Today’s Technology I’d Never Heard Of: The Faxpaper

Back in the 30s and 40s, long before there was an internet that has us doing the same thing, people were starting to see newspapers as outdated because radio could get the news to them much faster. In an attempt to compete and get ahead of changing times, several newspaper companies started experimenting with a new technology called the faxpaper. The idea was to use radio waves to transmit newspaper pages to a receiver that could then print them off for you right in your own home. It sounds way cool and some of its other proposed uses sound a lot like what we have websites for now (paper copies of recipes from the cooking show you were listening to or illustrations of what they were teaching you to make on an instructional program), but it ultimately didn’t end up working out for a lot of reasons.

The machines ranged in price from what would be $1600 to $3600 in today’s money, putting them out of reach for many folks in the Depression era. The broadcasts were noisy, so much so that they were eventually restricted to late night hours so as to disturb and frighten as few people as possible. They were also slow, taking sometimes up to four hours to send and print just two or three pages. And when they did print, they could be quite messy as the printouts had a tendency to cover people’s hands with ink. There was also this little thing called the television, which ended up being the final nail in its coffin.

The whole thing is quite fascinating, and not just because it seems impossible that such a thing would be remotely doable at that point. Knowing what was to come, it’s something else to consider that what was happening then isn’t really all that different from what’s happening now. Kind of makes me wonder what’s going to come along and try to replace the internet when I’m gone in the same way that the internet is replacing newspapers, radio and television now.

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