How the Photocopier Changed the Way We Worked–and Played

11 Mar

Xerox founder Joe Wilson with the 914, which could make copies up to 9 by 14 inches. (Courtesy of Xerox Corporation)

 

As 3-D printing gets cheaper and cheaper, how will it change society? What will it mean to be able to save and share physical objects—and make as many copies as we’d like? One way to ponder that is to consider the remarkable impact of the first technology that let everyday people duplicate things en masse: The Xerox photocopier.

For centuries, if you weren’t going to the trouble of publishing an entire book, copying a single document was a slow, arduous process, done mostly by hand. Inventors had long sought a device to automate the process, with limited success. Thomas Jefferson used a pantograph: As he wrote, a wooden device connected to his pen manipulated another pen in precisely the same movements, creating a mechanical copy. Steam-engine pioneer James Watt created an even cruder device that would take a freshly written page and mash another sheet against it, transferring some of the ink in reverse. By the early 20th century, the state of the art was the mimeograph machine, which used ink to produce a small set of copies that got weaker with each duplication. It was imperfect.

So begins a fascinating article by Clive Thompson at Smithsonian. You can read the entire piece here: How the Photocopier Changed the Way We Worked—and Played- page 1 | History | Smithsonian.

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