Happy Birthday, Copy Machine! Happy Birthday, Copy Machine!This week marks the 75th anniversary of the first modern copier ever made. The technology, which came from serial inventor Chester Carlson, revolutionized the business world and formed the foundation of Xerox's success. It also meant no more messy carbon paper.
This was the first image created with xerography — on Oct. 22, 1938, in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens.
The Xerox copier model 914 seen at a trade show in 1959
A September 1959 advertisement for the Xerox 914
Xerox 914 assembly, October 1962
Chester Carlson demonstrates his original copying process in 1963.
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Copy machines can be found in every office, and most of us take them for granted. But 75 years ago, the technology that underpins the modern photocopier was used for the first time in a small apartment in Queens.
Inventor Chester Carlson used static electricity created with a handkerchief, light and dry powder to make the first copy on Oct. 22, 1938.
The copier didn't get on to the market until 1959, more than 20 years later. When it did, the Xerox machine prompted a dramatic change in the workplace.
The first commercial model, the Xerox 914, was bulky and cumbersome. It weighed nearly 650 pounds. It was the size of about two washing machines and was prone to spontaneous combustion.
But even literally going up in flames wasn't enough to kill the product. In fact, it was in high demand.
"There was a distinct need for simple copying like this, and it just took off," says Ray Brewer, historical archivist for Xerox Corp. "We sold thousands of these machines, and the demand was such that we were manufacturing them in large quantities."
Brewer says the popularity of Xerox technology abroad inspired more clandestine uses for the copier. Some machines actually had miniature cameras built into them during the Cold War for the purpose of spying on other countries.
Back at home, the copier was proving to be a godsend for secretaries. One Xerox commercial features a female secretary saying:
"I make perfect copies of whatever my boss needs by just turning a knob and pushing a button. Anything he can see I can copy in black and white on ordinary paper. I can make seven copies a minute. ... Sometimes my boss asks me which is the original, and sometimes, I don't know."
Author and historian Lynn Peril says the machines had to have been "fabulously liberating."
"Oh my God, you didn't have to work with all the lousy carbon paper," she says. "You could just take it and put it on this glass surface and press a button and you've got as many copies as you wanted."