Scotland

Emmy for Scottish TV pioneer Alexander Bain

Alexander Bain
Image caption Alexander Bain's invention will be recognised by an Emmy award

A 19th Century Scottish inventor is to be awarded an Emmy by the US television industry almost 140 years after his death.

The Emmys are a series of awards for television excellence, the equivalent of the Oscars in the film industry.

Alexander Bain will be awarded a Technology and Engineering Emmy on Friday 8 January at a ceremony in Las Vegas.

The award is for inventing "the concept of scanning for image transmission".

His invention is said to be one of the fundamental principles of television.

Bain was born at Watten in Caithness in 1810 and died in poverty in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, in 1877.

Image caption Alexander Bain's electric clock will be displayed at the National Museums of Scotland

During his lifetime Bain was the first person to patent an electric clock.

He also installed the railway telegraph lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

But it was the invention of one of the earliest fax machines, patented in 1843, which has led him to be given a National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy award, alongside contemporary television giants such as Netflix and HBO.

His fax machine invention, which was 33 years before the patent was given for the telephone, contained the fundamentals of what would become television.

It was the first time an image had been scanned from one location to another.

Image caption The fax machine invention was a combination of Bain's two earlier inventions

His invention was so advanced that it would be another 80 years before the breakthroughs which led to modern television's development.

After the ceremony, the Emmy will be heading for a new home in Scotland

The award will be accepted by East Dunbartonshire Council because he was buried in the Auld Aisle cemetery in Kirkintilloch when he died.

Image caption Dr Ivan Ruddock said Bain's fax machine contained fundamental invention underlying television

Members of the Kirkintilloch and District Society of Antiquaries have been looking into the life of the much-overlooked Scottish inventor and are delighted he is being recognised.

Dr Ivan Ruddock, the group's president, said: "Alexander Bain invented many things including clocks, electric clocks and the telegraph.

"One of his inventions was the fax machine in the 1840s.

"It contains the fundamental invention underlying television - that is image scanning, image transmission and image reconstruction.

"He is the inventor of what became known as the raster scan in television.

"It contained the whole idea of pixels and everything that forms a television picture. Also I suppose image reconstruction and manipulation that is in digital photography as well."

One of Alexander Bain's electric clocks will be going on display in one of the new galleries opening in the summer of 2016 at the National Museum of Scotland.

Image caption Alison Taubman says Bain's idea was revolutionary in its day

Alison Taubman, the principal curator, communications, at the National Museums Scotland, said: "Without the principle of transmitting images by wire, by electricity, we wouldn't have got to the early pioneering days of television in the 1920s.

"Certainly his idea, the principle that you could transmit images using electrical pulses down a wire, was a revolutionary idea in his day.

"We can say he was the inventor of the fax machine; he called it himself a facsimile telegraph.

"He certainly was at the beginning of the transmission of images and now that's used in all sorts of ways to transmit images down the line."

Ms Taubman says the principle of scanning an image by electricity and transmitting that image from one location to the other was a combination of two of his key inventions.

She says: "The first one was the electric clock which he patented in 1841, that used a pendulum system and electro magnets that sent pulses of electricity along a wire and could then run clocks at a distance.

"It allowed the standardisation of time and synchronisation of different clocks along a railway network in his case.

"He also invented a new sort of telegraph instrument in 1843, which used chemically treated paper to register the marks in Morse code, to have a document with your message on it.

"Those two inventions combined - the chemical telegraph and the electric clock - operated his fax machines, which need a pendulum to scan across a document, that would then be sent as pulses of electricity to the receiving instrument, where the document would be printed out again using his chemically treated paper."

And so an inventor of the 19th century will be recognised by an industry very much operating in the 21st-century.

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