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Alexander Bain


1810 - 1877

Inventor. Born in Watten (Caithness), Bain was apprenticed to a clock-maker in Wick. He invented the first electric clock, which used an electromagnet to drive the pendulum. He became the first person to transmit time signals telegraphically, which together with his electric clock, allowed standard time to be adopted throughout Britain for the first time. This was vital for an effective railway system.

Bain moved to London, where he developed the first fax machine, although it took time to find a use for this invention. He patented the machine in 1843, more than 30 years before the invention of the telephone. The machine divided a page into strips, which were then broken into black and white segments which could be transmitted over a telegraph. Bain also invented a printing device which used an electro-chemical process to record the messages. This as demonstrated successfully in France and the combination gave rise to the first commercial fax service which opened between Paris and Lyon in 1865. It took another 40 years for faxes to find their niche allowing photographs to be quickly transmitted between press agencies and newspapers, and rather longer for them to become a standard item of office equipment.

Bain also contributed to the development of automatic telegraphs, firearms and musical instruments. He worked in both London and the USA. Despite his success, Bain became obsessed about defending his patents and spent all his money in doing so. He returned to Scotland and died in poverty in Kirkintilloch, where he lies buried in the Old Aisle cemetery.


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