Alexander Bain Biography

(Inventor of Electric Clock)

Birthday: October 1, 1811 (Libra)

Born In: Watten

Alexander Bain was a renowned inventor and clockmaker, who invented many instruments including the electric clock, chemical telegraph receivers, punch-tapes and the facsimile machine, commonly known as the ‘fax machine’. His other inventions include an earth battery, insulation for electric cables, an electric fire alarm, inkstands, ink holders and a ship’s log. He owned the patents of all of his inventions. This inventor from Scotland also installed the railway telegraph lines between Glasgow and Edinburgh. His invention of electric clocks can be observed in the National Maritime Museum of London, the London Science Museum, the Royal Scottish Museum and the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum. His improved version of fax service was opened between Paris and Lyon. This service was called pantelegraph. During his work on chemical telegraph, he developed two types of chemical recorders. One of these methods was the tape method which was used for general purpose. He developed the other method for major terminals. By 1859 his chemical telegraph was used only on the Boston-Montreal line in America. The credit of inventing an automatic method of playing on wind instruments by moving a band of perforated paper that controls the supply of air to the pipes goes to him.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 65


siblings: Margaret

Inventors Scottish Men

Died on: January 2, 1877

place of death: Kirkintilloch, Scotland

discoveries/inventions: Electric Clock.

Childhood & Early Life
Alexander Bain was one of the thirteen children of a crofter. Although he did not excel in academics, he developed interest in science after he attended a science lecture when he was only 12 years old.
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In order to learn the art of clock making, he went to London in 1837. After reaching London, he worked as a journeyman in Clerkenwell. At the same time, he used to attend lectures at the Polytechnic Institution.
For most of the period during 1840 to 1860, he remained busy in developing electric clocks. His creation of mantel clock consisted of complex design. It worked on an electro-magnetic pull push.
He set up his own workshop in Hanover Street. On 11 January 1841, he got his electric clock patented. This clock consisted of a pendulum which used to move by electromagnetic impulses.
In the month of December of 1841, along with Lieutenant Thomas Wright RN, he patented the technique for usage of electricity to control railway engines.
One of his patents includes his plan of inverting the needle telegraph that Ampere, Wheatstone and others developed earlier. He employed a suspended movable coil between the poles of a fixed magnet to make signals.
From 1843 to 1846, he devoted his time on an experimental facsimile machine. For this purpose, he used a clock in order to synchronize the movement of two pendulums for line-by-line scanning of a message.
He also made arrangements of metal pins on a cylinder made of insulating material for the transmission of message. He scanned the pins with the help of a flexible slender electric instrument that would transmit on-off pulses.
On 12th December 1846, he patented a chemical telegraph. At that time the Morse and other telegraphs that were used, were comparatively slow. He planned to use signal current to make a readable mark on a moving paper tape.
He decided to soak the paper tape in a mixture of ammonium nitrate and potassium ferrocyanide. After the paper’s soaking in this mixture, it gave a blue mark when a current was passed through it.
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This mechanical system used to produce marks at such a high speed that hand signaling was not enough to keep up with it. Therefore, he utilized punched paper tape to devise a method of automatic signaling.
The chemical telegraph invented by him was tied between Paris and Lille. This system worked at a speed of 282 words in 52 seconds. England’s Electric Telegraph Company used his telegraph on its wires.
In 1850, he worked over an improved version of facsimile machine. But it was his bad luck that Frederick Bakewell received a patent for his improved version of ‘image telegraph’ two years earlier.
Later, it was noticed that mechanism of both Bain’s and Bakewell’s mechanism presented poor quality images. Moreover, the transmitter and receiver were also not synchronized completely in their machines.
In 1850, Henry O’Reilly of America used his chemical telegraph. Later, Samuel Morse claimed that the paper tape and alphabet used for this telegraph, belonged to his patent.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was a widower and had a son and a daughter. Both of his children were abroad. According to some accounts, his son lived in America while his daughter on the Continent. After his death, his body was buried on Kirkintilloch.
His inventions enabled him to earn a large sum of money. Later, he faced financial problem due to lack of proper investment. In 1873, he received a Civil List pension from Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.
His invention of chemical telegraph inspired Wheatstone to develop his automatic sender. To honor his inventions, the main BT building in Glasgow is named Alexander Bain House.
This talented inventor demonstrated his famous models of electric clock to Sir Charles Wheatstone, an English scientist and inventor in 1840. After seeing those models, Wheatstone opined that there was no future of those clocks.

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