A Brief History Of Copying

Ever since early man used crushed berries to paint on cave walls, people have sought a better way to express themselves through words and art.

Scribes made copies for the Kings and their rulers from ancient times up to very recently. It wasn’t until the turn of the last century (1900) that Thomas Edison added the Stencil Duplicator to his long list of inventions. About the same time, Mr. A.B. Dick made a similar invention, the Mimeograph, and he patented it in England. The two of them then fought a twenty-year legal battle, while the Mimeo machine quickly gained worldwide acceptance.

In time there were other methods and machines, such as the Ditto spirit duplicator and the AM Multilith, but the Mimeo remained predominant. In the WW II novel, “Catch 22”, Joseph Heller wrote with sarcasm: “The fellow who rules the Mimeo, rules to world.” He was referring to the fact that everyone, on both sides of the war, got their orders from the guy who runs the Mimeo machine.

This predominance came to a sudden end in 1959, when Chester Carlsen invented the Xerox machine. It was revolutionary because it was the first plain paper copier. Almost all of the obsolete machines went into the dumpster and a new business emerged: commercial xerographic office photocopying, or Copy Shops.

The rise of personal computers mirrors the rise of automated printers. The impact-based dot-matrix printer (which was more of a glorified typewriter), gave way to the inkjet printer. The inkjet printer was a major advancement by offering the ability to eject ink through a print head onto a page, it enabled great flexibility in type styles, fonts, sizes, and graphics. 

While the inkjet printer is great for printing certain high-end graphics and prints, but the replacement ink is expensive and the print heads tended to clog. Busy business offices longed for printers that could produce a high volume of quality text documents. While there was a need for a printer that can crank out thousands of pages of computer-generated copy on a single toner cartridge, the machines were very large, complex, and very expensive. The early Xerox Color Copiers were actually 3 or 4 regular Xerox machines combined into one huge machine. It had a separate color cartridge, drum and print mechanism for each of the basic colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black) and each sheet of paper had to pass through all of the drums before exiting. These machines required special power and cooling, just like the computers of that period.

Eventually, it was the automated laser printers that changed the text document game forever, but it certainly was not an overnight success. The first laser printer had arrived without much fanfare. It was first developed in 1969 by a Xerox engineer, Gary Starkweather. Starkweather modified one of the Xerox copiers to accept information sent from a computer and laser printing was born! However, it didn’t gain wide use until many years later, when everything went digital and the printers were greatly simplified. These new printers were extremely reliable, compact, and less expensive. Then the ubiquitous Xerox machines were replaced by the many automated Laser Printers from Japan and the USA.

There was also a major improvement in the print quality of these new machines. The early laser cartridges contained powder that was composed primarily of carbon black for black toner and iron oxide for color toner, very similar to the Xerox machines of that period. However, the iron oxide tended to darkened images and produced poor color quality. Printer manufacturers knew there had to be a better way. This ultimately led to the discovery of powdered plastic as a solution. Currently, each laser printer manufacturer uses their own powdered plastic for their color toners, with minimal differences in the ingredients from manufacturer-to-manufacturer.

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