The Brief History of Copy Machines


history of copy machinesSo it has come to my attention that a lot of people are interested in the history of copy machines. How were they invented? When were they invented? When did they start becoming a part of every day life?

We certainly have some curious customers, and to be honest I hadn’t stopped to think about the history of copy machines for a long time. I have been selling these things for over 40 years — I can’t remember the last time I thought about where they came from.

It was nice to reflect on this topic once again, and to put together what I know about copy machines together in this blog post.

Here goes — a brief history of copy machines!

History of Copy Machines: The Invention

The copier machine, also known as the photocopier, was officially invented in 1937 when inventor Chester Carlson invented a process called electron photography.

Carlson ended up inventing the photocopier the same way a lot of things get invented — he wanted a more efficient way to complete an everyday task.

Carlson’s job at a patent office required him to make large numbers of copies every day — which was expensive and difficult to accomplish at the time.

For 15 years Carlson worked on perfecting a way to transfer images from one piece of paper to another using static electricity. When he invented what he called “electron photography”, he filed a patent.

It was almost one year to the date of the patent filing that Carlson created the first photocopy using the process that he later renamed to “Xerography”.

Xerography garnered Carlson worldwide acclaim, as it was his invention that created the billion-dollar copier industry we know today.

History of Copy Machines: Getting Off the Ground

Believe it or not, Xerography was not an overnight sensation. Carlson shopped around the idea for 10 years before he found a company willing to help him develop the process.

Carlson teamed up with The Haliod Company to help develop his process for creating copies — that company later became known as the Xerox Corporation.

The Haliod Company produced the world’s first office photocopier in 1955, called the Copyflo. It was not nearly as successful as the Xerox 914, which was invented in 1958 and sold thousands of units.

History of Copy Machines: The Rise and Fall of Xerox

For a long time the Xerox Corporation held a monopoly on the copier industry. It certainly helped that they held a patent, but even when other companies were able to produce copiers using Xerox’s method, they weren’t trusted.

Before long, photocopiers started being called “Xerox machines”, and one could hardly envision a time when the market wasn’t dominated by one company.

Of course, knowing what we know now, Xerox is hardly the leader in photocopiers anymore. Now we have Canon, Sharp, Kyocera, and many other that have beaten the giant at its own game.

So, how did we get to where we are today in the copier industry? For that story, you’ll have to check out my post on the history of Xerox.

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