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The History of Printers – Developing an Image

Xerox – a household word, right? A word synonymous with printers, photocopiers, fax machines, and a myriad of other office equipment. Here, we’ll be focusing on the printer aspect of their business. Everybody’s heard of Xerox printers, but does anybody know when the printer was invented? That’s what we’re going to tell you about here. We’re going to give you a simple education on the history of printers. Let’s see what develops.

Electrophotography develops into laser printing

In 1938, Chester Carlson, a patent attorney and a graduate of Caltech, developed a dry printing process call electrophotography. Carlson tried to sell his idea to more than 20 companies, including RCA, Remington Rand, General Electric, Eastman Kodak and IBM. But they all thought he was out-to-lunch – they couldn’t figure out why anyone would need a machine to do something that could be done with carbon paper!

But then, in 1949, Haloid Company of New York agreed to fund the applied research of electro-photography, with the intent to develop it into a dry copying process. They called this process “xerography” – Greek for “dry writing”. Haloid Company eventually changed their name to the Xerox Corporation.

The first computer needed a printer

UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer) was one of the first computers. It was about the size of a one-car garage, and cost $1 million. In 1954, the UNIPRINTER was built to work in tandem with the UNIVAC. Originally, printing was done offline by the UNIPRINTER, which resembled an overgrown typewriter with an attached tape drive. It printed 600 lines per minute, with 130 characters per line.

In the meantime, the research was continuing with xerography. By now, it had been decided that this was the definitive technology for computer output printing. Out of this research came the first laser printer, developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The research took a couple of years, 1969-1971. Gary Starkweather, one of the Xerox engineers working on adapting their copier technology, added a laser beam to it to come up with the laser printer. He named this machine “SLOT”, an acronym for Scanned Laser Output Terminal. The digital control system and character generator for the printer were developed by Butler Lampson and Ronald Rider in 1972. The combined efforts resulted in a printer named EARS (Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator, Scanned laser output terminal). The EARS printer was used with the Alto computer system network and subsequently became the Xerox 9700 laser printing system.

In 1978, this Xerox 9700 was introduced to the U.S. and the world – the first of its kind available commercially. It printed 120 pages per minute (ppm) and is still, even today, the fastest commercial laser printer. But, in its day, the 9700 was huge, both in size and price. On the upside, though, it generated $1 billion a year for Xerox’s xerographic printing business.

Xerox wasn’t the only company developing printers

While Xerox was developing its printer technology, IBM, the other manufacturer of computers, wasn’t going to be left out. The initial development of wire matrix printing was by Reynold B. Johnson of IBM. The original concept, introduced with the Type 26 keypunch in 1949, used a 5 x 7 array of wires to form a character.

In 1954 Burroughs Corporation announced a wire printer producing 100-character lines, printing at 1000 lines per minute. In 1955, IBM announced two high-speed printers capable of printing 1000 lines per minute. These high-speed wire printers experienced numerous problems and were not successful. In 1969 IBM introduced the Model 2213 seven-wire printer. This printer was unidirectional and printed at a rate of 66 characters per second.

Centronics Data Computer Corporation was one of the major suppliers of dot matrix printers in the 1970s. In 1970, they designed a dot matrix printer called the Model 101. It had a speed of 165 characters per second (CPS) using a 5 x 7 matrix and sold for $2,995. They followed that up in 1977 with the Micro-1 printer with a speed of 240 CPS and a price of $595. Then, in 1979, they introduced the Centronics 700 series that included the Model 779, priced at less than $1,000.

Many companies were competing for top billing in the printer industry. Epson, a subsidiary of Seiko, the Japanese watch manufacturer, was one of the initial developers of the low-cost dot matrix printer technology. Their TX-80, introduced in 1978, was an immediate success. They followed that up with the MX series – IBM liked these so much they sold them with their Personal Computer under an OEM agreement.

Meanwhile, research and development of the dot matrix printer continued. Additional wires were added to the printhead to improve the resolution. The early 7-wire heads were changed to include 9, 12, 14, 18 and by the early 1980s, 24-wire heads. These improvements have provided what is called “Near Letter Quality” (NLQ) and “Letter Quality” (LQ) printing. The next development was color dot matrix printers, becoming available in the late 1970s, and employing a 4-color ribbon that overprinted to produce various colors.

C.Itoh Electronics developed a low-cost desktop printer for personal computers in 1976. It was called the ImageWriter, and was introduced by Apple in 1983 at a price of $675. The low-cost dot matrix printer industry became a competitive market with many players joining the race. Some of these companies were NEC, Okidata and TEC.

Inkjet printers overtake dot matrix printers

Because of the noise, print quality and print speed of the wire matrix printer, along with the decreasing cost of inkjet and laser printers, the tides began to turn. Research and development in inkjet technology had accelerated during the 1960-1970s. In 1976, IBM introduced the Model 6640 continuous inkjet printer which set new standards for print quality.

Then, in 1978, Canon introduced what they called their “Bubble Jet” concept. That same year, Hewlett-Packard, not to be outdone, developed a thermal drop-on-demand printing concept. They followed that up in 1984 with the ThinkJet which used a disposable printhead with 12 individually-controlled chambers that expelled drops of ink from the nozzle. This printer had a speed of 150 CPS with an 11 x 12 dot character and a resolution of 96 dots per inch. It sold for $495. Prices were on their way down!

However, with new technology, prices rose again. In 1983, Canon introduced the LPB-CX laser printer, with a resolution of 300 x 300 dots per inch (dpi). Its most impressive feature was the operator-changeable disposable cartridge – not only was this cartridge operator-changeable (which kept down the cost of service), but it also contained the laser diode, the lens and mirror system, the photosensitive roller, the toner cartridge and the paper handler. Hewlett-Packard and Apple Computer were so impressed they bought the engine for the LPB-CX and used it in their own models. The Hewlett-Packard model was named the now well-known HP LaserJet, and was priced at $2,500. The Apple model was named the LaserWriter, with a price tag of $6,000.

The race goes on

Printers today are varied and inexpensive. You can always find the right printer for your particular use. And the future of printers is phenomenal. They’re talking of 3-D printing where you can order some products and have them “delivered” on your printer.

This history of printers takes place just within the last century. Combine that history with the "History of Photocopiers" and the "History of Fax Machines", then look at the future – it could boggle your mind. The printing industry is just getting started. If you need a printer, check out all the possibilities – you’re sure to find the right one for you.

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a successful freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers purchasing okidata toner cartridge, hp inkjet cartridges and canon printer cartridges. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

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

© 2004 - Net Guides Publishing, Inc.

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