For many working in Offices these days, the photocopier is just another attribute on the drab, grayish functioning landscape. However, the story of the creation of the photocopier is a really enthralling narrative. 1 man’s triumph over adversity, an epic flight from poverty and an ideal example of the American Dream fulfilled. For those not familiar with the story of Chester Carlson, our short history of photocopiers tells of the roots of a now much taken-for-granted but absolutely crucial technological accomplishment.
Chester Carlson was born on the 8th February 1906 in Seattle. The son of a barber who developed arthritis quite early in Chester’s life and a mother who later contracted tuberculosis, Chester’s early years were not easy – from 14 years old that he was the primary family breadwinner. But Chester was able to make his way into junior school and went on to earn a Bachelor Degree in Science from California’s Institute of Technology in 1930. He left college in the Great Depression and sent out staggering job software, receiving two replies rather than a single job offer. Chester finally found work at Bell Laboratories in NYC at only 35/week but was very soon laid off, as the economic situation deteriorated further. Realizing he was unlikely to discover the job he wanted, what happens if you photocopy a mirror Carlson settled for use the electronics company PR Mallory where he was finally promoted to a managerial position in Mallory’s patent department. At night he took a course in patent law.
Working at Mallory, Chester discovered that there were not enough copies of patents around. To create more, the choice was to have every photographed or laboriously write each out every one by hand. Carlson knew there was a better alternative out there and so decided to hit the books in New York public library. Carlson spent many months poring through tomes of scientific articles. Photography was ruled-out – it had been researched to the nth degree. Carlson turned his focus on the relatively unexplored land of photoconductivity, initiated by Hungarian physicist, Pal Selenga now often known as ‘The Father of Photocopiers’. It was observed that when light hit the surface of certain materials, their conductivity increased. Carlson had a flash of inspiration, a ‘eureka’ moment. When an image were projected on a photoconductive surface, present would only flow in these regions that mild hit upon.