… Photocopiers

I don’t like photocopiers much. They take up too much space, the ink smells toxic and the paper always gets jammed up inside. It’s also far too tempting to temporarily blind yourself by photocopying your face – an act that seems hilarious at the time but always produces disappointing results.

The first ‘copying machine’ was invented in 1779. Specially formulated ink was transferred by a large press from the original document to dampened paper. This method was in use for well over a century until, in 1937, American Chester Carlton invented a process called electrophotography.

His first attempts at selling his invention on the commercial market did not go well and his crude product was rejected by over 20 companies, including IBM and General Electric. However, in 1947, after several years of improvement to the technique, Haloid Corporation began to develop a machine based on Carlton’s technology.

Haloid changed the process’ name to “Xerography”, a name derived from the Greek meaning “dry writing”, and called its copiers Xerox Machines. Eventually, the organisation was renamed the Xerox Corporation. Soon, the act of Xeroxing became part of modern language and, in 1949, Xerox launched its first  copier. In 1955 the first commercial copier – the
914 – appeared in offices.

However, the competition was not far behind and in the early 1950s, RCA introduced a process called Electrofax and brands such as Minolta, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, Konica and Canon all started to produce copiers that began to challenge Xerox’s market domination. Although consumers seemed to be fiercely loyal to the Xerox brand, competitors used guerrilla marketing tactics to offer more personal and localised services that challenged Xerox’s global strategy.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and pretty soon, through consumer re-education,  Xeroxing became known as “copying” and Xerox Machines morphed into “Photocopiers”.

How photocopiers work

A bright light illuminates the original document and the white areas reflect the light onto the surface of a highly charged photoconductive drum. These parts of the drum become conductive and correspond to the light parts of the original document. The parts of the drum not exposed to light remain negatively charged and correspond with the dark areas on the original document. This results in a ‘copy’ of the original document on the drum. Positively charged toner is then applied to the drum and sticks to the negatively charged darker areas. The toner image is then transferred to paper, which has a higher negative charge than the drum, and is melted and bonded to the paper by heat and pressure rollers. Et voila! You don’t need a Phd in electomagnetic engineering to understand it. You’ll never look at a photocopier the same way again.


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