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The History of Printer Cartridges -- One Small Step for Wine, One Giant Leap for Ink-Kind!

The print cartridge is a necessity in today’s modern world, but do you know how it got started?

Would it surprise you to learn that the printer cartridge (as well as modern learning, for that matter) got its start in the bottom of an old wine press?

Take a look through this article and see for yourself. What began as a good idea in 1452 ended with one of the biggest developments in the history of the world…literacy for the masses. With it, the world could never have gotten to where we are now, and we surely would have gotten no further.

The Greatest Invention in the History of the World

What do a wine press, block lettering, and the Bible have in common?

It’s quite simple. All were involved in the production of the first ever mass-printing press. A man named Gutenberg came up with the design way back in 1452. He devised a way to utilize oil-based ink, moveable type, and an old wine press to make the first printing press.

Until that time, books were mostly made on vellum, which is specially treated calf or lamb skin, and were created by hand. They were fantastic works of art, mostly religious manuscripts. The monks of the day felt that the simple creation of a holy book was an act of worship, and that the books were not to be handled by the general populace. They were simply too precious to be left in the hands of the common man.

The first thing Gutenberg did with his new press was print up a few copies of the Bible. He thought he’d get rich, selling the word of God to the common folk, but a few short months later he was penniless.

His problem was that although there was indeed a great many uses for his new printing press, the illiteracy rate of the day hovered in the 90 per cent range among the farmers and common folk. His other problem was that he had no way to get the word out about his amazing new machine, and the people who might be interested in reading one of his bibles simply didn’t know about them.

When Martin Luther began his Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500's, he made full use of the printer’s tool. His war of propaganda eventually caused a massive rift in the Catholic Church, a rift that exists even to this day.

The First Printers

Even the most modern, up to date, and fastest printers in the world all share a common ancestor in the typewriter. Where would companies like Hewlett Packard, Compaq, and Epson be today if it wasn’t for a man named Henry Mill?

Mill, by the way, happened to be the man who first put a patent on a mechanical writing machine in 1714. The typewriter was born…sort of.

You see, nobody knows for sure if Mill actually made the device or not. None exist to this day, and aside from some schematics and plans for the mechanical writing machine, there is no proof that any were actually built.

Moving along then through history, we see that the first commercially successful mechanical writing device was made in Denmark in 1870.

In 1874, Christopher Sholes, Samuel Soule, and Carlos Glidden came up with the keyboard model that was released commercially by the Remington Gun Company. Known as the “Qwerty” because of the five letters across the top row (Q, W, E, R, T, and Y) this keyboard format is still in use today.

The typewriter used hammer keys to press against an ink patton (a fancy word that means roller), which transferred the letter onto a sheet of paper, effectively making it the very first print cartridge in existence. However, like all typewriters of the day, the device was set up so that one pressed down on the keys, and the keys came in contact with the paper underneath.

This effectively forced the operator to type blind. There was no way to see what one was typing until the page was finished.

Franz Wagner, a German inventor, came up with a solution. In 1894 he developed a typewriter that more closely resembles the ones that exist today. He basically created a design that allowed the operator to watch as the letters were being hammered onto the page.

This concept was later perfected by John Underwood, an ink ribbon and carbon paper manufacturer, who released his version of a typewriter, the “Underwood #1” in 1897, which was the prototypical typewriter of its day.

Xero Hour

In 1939 a man named Charles Carlson developed a process that revolutionized the copying industry, and would ultimately lead to the downfall of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.

The process was known as Electrography, and was the first “dry writing” technique developed in the United States (or elsewhere, for that matter). In 1949 the Haloid Company began commercially developing Electrography for the first time.

They came out with the world’s first photocopier, and promptly changed their name to Xerox.

What the first Xerox photocopiers did was essentially the same as mechanical carbon paper. Not surprisingly, folks were soon lining up to get their hands on this amazing device, and carbon paper would soon be seen as the ugly step sister no one wanted to take to the ball.

In 1959 the Xerox 914 hit the markets, and virtually overnight, changed the way business was done. Graphic communication was suddenly in the spotlight, as businesses scrambled to update their communication systems. Companies saved truckloads of money in filing clerk wages. They were wages happily spent on the new Xerox copier.

Laser Beams and Copying Machines

It was Gary Starkweather who first demonstrated a feasible application of laser printing when he combined a laser beam with the Xerox dry-printing technology in 1969.

Xerox was quick to grasp the possibilities, and in 1978 the world’s first business laser printer, the Xerox 9700, was unleashed on the world. The 9700 model boasted a blazing copy speed of around 120 ppm (pages per minute), a speed that rivals laser printers even today. The only problems with it were that it was huge, and that it cost nearly twenty thousand dollars to buy one.

The following year IBM followed Xerox into the laser printing world with the release of their IBM 3800, a machine that was nearly as expensive as the Xerox 9700 and just about as big. The IBM 3800 could happily chew through 20,000 lines per minute, or about 80 ppm.

The laser printer became the ultimate printing device for businesses during the 1980's, and before long toner cartridges were littering landfill sites around the world. By 1984, the dot matrix printer was obsolete, and a new era for printing was about to begin.

1984 saw the release of the Hewlett Packard LaserJet printer, the first home-based desktop laser printer.

If you consider this machine the left hook that put the dot matrix printer down for good, than Hewlett Packard’s release of the ThinkJet printer, an ink printer with a resolution of 96dpi that printed off 8ppm would surely be the uppercut that broke the dot matrix glass jaw and sent it down for the count.

What followed was an astounding race between companies like Compaq, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Epson, Canon, and Apple. Every year there were vast improvements upon the previous year’s models, each trying to outdo the other. The winner, of course, was the consumer.

In the last few years the price of printing has come down dramatically. These days, printers can easily provide near-photo quality for under $100.

With the shift toward desktop publishing as great as ever these days, it’s not surprising that the software (and hardware!) has improved considerably. Today, it is easy and affordable to create professional looking documents on your computer at home.

Hopefully, we’ve shown you a little bit about the world of the ink cartridge. As you can see, the cartridge itself is closely tied to many things, from Wine Presses to God to Lasers, and all in just 500 years.

The story of the ink cartridge (and printing, for that matter) really shows you what can happen when you turn your lemons into lemonade. Or in this case, your sour grapes!

About The Author

Bill Schnarr is a successful freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers purchasing HP printer cartridges, samsung laser toner and printer ink cartridges. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on the "History of Printer Cartridges" is reprinted with permission.

© 2004 - Net Guides Publishing, Inc.

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