facts about the invention
of Xerography by Chester Carlson in 1938.
|This, "10-22-38 ASTORIA", humble legend marks the time and place of an auspicious event. It is the text
of the first xerographic image ever fashioned.
|It was created in a makeshift laboratory
in Queens, NY. by a patent attorney named Chester Carlson, who believed that the world was
ready for an easier and less costly way to make copies. Carlson was proved right only
after a discouraging ten-year search for a company that would develop his invention into a
useful product. It was the Haloid Company, a small photo-paper maker in Rochester, N.Y,
which took on the challenge and the promise of xerography and thus became, in a
breathtakingly short time, the giant multinational company now known to the world as Xerox
|Xerography, the technology
which started the office copying revolution, was born unheralded on October 22, 1938, the
inspiration of a single man working in his spare time. When he died in 1968 at the age of
62, Chester Carlson was a wealthy and honored man, Xerox annual revenues were approaching
the billion dollar mark, and the whole world was making copies at the push of a button.
astounding success of xerography is all the more remarkable because it was given little
hope of surviving its infancy. For years, it seemed to be an invention nobody wanted. To
know why it eventually prevailed is to understand the mind of Chester Carlson. For
xerography, and the man who invented it, were both the products of hardship and travail.
"I had my job," he recalled, "but I didn't think I was getting ahead
very fast. I was just living from hand to mouth, and I had just gotten married. It was
kind of a struggle, so I thought the possibility of making an invention might kill two
birds with one stone: It would be a chance to do the world some good and also a chance to
do myself some good." As he worked at his job, Carlson noted that there never seemed
to be enough carbon copies of patent specifications, and there seemed to be no quick or
practical way of getting more. The choices were limited to sending for expensive photo
copies, or having the documents retyped and then reread for errors. A thought occurred to
him: Offices might benefit from a device that would accept a document and make copies of
it in seconds. For many months Carlson spent his evenings at the New York Public Library
reading all he could about imaging processes. He decided immediately not to research in
the area of conventional photography, where light is an agent for chemical change, because
that phenomenon was already being exhaustively explored in research labs of large
Obeying the inventors instinct to travel the uncharted course, Carlson turned to
the little-known field of photoconductivity, specifically the findings of Hungarian
physicist Paul Selenyi, who was experimenting with electrostatic images. He learned that
when light strikes a photoconductive material, the electrical conductivity of that
material is increased.
Soon, though, he began some rudimentary experiments, beginning first -- to his wife's
aggravation -- in the kitchen of his apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. It was here
that Carlson unearthed the fundamental principles of what he called electrophotography
--later to be named xerography -- and defined them in a patent application filed in
October of 1937. "I knew," he said, "that I had a very big idea by the
tail, but could I tame it?"
So he set out to reduce his theory to practice. Frustrated by a lack of time, and
suffering from painful attacks of arthritis, Carlson decided to dip into his meager
resources to pursue his research. He set up a small lab in nearby Astoria and hired an
unemployed young physicist, a German refugee named Otto Kornei, to help with the lab work.
It was here, in a rented second-floor room above a bar, where xerography was invented.
This is Carlson's account of that moment: "I went to the lab that day and Otto had a
freshly-prepared sulfur coating on a zinc plate. We tried to see what we could do toward
making a visible image.
Otto took a glass microscope slide and printed on it in India ink the notation
'10-22-38 ASTORIA.'"We pulled down the shade to make the room as dark as possible,
then he rubbed the sulfur surface vigorously with a handkerchief to apply an electrostatic
charge, laid the slide on the surface and placed the combination under a bright
incandescent lamp for a few seconds. The slide was then removed and lycopodium powder was
sprinkled on the sulfur surface. By gently blowing on the surface, all the loose powder
was removed and there was left on the surface a near-perfect duplicate in powder of the
notation which had been printed on the glass slide.
Fearful that others might be blazing the same trail as he -- which is not an uncommon
occurrence in the history of scientific discovery -- Carlson carefully patented his ideas
as he learned more about this new technology. His fear was unfounded. Carlson was quite
alone in his work, and in his belief that xerography was of practical value to anyone. He
pounded the pavement for years in a fruitless search for a company that would develop his
invention into a useful product.
From 1939 to 1944, he was turned down by more than twenty companies. Even the National
Inventors Council dismissed his work. "Some were indifferent," he recalled,
"several expressed mild interest, and one or two were antagonistic. How difficult it
was to convince anyone that my tiny plates and rough image held the key to a tremendous
new industry. "The years went by without a serious nibble.. .I became discouraged and
several times decided to drop the idea completely. But each time I returned to try again.
I was thoroughly convinced that the invention was too promising to be dormant."
Finally, in 1944, Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit research organization,
became interested, signed a royalty-sharing contract with Carlson, and began to develop
the process. And in 1947, Battelle entered into an agreement with a small photo-paper
company called Haloid (later to be known as Xerox), giving Haloid the right to develop a
It was not until 1959, twenty-one years after Carlson invented xerography, that the
first convenient office copier using xerography was unveiled. The 914 copier could make
copies quickly at the touch of a button on plain paper. It was a phenomenal success.
Today, xerography is a foundation stone of a gigantic worldwide copying industry,
including Xerox and other corporations which make and market copiers and duplicators
producing billions and billions of copies a year. And to Carlson, who had endured and
struggled for so long, came fame, wealth and honor, all of which he accepted with a grace
and modesty much in keeping with his shy and quiet personality.
Biography from The Great
History of Office Equipment from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Carlson and the Development of Xerography
by Susan Zannos / Library Binding: 56 pages / Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc.; (August 2002)
Carlson spent most of his years in poverty. When the Xerox Model 914 was finally
introduced in 1959 and became a success, Carlson became a multimillionaire. But he was
never particularly interested in money and gave most of it away before he died in 1968.
How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies
by Andrew Hargadon, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt / Hardcover: 272
pages / Harvard Business School Press; (June 5, 2003)
Takes the reader beyond the simple recognition that revolutionary innovations do not
result from flashes of brilliance by lone inventors or organizations. In fact, innovation
is really about creatively recombining ideas, people, and objects from past technologies
in ways that spark new technological revolutions.
Copies in Seconds : How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the
Biggest Communication Breakthrough Since Gutenberg--Chester Carlson and the Birth of the
by David Owen / Hardcover: 320 pages / Simon &
Schuster; (August 1, 2004)
Availability: This item has not yet been released (August 1,
2004). You may order it now and we will ship it to you when it
ON THE WEB:
The Document Company official web site. Extensive historical information available.
University of Rochester Libraries
Bibliography of publications about Chester F. Carlson and a list of Patents received.
20th Century Top 100 Inventions
The process was developed in 1938 by Chester Carlson, an employee at a
New York electronics firm who was frustrated by the difficulty of
copying documents. Fram Time magazine reader poll.
SciTech, Carbons to Computers series from the Smithsonian Institution.
Chester Carlton's discovery of the effect of light in photoconductivity,
however, led to the unprecedented success of the "Xerox" machine.
Invention Dimension -
Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to
inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame honors the women and men responsible for the great
technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
The Photocopier: First Image from Moss, Sulfur and a Handkerchief Rubbing
The Chester F.
Carlson Center for Imaging Science
This is an academic unit in the College of Science of the Rochester Institute of
HOW IT WORKS:
The original document is moved
automatically from the document handler to the platen (under the document handler), where
it is projected by a system of lamps, mirrors and lenses onto the photoreceptor belt. The
belt carries a charge of static electricity that is discharged in those areas receiving
light from the projected image. The charge remaining forms a latent, invisible image.
Magnetic rollers brush the belt with
dry ink that is, itself, charged with static electricity of opposite polarity. This charge
makes the dry ink cling to the latent image on the photoreceptor, making the image
A sheet of copy paper moves from a
paper to the belt. As it approaches the belt, the paper, too, is given a charge of static
electricity. This charge has the same polarity as the charge on the belt, but it is strong
enough to attract the dry ink forming the image away from the belt. The copy then goes
between two rollers that apply heat and pressure, fusing the dry-ink image into the paper. The completed copy emerges at
an output station.
DID YOU KNOW:
- The historic patent for electrophotography, later called
xerography, was filed April 4, 1939, several months after Carlson made the first
xerographic image. It was issued Oct. 6, 1942 as number 2,297,691.
- It was not until 1959, twenty-one years after Carlson
invented xerography, that the first convenient office copier using xerography was
- In 1965, at the commemoration of the 175th anniversary of
the U.S. patent system, he gave some of his original equipment, as well as that first
xerographic print, to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is on display.
- In the late 1980s, Xerox corporation
copied more than 20 million pages in one year, just to see if its
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised February, 2005.
Berners-Lee's invention has revolutionized the world like nothing
The invention of the Internet,
should be classed with the greatest events of the 20th Century.
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book, is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the
technologically advanced reader alike.
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