From Publishers Weekly
As New Yorker
staff writer Owen explains in this fast-paced account of one inventor's hopes and dreams, the technology of copying is a relatively modern phenomenon. He recounts the history of copying documents from the scribal work of monks to the invention of the printing press and lithography, to the process that eventually resulted in today's Xerox machine. Owen narrates the life story of the man behind the Xerox machine, Chester Carlson (1906–1968), and his lonely efforts to find a way to reproduce documents. An inventive soul from a young age, Carlson as a teenager sketched out concepts for a trick safety pin, a new type of lipstick and a disposable handkerchief made of soft paper. After he graduated from college, he went to work for Bell Laboratories and continued his inventive ways. When he finally landed on an electrostatic process that would act like both a printing press and a camera, he began to shop the concept around and the Xerox machine was born in the mid-'50s. Owen's sympathetic portrait of Carlson's life and the difficulties and rewards inherent in the inventive process provide a window into the birth of one of our most ubiquitous office machines.
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This history of the Xerox copier starts with its inventor, a Caltech graduate named Chester Carlson, who in 1938 made the first xerographic reproduction—a piece of waxed paper that read "10-22-38 Astoria." Xerography was difficult to perfect, requiring a coordinated ballet of paper-handling and electric charge, and it was more than twenty years before the first commercial copier, Model 914, went into production. An ungainly machine, it imparted electric shocks and used rabbit fur as a key part, but it solved a centuries-old problem—making document reproduction possible without a roomful of monks or a collection of foul-smelling chemicals. One-touch copying (and its evil twin, the paper jam) was born. Owen has a knack for explaining technical innovations in layman's terms, and he vividly conveys the magnitude of Xerox's coup: in 1961, when a television ad showed a young girl making copies, a competitor demanded proof that she was not a midget.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker