The modern office relies on the fax machine to exchange documents between offices.

© Leonard McLane/Riser/Getty Images

It once was the center of modern office technology, spitting out reams of important documents as they poured in from around the world, letting business people exchange printed information as fast as they could across the telephone lines.

The fax machine is still an important piece of office technology, despite the advances that e-mail and the Internet have wrought. Its strange voice -- a series of beeps, squeaks and hisses -- that remains familiar to all who work in the business world. Many people even have fax machines in their homes.

The fax-machine concept dates back more than a hundred years. The technology has been in place almost as long and was heavily influenced by another technology of the day -- the telegraph, the first technology that allowed humans to send information instantly to distant points via electrical wires.

What is the history of the fax machine? And, where did the term "fax" come from anyway? Check out the next page to find out.