.

Nervous Fountain Pen

I'm continually impressed by the quality of technical writing in the newspapers of the time. The box on the left with the four dials is a decade resistance box, perhaps used for tuning.

Washington Post, October 18, 1925.

Photoradio New RCA Development

Means for Transmitting the Actual Events to Listeners-In.

“Photoradio” means the sending of photographs or other pictures by means of a radio transmitter to a distance, and receiving these wherever suit suitable apparatus may by located. Thus, like broadcasting, a million persons could receive the same picture at the same time, provided only, again as in broadcasting, that they possessed suitable apparatus for this work.

Now, photoradio is not by any means “tele-vision.” By the latter we mean the equivalent of “radio moving pictures,” or, more exactly, the ability to see, by radio, some distant event just as it would appear to the eye of some one near it at the moment. Photoradio is the first step toward the attainment, perhaps not so many years in the distance, of real tele-vision, but it admittedly is but a first step.

In the Radio Corporation of America's system, a photograph is taken of whatever scene of person's face or printed page, or other picture one may desire to transmit. This negative is placed in a special device, and by means described in detail in later paragraphs, the lights and shades of this picture are sent, square inch by square inch, in the form of high-speed dots sent out by a radio transmitter. At the receiver, or as many receivers as may be in operation, the received dots actuate a relay, and this, in turn, causes a “nervous fountain pen” to print on a paper record, dot by dot, identical as to shade and position, the impulses sent out from the sending station. Thus, in time—it takes about twenty minutes for an ordinary photograph—the entire picture is transmitted and received.

The entire process depends essentially on three factors. First, the ability to control a radio transmitter by different degrees of light passing through a negative or other screen. This is found in the “light sensitive cell,” a device which will allow electric current to pass through it when light is shining on its electrodes, and which shuts off this current the moment light ceases. Second, a method for having radio currents control a relay. The radiotron, or vacuum tube detector, does this. A relay placed in its plate circuit will respond when incoming signals affect its grid, and of course any other electric circuit that we may desire. The third requirement, and the most difficult one to attain, is the exact synchronism of the speed of the carrier for the transmitted negative and the carrier for the received record.

Naval Communications

A curious oddity of a photo staged to demonstrate the marvel of a new widget containing a message which questions the usefulness of the same device. I guess he didn't expect the photograph to resolve the text. The February 13, 1927 Washington Post reports the imminent promotion of a Lt. Comdr. Hugh P. LeClair.

Washington Post, May 24, 1927.

New Radio Service Utilized by Navy

Photoradiogram is Sent by Admiral Eberle
to Maneuvering Ship.

A new experimental radio service in the Navy was opened yesterday by Admiral E.W. Eberle, chief of naval operations, who sent the first official message over the new photoradiogram apparatus installed recently at the Navy Department to the similar one on the U.S.S. Seattle, flagship of the United Sates fleet at Newport R.I.

His message to Admiral Charles F. Hughes, fleet commander, stated “this first message by photoradio transmission between the Navy Department and the flagship of the commander in chief, engaged in maneuvers off the New England coast, begins a service which it is hoped will have a far reaching effect on naval communications. ”

A copy of the message as received showed that some of the words were missing due to the other radio impulses, but great hope is held for conversion of the commercial apparatus to naval use.

Fax is older than you might think...

Here's some of the history of fax:


Photoradiogram was one of the first facsimile devices, according to this wiki article about Richard H. Ranger, its inventor.

How I read it

Here's is my reading of the message miracle of the 20th century:

Msg for Comdr Le
Clair When may we
expect Seattle to
transmit test picture.
It appears to me the
usefulness of further trans-
mitting by us is questionable
and unless you can send
tests may as well be
suspended. Biere

[Here's a close-up. -tterrace]

Thanks to stanton_square and tterrace for helping to fill in the blanks.

Motors, Gears and Wormdrives

Let me stick my hand in there to clear that debris.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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