JF Ptak Science Books Post 701 Blog Bookstore
This Scientific American article on the smart/odd/analog transmission of pictures via telegraph (14 September 1895) by W.H. Lowd, can make you say “ohhh, of course” out loud. Mr. Lowd’s insight came fifty years after the Morse telegraph came into being, thirty years after it becomes the greatest means of communication, twenty after the first multiplex telegraph, and in the same year as Marconi’s first successful wireless transmission. It was though an ingenious inspiration whose utility lasted for about 60 seconds—which is about how long it took to develop a smarter way of transmitting an image in its entirety.
Mr. Lowd recognized that he could transmit the outline of a picture by placing on opaque tracing of the picture on top of a telegraphic ciphering sheet and then transmitting the coordinates, which when received on the other end could be connected by short lines into the picture that was being transmitted from the sending end. Images constructed of numbers and letters and such had been made for centuries before this; this however is a very early use of this idea that was employed to human-representational transmit the object electrically over distances by wire. Emoticons—a more abstract version of this idea--such as we know them today are actually better than 150 years old. They appear as early as 1857 in the telegraphers’ world, and somewhat earlier in the typesetter’s arsenal. (For example, a later attempt, taken from Puck Magazine No. 212, page 65, 30 March 1881, shows us something that we took to be “new” in the 1980’s as having roots that spread downwards into history by another 120 years.)
But Mr. Loud’s idea was pretty, I must admit, even though it was far from being the answer to the question it addressed, with a more pleasing, technology-based solution appearing by 1899.
The other bit that is interesting is that this transmission of an image necessitated an early Surrealist-like poem, dictated by the cipher/codes that were use by necessity to send the picture.