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The history of the Office Copier

Jan 7, 2016 9:34:00 AM / by

History of office printingConsidering that I have been in this industry virtually my whole life, I wanted to reminisce a little about the evolution of your everyday office copier.

How many people remember the 1960’s and 70’s when the office copier was about 4 feet long, had a flexible rubber platen cover, was filled with liquid toner and dispersant and printed on rolled paper? Ah yes, the rolled paper that was cut to length depending on what was laid on the glass, and had a rather “slimy” feel to it. This was the Electrostatic copy process, and was state of the art for quite a long time, considering that this was a vastly easier process than either recopying by hand, or the ever present carbon paper. Those of you familiar with the “wet” electrostatic process will undoubtedly have at least one story of ruining a pair of pants, shoes, or a customer’s carpet while moving one of these machines. It just happened.

The process, and the equipment got better and better, but it remained a wet process, and the paper was still treated, and on a roll, and was not indefinitely archive able, because the images would fade over time. A new process needed to be developed.

Enter Chester Carlson. Mr. Carlson was awarded a U.S. Patent in 1942 for dry copying process originally called Electrophotography. It was later renamed Xerography, from the Greek, for dry writing. Carlson's innovation combined electrostatic printing with photography, but Carlson's original process was cumbersome, requiring several manual processing steps with flat plates. It was almost 18 years before a fully automated process was developed, the key breakthrough being the use of a cylindrical drum coated with selenium instead of a flat plate. This resulted in the first commercial automatic copier, the Xerox 914, being released by Haloid/Xerox in 1960. Before that year, Carlson had proposed his idea to more than a dozen companies, but none were interested. Xerography is now used in most photocopying machines and in laser and LED printers. My bet is that all those companies that elected not to engage Mr. Carlson wished later they had reconsidered.

technician repairing old copier machine


Slowly the industry began to embrace the change from wet to dry, but it was a more expensive process, and not without some new challenges. The process of migrating from the wet toner to dry toner, added a new dimension to the process; heat to melt the dry toner. Many will remember a particular machine that was routinely installed with a “Scorch Suppressor” or small fire extinguisher as part of the package. Yes, although the dry Xerography process was able to copy any document onto plain paper, without the wet or slimy results of the Electrostatic process, the high heat required to melt toner, and the energy usage as well as the expensive Selenium drums, took many years for these machines to permeate the office space. Added to the mix was that Selenium was classified as a heavy metal, and had to be carefully disposed of by regulation, versus just tossing it into the office waste can. So, the challenge became to find other materials to construct the photoconductors, and decrease the melting point of the toner.

As these challenges were conquered, suddenly the process began to evolve from copiers to printers, with many printer manufacturers migrating from the dot matrix printers to laser and LED print engines. Smaller footprint, lightweight, and lower toner melting point, these popped up everywhere, and truly began stealing pages from the copier companies. Not to be “robbed” of their pages, the copier manufacturers began revolutionizing the office copier into a laser printer that, yes, oh by the way, also would scan your image and print it on paper making digital copiers the new office buzz word.

Well, most of you now know the ever present office copier of today, ranging in sizes and shapes from the “bread box” to the “city block” long, which do everything from copy , print, scan and fax, but also do it 2 sided, in color, stapled and folded, and can run those pages at well over 100 pages per minute. Wow!

Yes, what started out as the slow, sometimes painful device to make all of our workplaces more efficient, has evolved into that 1 piece of equipment that does and sees it all, which we can no longer live without. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.

Topics: copier

Trey Phillips

Written by Trey Phillips

Trey Phillips is the Regional Sales Manager for Phillips North. Trey has 27 years in the document management industry, providing solutions to customers all over the northern Pennsylvania counties. Trey works out of our Montoursville, PA office.

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