What is a Telautograph (Invented by Elisha Gray)?

The telautograph was a precursor to the fax machine. It worked by transmitting electrical impulses recorded and sent to a receiving with a pen attached.

Invented by Elisha Gray in 1888, the patent claimed that it would allow the transmission of one person’s handwriting to a distant point over a two-wire circuit.

Horizontal and vertical bars controlled the stylus. The device was exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Archived Link).

The telautograph was later modified to the telewriter by Foster Ritchie, an invention that allowed for the same function but also talk over the telephone at the same time.

The telautograph was very popular for transmitting signatures over distance, with a focus on use by banks, hospitals, and other paperwork heavy industries.

Telautograph Corporation changed its name several times and was acquired by Arden/Mayfair in 1971. Arden/Mayfair was later acquired in 1993 by Danka Industries and renamed it Danka/ Omnifax, and in 1999 the division was purchased by Xerox and called the Omnifax division since absorbed into the larger corporation.

Article References:

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