Friday, June 8, 2018

I love the part about machines coming with their own fire extinguisher

We've been talking a lot about the ubiquitous changes in people's lives wrought by technology around the turn of the century and in the postwar era, but I still keep coming across seemingly obvious examples I managed to miss. This is a big one.

Over the next decade, Haloid scientists and engineers refined xerography (from the Greek for “dry” and “writing”) into a working machine. The result was the Xerox 914. Introduced in 1959, it had a knob to set the number of copies and a big “PRINT” button, weighed 650 pounds, and could make a copy in less than 10 seconds. Paper jams were frequent and paper fires not infrequent (it came with a small fire extinguisher), but its success shocked even Haloid: The company’s first customers began making thousands of copies a day. By the mid-’60s, the number of copies made nationwide had shot past 10 billion. Haloid changed its name to Xerox and minted a generation of “Xerox millionaires.” [Chester] Carlson’s royalties accrued into a huge fortune, most of which he would give away.

There had been other duplicating technologies before Xerox, but they were all crude, inconvenient, limited in application, or prohibitively expensive. Xerography redefined the way we handled and even thought about documents. I suspect that the evolution of the modern "paperless" office was heavily influenced by a demand for documentation that started in the mid-20th century.

1 comment:

  1. I used to work in an office that had an old-style copy machine, where you put in the paper in one slot and it turned along various rollers until it came out the other end. One time there was some sort of malfunction and the original came out of the machine burned. Or maybe "toasted" would be a better way to put it. The originally-white paper was brown and crispy.