Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The technological breakthrough of xerographic photocopying created a revolution in the maintenance of records and the transmission of information.

Summary of Event

In Astoria, New York, stands an unpretentious building with a bronze plaque on a central wall commemorating an event that occurred on October 22, 1938, when Chester F. Carlson and Otto Kornei produced the first dim copy of an image by a process called “electrophotography.” The text of the copy was simply “10-22-38 Astoria.” Carlson patented the process and, after considerable additional work, also patented a working model of a copying machine based on electrophotography. Electrophotography Carlson had come to New York from California, where he had earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1930. He was employed by the patent department of P. R. Mallory Company, and he carried out his experimental work in his spare time and entirely at his own expense. He hired Kornei, an unemployed engineer recently arrived from Germany, to assist him. [kw]Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy (Oct. 22, 1938) [kw]Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy, Carlson and (Oct. 22, 1938) [kw]First Xerographic Photocopy, Carlson and Kornei Make the (Oct. 22, 1938) [kw]Xerographic Photocopy, Carlson and Kornei Make the First (Oct. 22, 1938) [kw]Photocopy, Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic (Oct. 22, 1938) Photocopying Inventions;xerographic photocopier Xerography [g]United States;Oct. 22, 1938: Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy[09850] [c]Science and technology;Oct. 22, 1938: Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy[09850] [c]Inventions;Oct. 22, 1938: Carlson and Kornei Make the First Xerographic Photocopy[09850] Carlson, Chester F. Dessauer, John H. Kornei, Otto Schaffert, Roland Michael Wilson, Joseph C.

Carlson’s invention may be contrasted with ordinary photography, in which an image is produced by the effect of light on a film or plate coated with a silver compound. In electrophotography, the light-sensitive element is a reusable plate of metal coated with a layer of sulfur and electrostatically charged before exposure. When the plate is exposed, electrical charge leaks away from the illuminated areas in proportion to the light that falls. The image is trapped as an invisible pattern of static charges, which may be rendered visible through the dusting of the plate with fine powder that adheres to the charged areas. The copying process ends when the powder pattern is transferred to paper and permanently bonded by heat or solvent vapors. In conventional photography, the image is developed through the bathing of the film in successive chemical liquids that darken the exposed areas and remove unexposed silver compounds. The advantage of electrophotography lies in the speed and convenience of dry developing and in the economy resulting from having a reusable plate, thus avoiding the consumption of expensive silver compounds.

In modern xerographic equipment, most of the technical details are different from the ones used by Carlson and Kornei, but the principles are essentially the same. The light-sensitive plate is usually coated with a thin layer of selenium, which is much more sensitive than the original sulfur, and electrostatic charging is accomplished by a corona discharge instead of through the rubbing of the plate with cloth or fur, as was the practice in 1938. The corona discharge is generated in a shielded wire maintained at a high voltage and moved across the selenium-coated plate prior to exposure. In 1938, the clinging powder image was transferred to paper by pressing, which caused the powder to stick to the paper. A more efficient method is now used in which the paper is given an electrical charge opposite to that of the powder, causing the image to be transferred as the powder clings preferentially to the paper.

For six years following his success in 1938, Carlson was unable to obtain financial backing for further research and development of his invention, despite repeated attempts. In 1944, he demonstrated his process in Columbus, Ohio, at the Battelle Memorial Institute. When asked for his opinion of the demonstration, Dr. Roland Michael Schaffert, then head of the Graphic Arts division at Battelle, wrote a memorandum favoring the new idea, and support was granted. In the years that followed, Battelle scientists, including William E. Bixby, L. E. Walkup, C. D. Oughton, J. F. Rheinfrank, and E. N. Wise, improved the process and patented further inventions related to it. The work attracted additional support from the U.S. Signal Corps and from the Haloid Company of Rochester, New York, a small company that needed a new product to bolster earnings in the period following World War II. During this time many other companies were approached and offered a share in the new process in exchange for their support of the research at Battelle, but none was interested.

After 1947, research began to be directed toward the production of a practical copying device that could be sold commercially. In 1948, work had progressed far enough for a demonstration to be held at a meeting of the Optical Society of America in Detroit. The date was October 22, 1948, the tenth anniversary of Carlson’s first copy, and for the occasion a new word, “xerography” (from the Greek, meaning “dry-writing”), was coined to replace the more technical term “electrophotography.” The demonstration was a success, but Haloid could not immediately benefit from the publicity. Two more years of developmental work were necessary before the Model A copier, the first commercial xerographic copier, could be brought out in 1950. The Model A was successful mainly for preparation of multilith masters; it was not particularly successful as a document copier.

Not until 1960, after a long, expensive, and difficult period of development, did the Xerox Model 914 copier become available (“Xerox” and “914" are registered trademarks of the Xerox Corporation, Stamford, Connecticut). Many people contributed to the success of Model 914 (so called because it used 9-by-14-inch paper), but prominent mention should be made of Dr. John H. Dessauer, Haloid’s vice president in charge of research and product development, and Joseph C. Wilson, the company president. Soon after the introduction of the new copier, Haloid adopted a new name: Xerox Corporation. Xerox Corporation


Model 914 weighed about six hundred pounds and could make up to four hundred copies per hour. It was reliable and simple to operate. These virtues soon made it very popular, so much so that people began to speak and write of a “copying revolution.” Many other companies began to develop and market competitive models, and in the latter part of the 1960’s, smaller and faster copiers were available. By 1975 it was estimated that 2.3 million copying machines were in use in the United States, making a total of approximately seventy-eight million copies annually. Extrapolation from the growth of copying to that point led to the expectation that the volume would double within another five years, but that estimate proved to be short of actual figures. By the mid-1990’s, the volume of xerographic copying in the United States soared beyond a billion copies annually.

By the end of the twentieth century, the technology of xerography had developed to the point where the process of making a single copy could be completed in less than a few seconds and at comparatively little expense. Advances from the early days of xerography included color copying as well as reduction and enlargement; in addition, copying machines were configured to accomplish such tasks as collating and even stapling.

The easy availability of a means to copy documents, periodicals, and books led to many benefits for businesses as well as for individuals. Communications of many kinds were speeded by the ability to produce perfect copies quickly, and informational, artistic, and other forms of the written word were able to reach audiences they may never otherwise have reached.

Along with the benefits of photocopying came some problems. For one thing, the excellent reproduction quality of many color copiers led to increased problems with the counterfeiting of currency and stock certificates. More widespread problems, however, came in the area of copyright infringement. In a 1976 government study of photocopying, 21,280 libraries were surveyed with regard to their copying practices. It was found that a total of 114 million copies were made, of which 54 million were of copyrighted materials. Authors and publishers became concerned about their rights, as libraries, always desirous of providing service at low cost, found copying irresistible. Eventually there were lawsuits, including the 1975 case of Williams and Wilkins v. United States. The U.S. Supreme Court reached a tie vote on the case, in which Williams and Wilkins, a publishing company, sought royalties from a library that had reproduced copyrighted materials. In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law a new copyright bill that went into effect on January 1, 1978. Under the new law, publishers would receive royalties for some of the copies made in libraries, but limited royalty-free “fair use” library copying was still allowed. During the next five years Congress amended the law four times, one of which was to align U.S. law with the provisions of the Berne Convention, a multinational copyright treaty of 1989. Photocopying Inventions;xerographic photocopier Xerography

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dessauer, John H. My Years with Xerox: The Billions Nobody Wanted. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. Nontechnical account of the growth of Xerox Corporation by a scientist who worked there from 1935 to 1970. Includes material on the development of xerography and the people who made it possible, the farsighted business decisions that allowed the company to succeed, and the sociological implications of xerography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dessauer, John H., and Harold E. Clark, eds. Xerography and Related Processes. London: Focal Press, 1965. Collection includes a chapter that presents Carlson’s account of the history of electrostatic recording. Features a picture of the first experimental copy and drawings from some of Carlson’s earliest patents.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Golembeski, Dean J. “Struggling to Become an Inventor.” American Heritage of Invention and Technology 4, no. 3 (1989): 8-15. Recounts the life and work of Chester F. Carlson, who developed xerography, and traces the subsequent commercial development of the process.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gundlach, R. W. “Xerography from the Beginning.” Journal of Electrostatics 24, no. 1 (November, 1989): 3-9. Surveys the history of xerography, emphasizing the contributions of Carlson and scientists at Battelle who made substantive improvements in the process. Also credits Xerox’s business success to the uncommonly good management of Joseph C. Wilson.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobson, Gary. “Carlson’s Timeless Lessons on Innovation.” Management Review 78 (February, 1989): 13-16. Brief review of the history of xerography on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. Draws on Carlson’s notebooks for insights into his creativity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobson, Gary, and John Hillkirk. Xerox: American Samurai. New York: Macmillan, 1986. This history of Xerox has been praised as an inspirational story of American competitiveness against the Japanese and criticized for adulation of the corporation. Provides historical details about Carlson, Wilson, and the early days of Xerox. Includes a glossary of copier-related terms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Owen, David. Copies in Seconds: Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Highly readable account of Carlson’s invention, his struggle to have its potential recognized, and the work of all the other individuals, including scientists and corporate executives, who contributed to the development of photocopying technology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schaffert, Roland Michael. electrophotography. Rev. ed. New York: Focal Press, 1975. Devotes a chapter to a thorough discussion of the xerographic process. Includes charts, graphs, and photographs.

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