A Short History of the Photocopier

For years the photocopier has been an integral part of our offices and places of work. Making multiple copies of paperwork, documents and other similar items with ease is something we take for granted in this ever more digital age.

But, of course, it hasn’t always been so.

The Old Copying Ways

Before to the photocopying machines we know today there were a different number of techniques used for copying.

The use of carbon paper to make duplicates was a popular and effective method in many offices although the process had its limitations in that you could really only make one, or at best, a few copies at a time.

A more efficient method, and the precursor to the modern photocopying techniques, was the mimeograph. Patented in the late 1800s by Thomas Edison this was a cost-effective and small scale printing process based on the use of forcing ink through specially made stencils.

The Birth of Electrophotography

In 1937, and with the USA still in the grips of the Great Depression, patent attorney, physicist and inventor Chester Carlson came up with the idea of a dry copying technique (i.e. no liquid chemicals used in the process) through a combination of electrostatic and photographic means.

The techniqud for which Carlson would eventually patent (in 1942) would become one of the most significant inventions of the post-war years, making Carlson a millionaire in the process.

Haloid / Xerox

However, Carlson’s invention was not an immediate hit with the general public, who were apparently reluctant to part ways with the more tried and tested forms of copying.

In the late 1940s the process was taken up by the Haloid Company, a photographic equipment firm based in New York. Haloid renamed the process ‘Xerography’ – a combination of Greek words to mean ‘Dry Writing’ – and set to work developing a machine which could fully automate the process.

In 1959 they released the Xerox 914 – the world’s first automated photocopying device. It would become one of most successful product launches of the 20th Century and make Haloid, who changed their name to the Xerox Corporation in 1961, into one of the biggest companies in the world.

Along Came the Competition

Xerox copiers would be a huge, dominant presence in the copying market over the following decades – their name becoming a generic term for the very process.

However, as invariably is the case, other companies were quick to enter into the market. Companies such a 3M, Ricoh and Canon were soon developing their own versions of the photocopier, seeking new innovation to capture the attention of a new booming market.

In 1971 Canon launched the first ever electrostatic colour copier, cementing their place as another major player in the photocopying industry.

Through the seventies the big corporations, fiercely competing with each other for greater share, would be looking for new ways to develop, innovate and steal a march on their rivals.

Photocopiers would become smaller, easier to use, quicker, able to make larger quantities of copies in less time. And, crucially to the end user – they grew ever more cost effective as they became ever more indispensable to businesses and organisations around the world.

Into the Digital Age 

The 21st Century promised us the ‘paperless office’ with the emergence of digital files and email.
However, while these technologies have undoubtedly altered the way we work, we are still some way off consigning paper documentation to history.

Photocopiers have changed with the digital age, with new technologies in printing, scanning and copying but it still remains that, whether office, school, library or major organisation, the photocopier continues to be an integral part of our working environment.