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The History of Photocopiers – A Perfect Reproduction

Perfect reproduction – the goal of all photocopiers. And they do a very good job of it, too. But it wasn’t always that way. When they were first invented, the copies were very poor quality – they’d be thrown in the garbage today. But it all had to start somewhere. And it started with one man who had a passion for new ideas. The history of photocopiers wouldn’t be complete without some history of this man.

The History of Photocopiers is synonymous with the history of Chester F. Carlson

A man named Michael Garrett Marino once said, “A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak.” A man named Chester F. Carlson agreed with that. His whole life was centered around a search for new knowledge. Speaking of his boyhood, he said, “I turned toward interests of my own devising, making things, experimenting, and planning for the future…The idea of making an invention appealed to me as one of the new available means to accomplish a change in one’s economic status, while at the same time bringing to focus my interest in technical things and making it possible to make a contribution to society as well.” Very noble thoughts! And do you think he accomplished what he set out to do? The success of the photocopier definitely ranks as “a contribution to society”.

Check out this list of just some of his accomplishments:

  • As a schoolboy, he published a chemical magazine to support his invalid parents.
  • He was a research engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York.
  • He received his LI.B. (law) degree from the New York Law School in 1939.
  • He got a physics degree at Caltech.
  • He was granted 34 U.S. patents, of which 28 relate to electrophotography.
  • He established the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.
  • The Chester F. Carlson Award was established to recognize outstanding work in the science or technology of electrophotography.

Chester Carlson accomplished much of what he intended throughout his life. And he’s still contributing – even after his death. He managed to continually put himself in a position where he was around new developments – like patent departments where new inventions were always being submitted.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

During the course of his patent work, Carlson noticed that there never seemed to be enough carbon copies of patent specifications. There were only two ways to get additional copies – have expensive photocopies made or have a typist type more copies which then had to be proofread for errors – a long and tedious task. The solution to this challenge would be a small copying machine in the office. But the basic operating principle would have to depend on light-reflecting properties.

Carlson’s first inkling of how this light-reflecting process could work eventually led him, through his research, to the conclusion that when light strikes a layer of photoconductive material, the electrical conductivity of the material is increased while the light is on and, in some cases, for a period after the light is removed. This led to many nights of experiments in the kitchen of his apartment.

But finally, a breakthrough – as Carlson describes it: “October 22, 1938 was an historic occasion. I went to the lab that day and Otto [his physicist assistant] had a freshly-prepared sulphur coating on a zinc plate. We tried to see what we could do toward making a visible image. Otto took a glass microscope slide and printed on it in India ink the notation ‘10-22-38 Astoria’. We pulled down the shade to make the room as dark as possible, then he rubbed the sulphur surface vigorously with a handkerchief to apply an electrostatic charge, laid the slide on the surface and placed the combination under a bright incandescent lamp for a few seconds. The slide was then removed and lycopodium powder was sprinkled on the sulphur surface. By gently blowing on the surface all the loose powder was removed and there was left on the surface a near-perfect duplicate in powder of the notation which had been printed on the glass slide.”

This is what the very first electrophotographic copy looked like.

Many experiments later – the first modern-day photocopier

Although Charles Carlson had developed the basic principles of electrophotography, many more experiments were needed to develop an actual machine that would produce the same results. As Carlson looked back, he remembered, "...15 years elapsed from the time I started working on xerography and the time the first piece of commercial equipment went on the market." During that time, he approached over 20 different companies to sell his idea.

Finally, on October 6, 1944, an agreement was signed between Carlson and Battelle Development Corporation, who sponsored new inventions. From then on, organized applied research went to work.

In 1946, The Haloid Company (now Xerox Corporation) got in touch with Carlson indirectly, which led to the attainment of a patent license and the subsequent development of the first commercial xerographic equipment in 1948.

Improved technology leads to more diverse photocopiers

Since Xerox’s first copier, technology has advanced at a progressively fast rate. Photocopiers became more user-friendly, and more adaptable to varied uses. The next major development in the thriving industry of image reproduction was the introduction of laser optics to drive a printer.

Then, in the 1980s, the digital age arrived with a new wave of laser printers, digital copiers, and digital presses. The first digital duplicators came on the market in the late 1980s. Since that time, the basic mechanics haven’t changed. What has dramatically changed is the print quality, user convenience and diagnostic sophistication of these machines. And they’re not finished yet!

A progressive history leads to an exciting future

Looking ahead, more sophisticated engineering will create even greater reliability and ease of operation. Even the early digital duplicators had fewer moving parts than copiers, and the latest models are even more streamlined, resulting in fewer breakdowns and service calls. Perhaps what’s most exciting about the future of digital duplicating are the waiting-to-be-discovered applications. As users become more familiar with this technology, they’ll become more creative in ways to use it.

So Chester F. Carlson achieved his dream – to “contribute to society”. His contribution – the science of electrophotography – led to the development of photocopiers, printers, fax machines and more. This man’s “love affair with knowledge” definitely didn’t “end in heartbreak”.

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a successful freelance writer providing valuable tips and advice for consumers purchasing laser toner refill, lcd projector reviews and wholesale janitorial supplies. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on "The History of Photocopiers" reprinted with permission.

© 2004 - Net Guides Publishing, Inc.

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