Who invented the Copy Machine? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Every invention has a story to tell. In the case of the copy machine, it was developed by an office worker who wanted to ease his pain and discomfort working due to arthritis. Copy machines are widely used in the education, business, and government sectors. However, this invention is expected to eventually become obsolete due to the development of advanced digital document creation, distribution, and storage.

However, copy machines are still prevalent in workplaces today. This is because they are either integrated with other printing technologies, such as most desktop printers you can find in the market. Learn how the first copy machine was invented by reading this article.

Who invented the copy machine?

Chester Carlson is the inventor of the copy machine. He was born in Seattle on February 8, 1906. At an early age, Carlson had a great interest in chemistry and was fascinated by the idea of printing. He worked for a local printer, publishing a magazine for young chemists during his teenage years.

The copy machine’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Chester Carlson
    The person who invented the first copy machine

    Chester Carlson invented xerography in 1938. It is a dry photocopying technique that doesn’t use liquid chemicals. Carlson received the patent for his invention on October 6, 1942.

  • Pál Selényi or Paul Selenyi
    The father of xerography

    In the 1930s, one of Paul Selenyi’s papers was read by Chester Carlson. It has inspired Carlson to develop xerography. Selenyi is a Hungarian physicist and mathematician.

  • Battelle Memorial Institute
    Improved xerography with Chester Carlson

    Battelle Memorial Institute is an Ohio-based non-profit organization that agreed with Carlson to enhance xerography for a royalty-sharing contract.  

  • Haloid Corporation
    Later became Xerox Corporation

    In 1947, Carlson and Battelle Memorial Institute had an agreement with Haloid Corporation, which later became Xerox Corporation. Originally, Haloid was a small company based in New York that produced and sold photographic papers. Later on, it became the pioneer company in the market of copy machines. Model A is the very first xerographic copier produced by Xerox Corporation.

  • Radio Corporation of America
    The company behind Electrofax

    Radio Corporation of America manufactured Electrofax, a type of fax with a copier function. It utilized a toner dissolved in liquid to print images directly on paper.

 When was the copy machine invented?

The first copy machine was invented on October 22, 1938. Chester Carlson, the inventor, utilized static electricity produced using a handkerchief, dry powder, and light to make the first copy. It was only after 20 years when the copier made it into the market, which was the year 1959. It has caused a stir in workplaces, creating a positive change by significantly decreasing workload.

A brief history of the copy machine

Chester Carlson was a patent office department worker in New York when he realized that it required too much money and time to create carbon copies of important documents. He was eager to find an easier way to do such a task. So, he spent time on research and experiments to create a device that could copy documents with one push of a button.

In 1938, Carlson started his research and experiments for the “electrophotography” in his kitchen. It was later called “xerography.” In the same year, he applied for the process to be patented. On October 6, 1942, Carlson was granted U.S. Patent 2,297,691 for his invention. Xerography is a dry photocopying technique, which is the concept behind today’s copy machine.

Carlson proposed his invention to multiple companies for six years, and all of them didn’t believe that the copy machine had a significant market. But, despite many rejections, he didn’t give up. Fortunately, Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit organization in Ohio, agreed with Carlson to improve his invention and signed a royalty-sharing contract in 1944.  

Both Carlson and Battelle made an agreement with Haloid Corporation in 1947. Haloid Corporation was a small company in New York manufacturing and selling photographic paper. Later on, it changed its name to Xerox  Corporation, the pioneer company in the industry of photocopier machines.

The first xerographic copier was launched by Xerox Corporation in 1949, called the Model A. Due to its success, Xerox became so popular that it was used as a synonym for photocopying. The company requests the term “Xerox” from being used in dictionaries to avoid becoming a genericized trademark.

In the 1950s, Electrofax was introduced by the Radio Corporation of America. It was a machine that utilized a different process where images were directly printed on a paper specially coated and rendered with a toner dissolved in a liquid. From the 1960s to the 1980s, Savin Corporation produced and commercialized a series of liquid-toner copiers that used technology based on patents owned by the company.

Before copy machines became widespread, photo-direct machines like Kodak’s Verifax were used. However, using these technologies cost higher than using xerographic copiers. Copying using Xerox machines in the late 1960s cost twice less than the cost of copying with coin-operated Photostat machines.

Xerox introduced a photocopier in 1970 that allows printing on both sides of a paper, saving time and money. Color copy machines and automated feeders were also introduced in the same year. It enabled users to feed a stack of papers into the copier instead of one sheet at a time.

Today, copy machines are still prevalent in workplaces. Carlson’s invention is indeed a remarkable one that provided convenience to many.

The copy machine timeline

  1. October 22, 1938
    The first copy machine was invented

    On October 22, 1938, Carlson began his research and experiments for “electrophotography.” This experiment later became famous as “xerography.”

  2. October 6, 1942
    Xerography was patented

    Carlson received the patent for xerography on October 6, 1942.

  3. 1944
    The first company that supported the invention

    Battelle Memorial Institute and Carlson agreed to improve electrophotography in return for royalty shares. Battelle is a non-profit organization located in Ohio.

  4. 1947
    The copy machine pioneer

    Carlson and Battelle Memorial Institute agreed with Haloid Corporation to be the manufacturer and distributor of copy machines in 1947.  It  later on became Xerox Corporation. Originally, Haloid was a small company based in New York that produced and sold photographic papers. Later on, it became the pioneer company in the market of copy machines. Model A is the very first xerographic copier produced by Xerox Corporation.

  5. 1949
    The first Xerox copy machine was produced

    Xerox Corporation introduced Model A to the public in 1949. It was the first xerographic copier that became a success. As a result, Xerox became so popular that the term was used as another term for photocopying.

Where was the copy machine invented?

The first copy machine was used in the kitchen of a small apartment in Queens, New York City, USA. With a sulfur-covered zinc plate, light, and a microscope slide, Chester Carlson printed the words “10-22-38 Astoria”. This underdeveloped technology became the popular photocopy machine prevalent in most workplaces today.

The importance of the copy machine

  • A drastic change in workplaces

    Copy machines changed how companies and offices work. It introduced a new method of processing, recording, and storing information. It also improves transparency in offices by being a means of tracking past documents and statements.

  • Faster work

    The invention of the copy machine made it easier to duplicate any document quickly, which was a typical problem in workplaces in the past. Today, copy machines can produce around 100 pages every minute.

  • A means of communication

    The copy machine changed the political landscape outside workplaces. It made it easier to relay important messages to the public by mass producing letters distributed across regions, cities, and countries. NBC and Condé Nast utilized the copy machine to print thousands of copies of leaflets and posters for AIDS awareness campaigns subsequently distributed around New York.

The copy machine by the numbers

  • 1938Chester Carlson invented the first copy machine on October 22, 1938. Originally, Carlson was a patent attorney, a part-time inventor, and a researcher whose task involved making many copies of important documents. Due to arthritis, his job became difficult and painful, so he became motivated to develop the copy machine.
  • 100A copy machine can typically produce 100 pages of copied documents every minute.
  • .03A Xerox print cost around $0.03, including labor and paper back in 1969. Meanwhile, similar technologies like Kodak’s Verifax and coin-operated Photostat machines produce copies at a higher cost.
  • 20The copy machine took 20 rejections from different companies like General Electronics and IBM before making it to the market. These companies are big compared to Haloid Corporation, a small-scale company that got the license to manufacture the said technology.

Five facts about the copy machine

  • Copy machines as radios

    During the Cold War, copy machines were used as radios as they emitted acoustic and electromagnetic energy. Eavesdropping became easier when desktop copiers rose to fame.

  • Toners not ink

    Unlike printers, copy machines use toners, a mixture of wax, plastic granules, pigment, and rust. The heating process seals the toner to the paper.

  • Common photocopied body parts

    The hand, the rear, and the side of the face were the most common body parts being photocopied. Seven people suffered from an injury caused by a copy machine.

  • Fastest office copy machine

    Riso ORPHIS X9050 was the fastest office copy machine in the world; it can print more than 150 copies every minute. 

  • First commercial copy machine for sale

    In 1959, Xerox introduced the world’s first-ever commercial copy machine. 

FAQ about the copy machine

  • When did copy machines become popular?

    In 1959, the copy machine got on the market. It was around 20  years after its invention.

  • What did people use before copy machines were available?

    People used mimeographs in the past to make copies. Also known as a stencil duplicator, this machine makes copies by pressing ink onto paper using a stencil.

  • How did the copy machine affect society?

    The copy machine made it easier to produce magazines, booklets and documents for anyone. It can be used to mass-produce published writings and sell them to the public. It also made mixed media work creation more attainable and attractive.

  • How can you minimize waste while using a copy machine?

    Using remanufactured cartridges helps reduce waste. These are reused cartridges filled with ink.

  • Are copy machines harmful to health?

    Not necessarily. It is only detrimental to be around wet photocopiers and spirit duplicators as vapor quickly becomes concentrated in rooms without enough ventilation.

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