TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Western Union Desk-Fax -- Discontinued?

Re: Western Union Desk-Fax -- Discontinued?

Jim Haynes (
Fri, 02 Feb 2007 21:30:31 GMT

I don't know the termination date, but I know that in 1959 there was
some central office desk fax equipment for sale in Chicago surplus
stores. Perhaps it had been replaced by equipment of more modern
design, or perhaps Desk Fax was being phased out in that area at that

I wasn't aware that DeskFax had ever shared lines with telephone
service. The DeskFax machine expects a two-wire DC loop from the
customer's office to the W.U. office The signal is basically analog,
but chopped so that it will pass through AC amplifiers.

A lot of your questions are answered in the W.U.T.R. Not having it in
front of me, but I remember a picture of a central office fax
concentrator that was used to receive from customers' DeskFax
machines. They probably hoped to be able to use fax end-to-end, as
they show an example of a message handwritten in Chinese that
obviously could not be turned into teleprinter code. I don't think it
ever happened.

It seems almost tragic the amount of money and engineering creativity
that W.U. poured into fax without it having any relevance at all to
the modern fax that swept away the Telegram.

In the mid 1960s, with long distance telephone rates coming down,
there were companies that attempted to build a service to compete with
W.U. based on fax and dialup connections between the originating and
terminating agency offices. The technology of the day was pretty
awful; wet electrolytic paper for recording. The Bell System had a
Data Set (modem) intended for connection to fax machines, providing
analog signaling. The business model was to sign up agents, who would
be supplied with fax machines for sending and receiving. I guess this
never went anywhere; and then just a little later with
microelectronics, plastics, and experience gained in the office copier
business we got the modern fax machines, cheap enough for the customer
to own, using built-in modems operating over the telephone network

jhhaynes at earthlink dot net

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