Édouard Belin, the belinograph, and the birth of phototransmission

Figure 1 - Édouard Belin receiving a telediagraph image 1920.  From the Wikimediacommons and the LOC in the public domain.

Figure 1 – Édouard Belin receiving a belinograph image 1920. From the Wikimediacommons and the LOC in the public domain.

As we discussed in the previous blog Giovanni Caselli (1815-1891) and his “pantelegraph” of the mid 1850’s represents the first real image transmission system.    These were essentially FAX machines. Systems like Caselli’s, based on insulating ink, reached fruition with   Ernest A. Hummel‘s “telediagraph.”  Starting in 1895, a dedicated circuit  connected the New York Herald and the Chicago Times Herald, the St. Louis Republic, the Boston Herald, and the Philadelphia Inquirer together in a network tansmitting and telediagraph images from electrically scanned schellac-on-foil originals. The telidiagraph did not, however, truly transmit photographs.  A photograph was taken and converted to a line drawing with handwritten notes like: “White Hair.”  Once received, these drawings where filled in to give them full body – producing the kind of detailed line drawings for which the nineteenth century was famous.

A major advance came in 1913, when Édouard Belin‘s developed the “belinograph” of which scanned using a photocell and thus enabled photographs to be transmitted and converted on the receiving end to halftone photographic images.  Figure 1 shows Édouard Belin (1876-1963) with his belinograph around 1920. Note the that the caption uses the word “telephotograph.”

The belinograph ultimately formed the basis for the Associated Press, and images transmitted in this manner were referred to as “belinos.”  Images could be transmitted over standard telephone lines.  Western Union began transmitting halftone photographs in 1921, ATT in 1924, and RCA in 1926.  The Associated Press began its service in 1935.Today, of course, photographs are transmitted digitally via the internet.  However, it all began a century ago with Édouard Belin‘s analogue belinograph.


This entry was posted in History of Photography.

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  1. […] machine that can reproduce and transmit drawings, signatures, and handwriting in 1856. In 1913, a new machine, one that can transmit scanned images over telephone lines, was invented. It wasn’t until […]