Most of us simply cannot do our jobs without a copy machine and at the very least we all need one, from time to time. Have you ever stopped to wonder how copiers came to be and why? Or where the name Xerox came from and what it means? Let’s take a trip in the way back time machine to life before copiers and see how necessity facilitated one of the greatest inventions of all time.

Welcome to 1920, we’re pleased to introduce our main character, Chester Floyd Carlson, a high school student from Seattle who later became a physicist, inventor, and patent attorney. Little did anyone know, Carlson’s afterschool job as a printer’s assistant was the catalyst for change.

Do you know the old English proverb; necessity is the mother of invention? That’s what happened here. Carlson’s laborious tasks involved 1920’s technology of typesetting and a mimeograph machine, the popular but messy and wet process for copies. He later recalled in a 1965 interview, “That experience set me to thinking about easier ways and I got to thinking about duplicating methods.”

It wasn’t until 1930, armed with a degree in physics from Caltech, that he landed a job working for Bell Labs as an assistant to the patent attorney that he began working on a solution. The job frequently required copies of specifications and drawings, with no convenient way of duplicating them. The predicament gave Carlson a renewed determination to solve his own problem. In October 1938, Carlson combined an electrically charged drum with powder and the world’s first dry and carbonless copy was successfully produced.

That’s not the end of the story. The invention, called electrophotography was met with complete underwhelm. Funding for the idea was nearly impossible to get and 22 companies, including IBM, GE and Kodak all missed the boat on becoming Xerox. Before that though, in 1944, Battelle Memorial Institute took notice and funded the development of Carlson’s process, first be called electrophotography and licensed it to Haloid Photographic, the precursor to Xerox.

How did this amazing new invention become Xerox? Enter Joseph C. Wilson, who inherited the reigns of Haloid Photographic from his father. Wilson saw promise in Carlson’s invention and signed an agreement to develop it as a commercial product but wanted a catchier name. What started as Electrophotography became Xerographic, a combination of Greek words meaning, “dry writing.” It was then shortened to Xerox and later, in 1959, the partnership evolved into the first copy machine, Xerox 914, the most successful single product of all time. That’s how Haloid Photographic was transformed from photography equipment and supplies to a household name and as they say, “the rest is history.”

Want to know more about the evolution of the Xerox product line? PDS has your answers!

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