Napoleon’s Fax Machine


Being a geek and working with other like-minded individuals, sometimes we have some pretty great discussions on ancient history, technologies, and such. Today we were bouncing between the the lethality of Comanche and Mongolian bow skills and how ancient (and not so ancient) cultures had technology that was far more advanced than we often give them credit for. During the conversation, I make a comment with regard to Napoleon seeing a demonstration of a facsimile. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember any of the details.  I am honored that one colleagues also reads my blog, so at his suggestion, below is an accurate description of Napoleon’s fax machine.

What I was so inept in sharing in the conversation was that in 1860, Napoleon III, Emperor of France, visited the workshop of an engineer named Paul Gustave Froment, and was given a demonstration of a device called a pantelegraph that was able to reproduce printed messages across telegraph lines. The pantelegraph was invented by Giovanni Caselli. Napoleon was impressed and secured the use of telegraph lines so that Caselli could continue work on his invention. The primary commercial application of the device was to verify signatures for banking transactions. A more detailed history of the telegraph in general is available here (unfortunately, some of the image links are broken).

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