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Xerography Turns 75

Believe it or not, there was a time when xerography was laughed at and carbon paper was king. One man changed it all 75 years ago this month.

October 2003 By BOB NEUBAUER
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As you route another job to your digital press today, take a moment to reflect on the fact that xerographic technology has come a long way since it was invented 75 years ago this month.

It was October 22, 1938, in Astoria, N.Y., when Chester Carlson, a patent attorney and part-time inventor, made the first successful xerographic copy. In the six and a half decades since that historic day, xerography has grown to become an integral part of our daily lives—an outcome that would have seemed preposterous to Carlson's contemporaries. In fact, due to the extreme apathy of the companies to which Carlson tried to market his idea, the first convenient xerographic office copier was not introduced until 1959—21 years after the process was invented.

Genesis Of An Idea

Carlson, an only child, was born in Seattle in 1906. As a teenager, he worked for a printer and eventually acquired a press of his own, which he used to publish a small magazine for amateur chemists. It was a short-lived experiment, but it had a lasting effect.

"This experience did impress me with the difficulty of getting words into hard copy, and this, in turn, started me thinking about duplicating processes," Carlson recalled, years later.

After attaining a degree in physics, Carlson took a job at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York. He was laid off during the Depression, but eventually got a job with P.R. Mallory & Co., an electronics firm. He earned a law degree from New York Law School, and was later promoted to manager of Mallory's patent department.

There, in this heavy paperwork environment, Carlson noticed the consistent shortage of carbon copies of patent specifications. He began to conceive of a device that would accept a document and make copies of it in seconds.

After reading as much as he could about imaging processes, he decided to eschew the well-charted course toward conventional photography and explore the uncharted waters of photoconductivity. He learned that when light strikes a photoconductive material, the electrical conductivity of that material is increased.

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