History of Printing Part 4 – Photocopying & Laser Printers

06-05-2016 by

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From woodblock printing to the printing press, from engraving to lithography, the advances we have made in the technology of printing have allowed us to change the way we communicate with each other and no other printing technology has made this easier than the modern printer.

In part 4 of our history of printing we take a look at the invention of photocopying and laser printers.

Photocopying was invented by Chester Carlson. While he was working at the US Patent Office he had to make copies of many important documents, which he found very difficult as he was arthritic.

In order to make this process easier, he began experimenting with a process he called electrophotography at home.

In 1938 he applied for a patent for the process after his experiments proved successful.

Chester Carlson with the Model A

Chester Carlson with the Model A

In 1944, the Battelle Memorial Institute contracted with Carlson to refine his process and they spent the next five years experimenting with and refining Carlson’s original process. In 1947, Haloid Corporation approached Battelle to obtain a license to develop and market a machine based on the electrophotography process.

Haloid decided that the word ‘electrophotography’ was too complicated. After consulting with a few linguists, and choosing the word ‘xerography’ which means dry writing, the Xerox photocopying machine was born. Haloid shipped their first commercial copy machine, the Xerox Model A Copier, in 1949. This copier proved difficult to use, requiring at least 30 steps to create a single copy, but it was still successful.

Xerox Model A

Xerox Model A

The Xerox 914 was the first commercially available copier. It was launched on the 16th of September 1959 via a live television broadcast. Despite some issues (several machines caught fire when they overheated), the cheapness of the machine as well as its ability to use plain, untreated paper made it wildly successful.

Xerox 914

Xerox 914

In 1958, the Haloid Corporation changed its name to Haloid Xerox and then to the Xerox Corporation in 1961 following the success of their copy machines.

Having created the first successful copy machine, Xerox was not done innovating. In 1969, Gary Starkweather, who worked in Xerox’s product development department, had the idea of using a laser beam to draw an image directly onto the drum unit of a copy machine.

Gary Starkweather in 2009

Gary Starkweather in 2009

Working with Butler Lampson and Ronald Rider at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre, he added a control system and a character generator to a modified Xerox 7000 copier to create a printer that he named EARS (Ethernet, Alto Research character generator, Scanned laser output terminal).

In 1974, a research team in Dallas was tasked with refining Starkweather, Lampson and Rider’s experiment and integrating it with image generating software. In 1977, the Xerox 9700 printer was born.

Xerox 9700

Xerox 9700

The 9700 could print a variety of fonts, graphics on plain paper at speeds of up to 120 pages per minute.Inspired by the success of Xerox’s printer, Canon developed a low cost desktop laser printer in 1979, the LBP-10. In order to sell their system to computer users, Canon partnered with Apple and HP.

HP would build on this partnership and, using Canon technology, would introduce the first laser printer intended for the mass market in 1984.The HP LaserJet was launched at the 1984 Computer Dealers’ Exhibition and, due to its quite operation and speed, quickly became a success for HP

HP laserjet

HP LaserJet

While laser printers would prove to be very popular in the office, their large size and expensive operating costs made them impractical for use in the home. Next week, we’ll take a look at dot matrix printers, HP’s thermal inkjet technology, inkjet printers and the rise of personal printing.

Nic Venter

About the author

Nic Venter+

 is the founder and director of He started the business in 2009 with the idea to sell ink and toner cartridges online and to provide you with a quality product, value for money and convenience. He regularly blogs on about printing and technology. Part of his philosophy is having fun and making sure that he and his team think everything ink, so you don't have to.

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