Nikola Tesla

Developments in Practice and Art of Telephotography


The recent successful experiments by Edouard Belin of Paris in the transmission of photographs between New York City and St. Louis, a distance of 1000 miles, have naturally aroused new interest in this rather old art. Mr. Belin's apparatus has been examined with a knowledge of previous efforts in that direction, and it must be admitted that the French inventor has achieved a marked improvement. It is true that his apparatus in many of its features is old and well known, but all the details have been worked out skilfully and his photographic reproductions are not only good likenesses of the originals but are expressive in no small degree. In common with other arts the transmission of pictures to a distance has been brought to its present state of perfection by slow and gradual improvements effected in the course of 77 years. The literature on the subject is quite voluminous and difficult to peruse, as the articles are published in various languages and scattered through numerous periodicals. Only one complete and exhaustive work has been published in German by Dr. Arthur Korn of Munich and Dr. Bruno Glatzel.


The original idea is due to Alexander Bain, a Scotch mechanician, who secured a British patent disclosing the invention in 1843. His plan contemplated the transmission of printed letters, drawings and pictures in the following way: At the sending station a holder with insulated metal points was arranged to glide in the direction of the lines over a frame resting on the printed page to be reproduced at a distance. Within this frame, and at right angles to its plane, a number of short wires were imbedded in sealing wax, their lower ends being in contact with the letters which in turn were all electrically connected. As the holder moved back and forth the insulated metal points would be brought in and out of contact with the upper ends of the short wires, thus controlling the flow of the current through them. Each metal point was joined by a special line to the receiving station where there was a similar holder made to slide over chemically prepared paper laid on a grounded metal plate. When a battery at the transmitting end was connected with one of its poles to the letters and the other to the ground the current impulses traversing the line wires and the chemical paper would cause changes of color in the latter, thus reproducing the characters. A great number of points and line wires were required to attain satisfactory results and, realizing this objection, Bain proposed to avail himself of only one wire, but did not give full information in this regard. Subsequently Bonnelli and other inventors made improvements in his apparatus, reducing the number of the wires to a few. There is no doubt that, despite the manifest crudity of this system, it was quite capable of being used commercially in the transmission of type as well as drawings and pictures and may yet be found valuable.

The first practical success was achieved by an Englishman, Frederick Collier Bakewell, who secured a British patent in 1847 on a process, some features of which have proved to be indispensable in later years. He employed as a transmitter a cylinder on which the characters were written with insulating ink. A metal point bore on the cylinder and advanced slightly with each revolution of the same exactly as in the older form of phonograph. A similar cylinder covered with chemical paper and equipped with a sliding point was provided at the receiving station. The cylinders being grounded and a battery included in the line wire connecting the transmitting and receiving points, the passage of the current resulted in a discoloration of the paper and reproduction of the written characters at the receiving end. Considering the period Bakewell's apparatus was surprisingly perfect, particularly in the feature of maintaining the rotating cylinders in synchronism for which purpose he provided an automatic as well as a hand correction. A controversy was waged between Bakewell and Bain for the honor of priority, but in this respect there can be no mistake. Bain was the originator of the idea while Bakewell was the first to carry it out successfully.


The use of chemical paper was considered objectionable, and in 1851 Hipp eliminated it, producing the impressions at the receiver with a magnet actuated by the transmitted impulses. It is curious, though, to observe that the modern art depends entirely on this very device. In 1855 Casselli modified the Bakewell apparatus by employing carefully synchronized pendulums at the transmitting and receiving stations, thus replacing the rotary motion by a to-and-fro movement as in the Bain arrangement. Casselli seems to have had more enterprise than his predecessors, and the apparatus which he perfected in 1860 was actually used with some success for a short time in service between Paris and several other cities in France. Its abandonment was probably due to the slowness of transmission and lack of demand for this kind of facility. It is singular that many treatises on physics and other text books mention Casselli while ignoring Bain and Bakewell.

Shortly after this Meyer perfected a system which was used with success in France, and may be fairly considered as the first thoroughly practical application of ideas in this field. A curious improvement was made by Gerard who, in 1865, proposed the use of flat disks in place of the cylinders of Bakewell. Ever since one wire was adopted for the transmission it became an imperative necessity to maintain perfect synchronism between the transmitter and receiver, and many inventors devoted their energy to this task. D'Arlincourt resorted to tuning forks, and his idea was subsequently carried out in a more perfect manner by Lacour. At about this time the invention reached America, and in 1870 Sawyer brought his ingenuity to bear on the evolution of a process in which he employed zinc cliches. These were very reliable and constituted a signal advance.

In 1880 Edison devised an apparatus on the principle of that used by Sawyer, except that the impressions were produced on paper in bas-relief. This idea was carried further by Dennison in instruments of the reciprocating type. Through the introduction of the Tesla alternating system of power transmission a novel means was afforded for operating transmitters and receivers. The use of synchronous motors was proposed first in 1893 by Sheehy.


In all cases without exception it was necessary to provide an actual print, drawing or sketch to be transmitted until Lenoir introduced photographic films into the art, making possible the transmission of any kind of picture. This was a great step forward, but the honor of the first practical success belongs to an American engineer, N. Amstutz, who used photographic sending cliches in relief for the first time and with complete success. Amstutz was a true pioneer, and his improvement is essential in the carrying out of the modern processes. It is true that as early as 1865, a Frenchman, Hubert, had suggested the use of letters written with thick ink, but this was of little value, and Amstutz was undoubtedly the first to "produce and use the cliches on which the up-to-date art vitally depends. Perfectly satisfactory demonstrations were made with his devices in this country more than 20 years ago, when pictures were transmitted over telegraph wires to great distances. Samples of his work have been preserved which clearly show how much be was ahead of his time.

Following Amstutz, Dunlany, Palmer, Mills and other American inventors took up picture transmission with more or less success. By this time the necessity presented itself for increasing the rapidity of the process by greater speed of the devices as well as multiplex transmission. The Belgian inventor, Carbonelle, made an important improvement in this direction when he introduced the telephone diaphragm carrying a stylus for making the impressions.

Of all inventors, however, Dr. Korn was the most successful as well as prolific in the suggestion of improvements, his photographic method of recording carried out in 1903 being the most significant. The general idea of photographic recording had been already advanced by George Little, and a few years later Dillon took out a patent involving the use of sensitized paper and a mirror reflecting a beam of light on the same. But it is obvious that at that time it would have been hardly practicable to use this suggestion, as photography was not sufficiently advanced. In illustration of this it may be mentioned that in 1892 the attention of the scientific world was directed to a wonderfully sensitive receiver, consisting of an electron stream maintained in a delicately balanced condition in a vacuum bulb, by means of which it was proposed to use photography in the transmission of telegraphic and telephonic messages through the Atlantic cables, and later also by wireless. This proposal was met by unsurmountable objections to the photographic method. Indeed, the Belin process has been rendered possible largely through the great improvements in the sensitive films which have been evolved in response to the urgent demands of the motion picture and also under the stimulus of the recent war.


In the apparatus invented by Dr. Korn a selenium cell is used at the transmitter to vary the intensity of the sending current, and at the receiving station he employs a vacuum tube of high intensity which throws its light through a fine slot on a sensitive plate. The tube is excited by high-frequency currents supplied from a Tesla transformer and may be flashed up many thousand times per second. The motion of the receiver element is effected either by a wire galvanometer, oscillograph or telephone diaphragm. The Korn system has been used for some years past with success in Germany and other countries. In fact, it has been operated for some time even by wireless. Patents on this mode of transmission have been granted in 1898 and 1899 to Kiister and G. Williams, but the arrangements involved the employment of Hertz waves and were impracticable. Later Frederick Braun, Pansa and Knudsen secured patents which, however, are equally defective. Success in this direction has been achieved so far only by Korn, Berjonneau and T. Baker. Invariably the inventors employ a wire galvanometer which is especially suitable for great speed. Telautographic transmission by similar means through wires as well as wireless is now common and is effected by employing a transmitter of two components, the original idea of which is due to an Englishman, Jones, who made that suggestion as early as 1855.


To this short story of picture transmission Belin has contributed the latest chapter. The process he has finally adopted after many years of persistent effort involves the use of two cylinders rotating in synchronism — one for transmitting and the other for reproducing. The former is of copper and is prepared for operation by having its surface coated with a thin shellac solution, wrapping a carbon print of the photograph about it with its face to the cylinder and immersing the whole in hot water, this causing the gelatine to adhere to the cylinder surface in proportion to the degree of blackness so that a likeness of the print in bas-relief is obtained. On this cylinder bears the stylus of a microphone diaphragm which is slowly moved forward by the revolution of the cylinder as in a phonograph. In this manner the pressure of the carbon contacts is varied in conformity with the changes of the surface, and the microphone currents pass over the transmitting wire to the receiving station where they cause corresponding deflections of a mirror forming part of a highly sensitive dead-beat oscillograph. A strong beam of light reflected from the mirror traverses a screen graduated from full transparency to opacity and is led through a microscopic opening to the sensitive film wrapped around the receiving cylinder. Special provisions are made to keep the cylinders exactly in step as this is indispensable to good performance. The film is, of course, protected against the external light, and when the operation is completed it is developed as usual so that either a positive or negative print is obtained according to the position of the screen. There is nothing in his apparatus which is fundamentally novel; in fact, every feature of the same has been disclosed in the prior art. Even the gratu­ated screen, which is one of the most essential parts, has been employed before by Dr. Korn. But Mr. Belin has displayed considerable ingenuity and skill in all the details, and his reproduced photographs are most excellent. There is every reason to believe that his efforts will be rewarded by an extensive practical application of his devices.


The transmission of photographs constitutes only the first step towards the immeasurably greater achievement of television. By this is meant instantaneous transmis­sion of visual impressions to any distance by wire or wireless. It is a subject to which I have devoted more than 25 years of close study. Two of the impediments which years ago seemed insurmountable have been successfully overcome, but great difficulties are still in the way. These are encountered in the inertia of the sensitive cells and the enormous speed required to make possible the vision of persons, objects or scenes as in life. It is the problem of constructing a transmitter analogous to the lens and retina of the eye, providing a medium of conveyance corresponding to the optic nerve, and a receiver organized similarly to the brain. It is a gigantic task, but I am confident that the world will witness its actual accomplishment in the near future.

OCR by: Varsányi Péter (Pepe) Verzió: 1.00 (2004-06-14)

* Electrical Review — Dec. 11, 1920.

Први пут објављено: 1920-12-11
На Растку објављено: 2007-03-15
Датум последње измене: 2007-08-19 15:00:00

Пројекат Растко / Библиотека Никола Тесла