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Copy Machine Celebrates 50th Anniversary

March 31, 2010

Fifty years ago this month, the first plain-paper copy machine was sold and shipped to a customer by the Haloid Xerox photographic supply company of Rochester, New York, launching what would be a revolution that has made the device an important piece of the office environment for decades.

“It may be the most iconic piece of office equipment of the past half-century,” CNN.com reporter Brandon Griggs, the author of a March 30 article celebrating the machine’s anniversary, said. “It revolutionized the workplace as we know it.”

The modern-day copy machine was the brainchild of Chester Carlson, a New York City patent lawyer who was looking for a way to help alleviate arthritis and hand cramps caused by writing too much. He developed a dry-printing process which would use photoconductivity, light, and resin to recreate an exact copy of a physical document. He initially dubbed the process electrophotography before changing its name to xerography.

He filed a patent application for the process in April 1939 and it was granted in October 1942. Two years later, Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit research and development organization based in Ohio, signed on to help fund Carlson’s research. In 1947, he sold the commercial rights for the copy device to the Haloid Company, which would go on to become Xerox. In 1959, the first plain paper copy machine, the Xerox 914, was announced, though the first unit was not sold until the following year.

According to Griggs, “The contraption was the size of two washing machines, weighed 648 pounds and had to be turned on its side to fit through doorways. It also occasionally caught on fire.”

Now, 50 years later, it’s hard to imagine life without it.

“It was a product no one knew they needed until they had it,” David Owen, author of the book ‘Copies in Seconds: Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machine,’ told CNN.

Image Caption: The Xerox 914 was the first one-piece plain paper photocopier, and sold in the thousands. Courtesy Xerox Corp.

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