Shelford Bidwell Biography – Inventor of Telephotography

Shelford Bidwell (6 March 1848 – 18 December 1909) was known as an English physicist and inventor. His most famous work was in the field of “telephotography,” one of a few inventions that have evolved into today’s facsimile machine.

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Born in Thetford, Norfolk, the oldest son of a brewer, he graduated from Cambridge. He was called to the bar from Lincoln’s Inn in 1873.

After practicing as a barrister for a number of years, he became interested in electronics.

Research and Invention

Bidwell’s research was primarily in the areas of tele-photography – the ability to transmit an image over infrastructures such as telegraph and telephone lines.

In early experiments, Bidwell as able to duplicate the “photophone” created by Alexander Graham Bell.

Using sound to vibrate a mirror, the vibrations were captured by a selenium photocell that was connected to a telephone, converting the light into an electrical signal.

In the area of facsimile, Bidwell‘s best-known experiment involved a selenium photocell placed inside of a rotating cylinder.

A small hole was placed on the cylinder that permitted the photocell to be able to scan an image that was placed on a brightly illuminated glass slide. A receiving cylinder was covered with paper impregnated with potassium iodide.

The invention worked by sending an electrical signal from the photosignal to a platinum wire that darkened the paper with current was applied to it.

In many senses, it was a similar result to Alexander Bain and Frederick Bakewell‘s inventions, however, occurred with a completely different process. As well, it suffered from the same challenge of properly synchronizing the sending and receiving terminals.

The results were introduced by Bidwell in an article called “Tele-Photography” in the February 1881 edition of Nature.

Today his telephotography device is displayed in the London Science Museum.

In the June 1908 edition of Nature, Bidwell commented on recent developments in “telegraphic photography” by others in the scientific community. As well, he was one of the first to calculate the transmission “bandwidth” required to send images electronically, theorizing on different circuits or wires at a time far before the invention of modern day networks and computer systems.

Further Resources on Shelford Bidwell:

More on the History of Fax:

  • The History of Fax – From Alexander Bain’s 1843 invention to today’s internet based fax systems (and everything in between)
  • Alexander Bain – Developed an Experimental Fax Machine between 1843 and 1846
  • Arthur Korn – Developed Fax Machine for Transmitting Photographs
  • Edouard Belin – Inventor of the Bélinographe
  • Frederick Bakewell – Improved Bain’s Facsimile Machine
  • Giovanni Caselli – Inventor of the Pantelegraph. Sent images 800km across telegraph wires 9 years before Alexander Graham Bell’s Telephone Patent
  • Herbert E. Ives – Sent first color fax
  • Richard H. Ranger – Invented first Transatlantic Radio Fax
  • Rudolf Hell – Invented the Hellschreiber
  • Shelford Bidwell – Research in the field of “Telephotography”
  • Pantelegraph – An early fax invention used to transmit images over telegraph lines
  • Fultograph – An early fax invention used to transmit images over radio waves”
  • Telautograph – An early fax invention used to transmit signatures over long distances
  • 3D Fax – A 1990s technique used to send computer code over a fax machine. Each page could hold about 50kb of information
  • Radiofax – Still used today, a method for transmitting images over long distances through radio. Also known as HF Fax or Weatherfax