beating the bus

1916 – sending a photo hundreds of miles via telegraph wires

Toronto. Even before the announcement of photography experimenters struggled to get drawings and later photos to distant locations without resorting to buses or other vehicles of land or sea based locomotion.

Telegraph offered a way to send images if they could be coded line by line. The technology to do such was refined over the years to improve resolution and contrast range.

In January of 1916, the magazine, “the Electrical Experimenter” on page 482 presented a detailed article by Samuel Cohen  showing the latest way to accomplish this feat with a 400 mile transmission over telegraph lines to a French newspaper. Remember, the Great War was well underway in Europe by 1916. Cameras were generally massive. Tripods were an essential accessory for crisp photos, and the automobile was steadily improving while Henry Ford’s Model T, introduced eight years earlier in 1908, became the model everyone  could afford to own and operate.

For most of the era of photography such means to transmit photos was the life blood of all newspapers where time was of the essence and slow delivery meant a worthless photo. In the 1930s, even the movies got into the act demonstrating wire facsimile via a Charlie Chan flick.

Today, we don’t think twice about sending high resolution full colour photos by smartphone in an instant (whether next door or half-way across the globe). As big tobacco once  said of Virginia Slims, “You’ve come a long way, baby“.

A huge thank you to my good friend George Dunbar for sharing this bit of history when photos were sent “by wire” to newspapers just waiting to illustrate their latest edition.

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