We have all used it at one time or another to copy our school documents, or parts of a book borrowed from the library, or just about anything we wanted a copy of. It’s just a matter of pressing a button of the xerox machine and hey Presto! a piece of paper comes out at one end, an exact duplicate of the document we needed copied!
However, when the invention was first patented, nobody wanted anything to do with it. Major corporations like IBM, Kodak and General Electric rejected the offer to develop it, perhaps regretting the decision to this day! However, the blood, sweat, and tears of its inventor, Chester F. Carlson did not go wasted, as the success of the machine proves today!
Chester Carlson, the inventor of this machine was born on February 8, 1906 in Seattle but grew up in California. In 1930, he received his degree in Physics from California Institute of Technology.
However, it was the depression era and there were no jobs available. Ultimately Carlson got a job at P. R. Mallory in New York city, a battery manufacturing company. During this time, Carlson studied law at night school and ensured a somewhat steady job at Mallory in their patents department as a patents ‘lawyer’.
Carlson found that each patent had to be copied many times by hand or photographed before it could even be submitted to the patents office. Both methods were tedious and time consuming.
This tedium was the root cause for Carlson to invent the much needed photocopier that we take for granted today. Carlson reasoned that there must be a better way to make copies and he decided to find out.
He spent months going through various scientific articles but could find no solution. He reasoned that the answer lay in the new field of photoconductivity, a field recently discovered by Hungarian physicist Paul Selenyi. He had discovered that when light strikes the surface of certain chemicals or metals, its conductivity (flow of electrons) increases.
Carlson realized that if the image of a document or photograph was to be projected onto a photoconductive surface, current would flow only in the areas where the light falls.
He worked at his invention from the kitchen of his house and arrived at something he termed ‘electrophotography’. His first patent was applied for in October 1937.
In the beginning large corporations did not show any enthusiasm in the project as it would have cost them an initial investment of millions of dollars.
At this time Carlson came in contact with Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit organisation that invested in technological research. Battelle promised to help Carlson and signed a deal giving Carlson a 40% share in the proceeds.
Battelle assigned the project over to a man named Roland M. Schaffert, a research physicist and a former printer. Schaffert worked on the project for nearly a year. He then improved on Carlson’s technique by using a new photoconductive plate covered with Selenium, a better photoconductor.
Battelle researchers also developed a dry ink, which they called a toner. This toner was made of ammonium chloride salt and a plastic material to get a clearer image.
On January 2, 1947, Battelle signed an agreement with a small company known as Haloid to manufacture this electrophotograpy technology and the first photocopiers were introduced in the market in 1949.
However, the flat plate process was very prolonged and was impractical when making a dozen or more copies. At this time somebody suggested that Haloid use the term xerography for this technology from the Greek words xeros for “dry” and graphos for “writing”. Haloid thus named its first photocopier the XeroX Model A. In 1958, Haloid officially changed their name to Haloid Xerox, and finally to Xerox in 1961.
Success didn’t really come to Haloid Xerox until they introduced the Model 914, in 1959. It was called ‘914’ because it could handle paper legal size paper which is 9 inches x 14 inches in size.
This was the model that hit it big that by 1965 earned Xerox revenue over $500 million dollars and today Xerox is such a household name that people confuse the name of the company for the process called photocopying!
Sometimes we mistakenly say “can I have a Xerox of this document?” don’t we? Now you know why it is wrong to say so !
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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.