A "fax machine" usually consists of an image scanner, a modem, and a printer.
Although devices for transmitting printed documents electrically have existed, in various forms, since the 19th century (see "History" below), modern fax machines became feasible only in the mid-1970s as the sophistication increased and cost of the three underlying technologies dropped. Digital fax machines first became popular in Japan, where they had a clear advantage over competing technologies like the teleprinter, since at the time (before the development of easy-to-use input method editors) it was faster to handwrite kanji than to type the characters. Over time, faxing gradually became affordable, and by the mid-1980s, fax machines were very popular around the world.
Although many businesses still maintain some kind of fax capability, the technology has faced increasing competition from Internet-based systems. However, fax machines still retain some advantages, particularly in the transmission of sensitive material which, due to mandates like Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, cannot be sent over the Internet unencrypted. In some countries, because electronic signatures on contracts are not recognized by law while faxed contracts with copies of signatures are, fax machines enjoy continuing support in business.
In many corporate environments, standalone fax machines have been replaced by "fax servers" and other computerized systems capable of receiving and storing incoming faxes electronically, and then routing them to users on paper or via an email (which may be secured). Such systems have the advantage of reducing costs by eliminating unnecessary printouts and reducing the number of inbound analog phone lines needed by an office.