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How were photos transmitted by wire in 1937?

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Before smartphones, before text, before email, before fax, there was an era in which images were sent “by wire.” Wired photo transmission was a revolutionary method of sending images over long distances before the advent of digital technology.

In the early 20th century, wired photo transmission enabled newspapers and media outlets to quickly and efficiently share visual information across vast distances.


This Spot News feature, shared by the Charlie Dean Archives YouTube channel, shows how a photo taken of an airplane stunt travels from a remote location to the newspaper “in a matter of minutes.”

“The whole story of wired photo transmission then is simply this: A lamp light scans the original picture. A white spot on the picture makes a lot of current. Lots of current makes lots of light on the receiving machine and so exposes the negative more heavily at that point. A black spot on the picture reflects no light back into the photoelectric cell. No current passes over the telephone line. The neon tube remains dim and the negative is not exposed.”

an illustration of the technology

“We have merely unwound the original by lines in terms of lights and shadows and wound it up again on the negative. The negative now goes through the regular routine: it is developed and printed and made into a half-tone engraving called a cut. Put into the form, it goes with the page to be made into a mat, then a mold, then a part of the roaring presses.”

transferring the image

Before the advent of wired photos, days were required to send a picture from coast to coast by train and hours by airplane. Now it is only a matter of minutes after a news event has occurred before newspapers all over the country are carrying pictures that tell the story more graphically and completely than the printed word.”

printed newspaper
Watch these videos next:
β€’Β How did the telegraph help win the American Civil War?
β€’Β Introducing the Dial Telephone, films from 1936 & 1954
β€’Β The Story of Light – Future Impossible by Bell Labs
β€’Β Decoding the Voyager Golden Record
β€’Β Thin underwater cables hold the internet
β€’Β What happens when you send an email – The Story of Send

Thanks, Scot.

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