On Oct. 22, 1938, Inventor Chester Carlson first used static electricity by using a handkerchief, light and dry powder to create a copy. His first experiments were literally explosive. He caused many sulfur fires, and he nearly burned down his apartment.
The inventor later developed spinal arthritis. He kept up his experiments for most of his life while studying law and keeping a regular job. He did patent his experiments, though. In December 1946, he signed the first agreement to license electrophotography technology for commercial use. It would be years before people could actually use this technology as they do now. Until then, secretaries everywhere were stuck using carbon paper to make copies.
Xerox, a pioneer in photocopying technology
The photocopier was the transformative office tool of its time. Imagine tackling your work without it – likely having to painstakingly copy every document by hand. Before the copier came into existence, there were numerous attempts at early copy automation, yet all were imperfect. That is, until 1959, the year Xerox released the first “modern” version of the photocopier.
It was called “914,” and it was bulky, heavy and hard to use. It was about the size of two washing machines, and some of them literally caught on fire.
The machine used a rotating drum to create an electrostatic copy image. The image was transferred to fresh paper using toner, and then the whole thing was sealed using heat. It could create copies in just seven seconds – not terribly far off from the printing speeds of copying and printing machines you might purchase today. This was just the beginning of the wonder of photocopying technology, which rapidly hit offices across the country.
A forever changed workplace.
The fast popularity of photocopiers took even Xerox by surprise. The company had estimated that a typical customer would make approximately 2,000 copies a month. But many customers made 10,000 copies; some made 100,000 copies. The technology had taken off.
Beyond making copies easy to obtain, the photocopier changed work cultures and workflows. Prior to the invention, a single hard copy of a document would slowly make its way around the office. Keeping track of who viewed it (or approved it) was a completely manual process. The photocopier, in many ways, was the earliest tip of the sharing and collaboration boom. Knowledge – such as magazine articles, letters and news clips – could be easily copied and shared.
Why? It was more like, “Why not?” The photocopier was there, simply waiting to be used.