Copying is quite different from printing. The printing press may well have been one of the most important inventions in human history (as previously explored in this article). However, early printing devices fell short in one regard – they could not create identical versions of pre-existing books or pamphlets.
In this sense, the copier would arguably turn out to be just as important, as it helped shape office culture, even as far back as the 19th century.
However, early copying devices such as the mimeograph, first made commercially available in 1887, were viewed with some initial skepticism. Many office managers saw them as a potential security threat, and worried that they might simply generate too much workplace clutter.
Slowly but surely, though, the copier rose to take center stage in the office, leaving many wondering how on earth they had possibly coped before its invention.
Clerks and Scribes
From the dawn of time until the Industrial Age, copying was done by hand. Copy scribes were employed by royal courts around the world in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, Catholic and Buddhist monks were tasked with painstakingly hand-writing copies of holy texts.
In the offices of the past, managers would employ numerous clerks, whose main role was making copies of important documents.
Early Mechanical Developments
James Watt created the letter copying press in 1780, using oil paper to make a copy of a person’s handwriting. In the following century, the invention of carbon paper opened up more possibilities, allowing for more efficient handwriting copying.
Later in the decade, machines took over, with devices like the mimeograph, the hectograph and spirit duplicators. Here, innovators created stencils, which an ink roller could be passed over, creating upwards of 1,500 copies.
Researchers continued to experiment with technology in the first half of the 20th century, when a great variety of photographic duplicating devices were invented. The photostat came in 1910, followed by an explosion of options in the 1940s and 1950s, including the thermo-fax, the verifax and the dupliton
As ground-breaking as these devices were, they tended to be expensive, slow and difficult to use. These machines typically used special photo-sensitive paper for printing, a factor that limited their usefulness. Some models provided damp copies that needed to be dried, while others made copies that darkened over time.
The Rise of “Dry Writing”
The revolution change came thanks to Chester Carlson, a patent attorney from California. He came up with the idea of using photoelectricity and photoconductivity to help toner powder bind to ordinary sheets of paper. He called this invention xerography, using a combination of the Greek words for “dry” and “writing.”
Carlson made his discovery working alone in his kitchen in 1937. He offered the technology to more than 20 major companies, who all turned him down. Finally, in 1944, a nonprofit institute in Columbus, Ohio, agreed to help him work on his idea. In 1947, the Haliod Corporation, a small photographic paper company from New York, licensed the technology to develop it further.
It took 20 years and millions of dollars to turn this forward-thinking idea into a commercial photocopier, but the Haliod product was finally unveiled in 1959, and it quickly revolutionized office life. American offices were making about 20 million copies a year in the mid-1950s. By 1966, that number had soared to 14 billion.
Today, copiers are such an essential part of office life that we often take them for granted. Modern multi-function printers (MFPs) combine copying, printing, faxing and other document management features, and have long since gone beyond the basic functions of a copying machine.
Samsung Printing Solutions has a full lineup of devices, from light models suitable for home use to robust, high-end machines for large enterprises, capable of printing up to 60 pages a minute. The spirit of innovation is still alive and strong at Samsung Printing Solutions, allowing office workers around the world to take copying – and their document management needs – to the next level.