Chester Carlson and Xeroxes (from the Xerox website)
from the Xerox website http://www.xerox.com/innovation/Storyofxerography.pdf
as posted 08/09/1999
The Story of Xerography
Our Heritage, Our Commitment
This humble legend marks the time and place of an auspicious event.
It is the text of the first xerographic image ever fashioned. It was
created in a makeshift laboratory in Queens, NY. by a patent attorney
named Chester Carlson, who believed that the world was ready for an
easier and less costly way to make copies.
Carlson was proved right only after a discouraging ten-year search for
a company that would develop his invention into a useful product. It
was the Haloid Company, a small photo-paper maker in Rochester, N.Y,
which took on the challenge and the promise of xerography and thus
became, in a breathtakingly short time, the giant multinational company
now known to the world as Xerox Corporation.
This report contains several stories about xerography: the man who
invented it, the company that made it work, and the products it yielded
for the benefit of mankind. These stories chronicle a classic American
success story: How men of courage and vision grew a highly profitable
business from little more than the seed of an idea.
Certainly, Xerox has changed greatly in size and scope since the
historic 914 copier was introduced in 1959. But we also believe that
the basic personality of Xerox has never changed. We are convinced that
the essential attributes that brought the young Xerox such spectacular
rewards in office copying are the same attributes we need to assure
continued success for the mature Xerox as it develops total office
Under the leadership of Joseph C. Wilson, the Haloid people
demonstrated extraordinary vision when they searched far afield of
their bread-and-butter business to acquire the patents of an untried
invention. They saw enormous potential where others saw only the
hazards. And at Xerox today, research scientists are exploring the
outer reaches of office information technology, looking in
unconventional places for solutions to problems facing the offices of
ten or twenty years from now.
We know that if we are to assume and maintain leadership in this vast
new area of office information systems, we must continue to seek out
new and better and cheaper ways of handling information. The Haloid
leaders also took great risks in opting to develop xerography. They put
up much of the company's modest earnings, and millions of dollars more
in outside investment, to develop the first xerographic products.
Because of that initial gamble, Xerox today possesses a wealth of
financial and human resources to take some prudent risks on unproven
technologies and untried strategies which show great promise.
Risk-taking is in our blood. And we think that, in the long run, it will enhance our balance sheet as well.
We are well aware of our heritage at Xerox, of the traditions of
growth, courage and excellence. We are determined to be worthy of that
Xerography: Chester Carlson's Impossible Dream
Carlson memorabilia, including a photograph of
the inventor as a high school senior and a page
from his scrapbook containing a xerographic selfportrait
with his annotation.
Xerography, the technology which started the office
copying revolution, was born unheralded on October
22, 1938, the inspiration of a single man working in
his spare time.
When he died in 1968 at the age of 62, Chester
Carlson was a wealthy and honored man, Xerox
annual revenues were approaching the billion dollar
mark, and the whole world was making copies at the
push of a button.
The astounding success of xerography is all the more
remarkable because it was given little hope of
surviving its infancy. For years, it seemed to be an
invention nobody wanted. To know why it eventually
prevailed is to understand the mind of Chester
Carlson. For xerography, and the man who invented it,
were both the products of hardship and travail.
An early brochure produced
by Haloid (later Xerox)
explaining the process of
xerography to the public.
Chester Carlson was born
in Seattle on February 8,
1906, the only child of an
itinerant barber. The
family settled in San
Bernardino, Calif., and at
the age of fourteen, Carlson was working after school and on weekends
as the chief support of his family. His father was crippled with arthritis
and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was seventeen.
Even as a boy, Carlson had the curious mind that always asked the how
and why of things. He was fascinated with the graphic arts and with
chemistry -- two disciplines he would eventually explore with remarkable
As a teenager he got a job working for a local printer, from whom he
acquired, in return for his labor, a small printing press about to be
discarded. He used the press to publish a little magazine for amateur
"I don't think I printed two issues,"Carlson later recalled, "and they weren't much. However, this
experience did impress me with the difficulty of getting words into hard copy, and this, in turn, started
me thinking about duplicating processes. I started a little inventor's notebook, and I would jot down
ideas from time to time."
Upon graduating from high school, Carlson worked his way through a nearby junior college where he
majored in chemistry. He then entered California Institute of Technology, and was graduated in two
years with a degree in physics.
The front page of Chester
Carlson's original patent
describing his invention of
called xerography, which
revolutionize office copying.
This historic patent was
filed April 4, 1939, several
months after Carlson made
the first xerographic image.
It was issued Oct. 6, 1942 as
More problems faced Carlson as he entered a job market shattered by the
developing Depression. He applied to eighty-two firms, and received only
two replies before landing a $35-a-week job as a research engineer at Bell
Telephone Laboratories in New York City.
As the Depression deepened, he was laid off at Bell, worked briefly for a
patent attorney, and then secured a position with the electronics firm of
PR. Mallory & Co. While there, he studied law at night, earning a law
degree from New York Law School. Carlson was eventually promoted to
manager of Mallory's patent department.
"I had my job," he recalled, "but I didn't think I was getting ahead very fast.
I was just living from hand to mouth, and I had just gotten married. It was
kind of a struggle, so I thought the possibility of making an invention might
kill two birds with one stone: It would be a chance to do the world some
good and also a chance to do myself some good."
As he worked at his job, Carlson noted that there never seemed to be
enough carbon copies of patent specifications, and there seemed to be no
quick or practical way of getting more. The choices were limited to
sending for expensive photo copies, or having the documents retyped and
then reread for errors.
A thought occurred to him: Offices might benefit from a device that would
accept a document and make copies of it in seconds. For many months
Carlson spent his evenings at the New York Public Library reading all he
could about imaging processes. He decided immediately not to research in
the area of conventional photography, where light is an agent for chemical change, because that
phenomenon was already being exhaustively explored in research labs of large corporations.
Xerography: Chester Carlson's Impossible Dream
The Xeroprinter demonstrated in the late
1940s by John H. Dessauer, Haloid's
research head; Chester Carlson; and
Haloid President Joseph C. Wilson. This
early xerographic device, which printed on
rolled paper, commanded public attention,
but was never marketed as a product.
Obeying the inventor's instinct to travel the uncharted course,
Carlson turned to the little-known field of photoconductivity,
specifically the findings of Hungarian physicist Paul Selenyi,
who was experimenting with electrostatic images. He learned
that when light strikes a photoconductive material, the
electrical conductivity of that material is increased.
Reflecting on these early discoveries, Carlson later said,
"Things don't come to mind readily, all of a sudden, like
pulling things out of the air. You have to get your inspiration
from somewhere, and usually you get it from reading
Soon, though, he began some rudimentary experiments,
beginning first -- to his wife's aggravation -- in the kitchen of
his apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. It was here that
Carlson unearthed the fundamental principles of what he
called electrophotography --later to be named xerography -- and defined them in a patent application
filed in October of 1937. "I knew," he said, "that I had a very big idea by the tail, but could I tame it?"
So he set out to reduce his theory to practice.
Frustrated by a lack of time, and suffering from painful attacks of arthritis, Carlson decided to dip into
his meager resources to pursue his research. He set up a small lab in nearby Astoria and hired an
unemployed young physicist, a German refugee named Otto Kornei, to help with the lab work.
The Inventor of the Year
Award given to Carlson in
1964. It was one of many such
honors he received during his
years of fame.
It was here, in a rented second-floor room above a bar, where xerography
was invented. This is Carlson's account of that moment: "I went to the
lab that day and Otto had a freshly-prepared sulfur coating on a zinc
plate. We tried to see what we could do toward making a visible image.
Otto took a glass microscope slide and printed on it in India ink the
notation '10-22-38 ASTORIA.'
"We pulled down the shade to make the room as dark as possible, then he
rubbed the sulfur surface vigorously with a handkerchief to apply an
electrostatic charge, laid the slide on the surface and placed the
combination under a bright incandescent lamp for a few seconds. The
slide was then removed and lycopodium powder was sprinkled on the
sulfur surface. By gently blowing on the surface, all the loose powder
was removed and there was left on the surface a near-perfect duplicate in
powder of the notation which had been printed on the glass slide.
"Both of us repeated the experiment several times to convince ourselves
that it was true, then we made some permanent copies by transferring the
powder images to wax paper and heating the sheets to melt the wax. Then we went out to lunch and
Carlson's first xerographic
apparatus. It never worked
well, but researchers at
Battelle Memorial Institute
and Haloid Company later
applied the resources
needed to turn the basic
discovery into functional,
and ultimately profitable,
Fearful that others might be blazing the same trail as he -- which is not an
uncommon occurrence in the history of scientific discovery -- Carlson
carefully patented his ideas as he learned more about this new technology.
His fear was unfounded. Carlson was quite alone in his work, and in his
belief that xerography was of practical value to anyone. He pounded the
pavement for years in a fruitless search for a company that would develop
his invention into a useful product. From 1939 to 1944, he was turned
down by more than twenty companies. Even the National Inventors
Council dismissed his work.
"Some were indifferent," he recalled, "several expressed mild interest, and
one or two were antagonistic. How difficult it was to convince anyone that
my tiny plates and rough image held the key to a tremendous new industry.
"The years went by without a serious nibble.. .I became discouraged and
several times decided to drop the idea completely. But each time I returned
to try again. I was thoroughly convinced that the invention was too
promising to be dormant."
Finally, in 1944, Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit research
organization, became interested, signed a royalty-sharing contract with
Carlson, and began to develop the process.
And in 1947, Battelle entered into an agreement with a small photo-paper company called Haloid
(later to be known as Xerox), giving Haloid the right to develop a xerographic machine.
Xerography: Chester Carlson's Impossible Dream
Above, Chester Carlson uses
his original lab equipment to
recreate his 1938 experiment
which established the process
It was not until 1959, twenty-one years after Carlson invented
xerography, that the first convenient office copier using xerography was
unveiled. The 914 copier could make copies quickly at the touch of a
button on plain paper. It was a phenomenal success. Today, xerography is
a foundation stone of a gigantic worldwide copying industry, including
Xerox and other corporations which make and market copiers and
duplicators producing billions and billions of copies a year.
And to Carlson, who had endured and struggled for so long, came fame,
wealth and honor, all of which he accepted with a grace and modesty
much in keeping with his shy and quiet personality.
Even during the hectic and heady 1960s, when the 914 and successor
products were spelling glory for Xerox, Carlson remained in the
background, and he gave his opinion only when asked. "I prefer
anonymity," he once said during a tour of a manufacturing plant.
One of the first versions of the
XeroX Copier. Introduced in
1949 as the first xerographic
product to be marketed, it was
only a modest success, but it
paved the way for much bigger
Had he held onto it all, Carlson would have
earned well over $150 million from his
remarkable invention. But before he died he
had given away some $100 million to various
foundations and charities.
During Carlson's last years he was given
dozens of honors for his pioneering work, including the Inventor of the
Year in 1964 and the Horatio Alger Award in 1966.
In 1965, at the commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the U.S.
patent system, he gave some of his original equipment, as well as that
first xerographic print, to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is on
But Carlson's gift to Xerox was even greater than his historic invention.
Joseph C. Wilson, the man who led the tiny company to greatness by
gambling on xerography, said this about Chester Carlson's contribution:
"From this life, we of Xerox have learned much, and from it we have adopted policies that affect
everything we do. "First, we will never forget that in the individual is the origin of the great creative
"Second, we learned that great rewards come to those who see needs that have not been clearly
identified by others, and who have the innovating capacity to devise products and services which fill
Haloid: The Little Company that Went for Broke
An historical montage: An 813 drum, nameplates
from various models, pellets of the photoconductor
selenium, an early sales brochure, XeroX copiers,
the first 914 off the line, and Xerox President
Wilson with Sales Vice President McColough in
1960. McColough went on to become chairman of
The Haloid Company after World War II was headed
While revenues of the small Rochester, N.Y firm were
increasing, its earnings were shrinking, and the
prognosis for improvement was poor.
Since its founding in 1906 as a tiny company, Haloid
had grown in a modest but consistent fashion by
making and selling photographic paper. Even during
the horrible Depression years, when companies all
over the nation were closing down, Haloid kept
several hundred people fully employed, managed to
turn a profit and even acquired a firm which made
photo-copying equipment. But after the booming war
years, the Haloid market share began to shrink, and
worse, there was nothing in the works to avert the
Joseph C. Wilson, who was about to assume Haloid's
leadership from his retiring father, decided that the
answer lay in acquiring a promising new technology.
Young Wilson knew well the basic logic of the free
enterprise system: Success depends on profit, profit
depends on growth, and growth depends on new ideas.
In 1953, Chester Carlson was
awarded the prestigious
Longstreth Medal from the
Franklin Institute, earlier than
most to recognize the significance
of the inventor's discovery.
As fate would have it,
there was at that time a new idea looking for a company. The two
were introduced in the July, 1944 issue of Radio News, a technical
periodical brought to the attention of John H. Dessauer, Haloid's
research head. In the magazine was an article on electrophotography.
Dessauer showed it to Wilson, and they agreed this process warranted
a closer look.
Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit research organization in
Columbus, Ohio, was developing the process. Battelle had acquired
the rights from an unknown inventor named Chester Carlson, who had
created an electrostatic image on a photoconductive surface, then
transferred the image to a piece of paper. Carlson had tried in vain to
interest large companies in developing his findings, but no one was
While working as a patent attorney for an electronics firm in New
York, Carlson had some business dealings with Battelle physicist Russell Dayton. As they were
chatting, he handed Dayton one of his patents, and asked if Battelle migh be interested. It was.
Carlson demonstrated his process in Columbus, and when he finished, Dayton told his colleagues:
"However crude this may seem, this is the first time any of you has seen a reproduction made without
any chemical reaction and by a dry process."
Above, part of a Haloid
patent describing the
apparatus" destined to
become the famous 914
copier. The inventor was
development engineer Clyde
Mayo, a Xerox research
A deal was struck, with Battelle agreeing to do the development work for
60 percent of any royalties. Still, Battelle people were unsure of just what
good use would come of this new process. Their ideas included a
catalogue printer and a child's toy, as well as an office copier.
Their development work was crucial. In selenium, Battelle researchers
found an ideal photoconductor for a xerographic device. Known for years
as one of the Earth's commonest chemical elements, selenium proved to
be much more effective than the sulfur Carlson had been using. Battelle
also devised the developer -- a mixture of dry ink particles (toner) and
"carrier" beads that remains the basic formula today.
But Battelle, like Carlson, encountered difficulties finding a buyer. There
was little interest until that day Wilson and Dessauer arrived from
Rochester to have a closer look. A contract was signed, effective January
1, 1947, which gave Haloid a license to develop a xerographic machine.
It was a gamble for Battelle. Haloid's earnings in 1946 were only
$101,000 on $6.75 million in sales. Wilson later wondered aloud why
Battelle picked Haloid:
"Financially we were very limited. We had a limited marketing
organization and a limited research group. I guess what sold them was
that we were going to make or break with it… And they were afraid that bigger companies would
have it as a side issue, on the back burner."
The parties also agreed that "electrophotography," the word Carlson coined, was too cumbersome. So
Battelle went to an Ohio State classical language professor, who coined "xerography," from the Greek
words for "dry" and "writing."
Haloid demonstrated its new process at a Detroit meeting of the American Optical Society on October
22, 1948, ten years to the day after Carlson created the first xerographic image. Society members were
interested, but couldn't see how this crude process offered any particular advantage.
Through subsequent contracts with Battelle, Haloid acquired more and more of the development
burden. Marshalling its meager resources, it introduced in 1949 its first xerographic machine-the
XeroX (with a capital "X") Copier. It was slow, dirty and required a number of carefully executed
manual operations to produce a decent copy. But fortunately, it stumbled into a ready-made market.
Slow as it was as a document copier, the XeroX Copier proved to be a quick master maker for a type
of small office printing press requiring paper masters which ordinarily had to be typed by hand.
Haloid: The Little Company that Went for Broke
In 1953, the cover of the 1959
Annual Report graphically
and boldy predicted the
future of the company's first
officer copier, the
In 1954. Haloid hired C. Peter McColough, 31, to head the reprographic
service centers. A vice president of sales with Lehigh Navigation Coal
Sales Company, McColough was looking for a company with growth
If first impressions counted, he would have gone elsewhere. As he was
interviewed by John B. Hartnett, the Haloid vice president for marketing.
McColough was momentarily dismayed at what he saw: An orange crate
served as Hartnett's bookcase, and on the "bookcase" was his lunch pail.
"What am I doing here," McColough thought. But Hartnett's enthusiasm
and Wilson's persuasiveness won him over. He took a $17,000-a-year job
with a company offering nothing but promise. McColough went on to
become president, and then chairman of the company.
In 1955 came Copyflo, the first completely automated xerographic
machine. It produced enlarged prints on a continuous roll from microfilm
originals, and spawned a line of Xerox microsystems products which are
still turning significant profits. Copyflo was also the first product to use a drum, instead of a plate, as
the photoconductive surface. The rotating drum, an ingenious solution to the problem of how to make
copies quickly, has been used again and again in Xerox machines.
Revenues from Copyflo were healthy, and by 1956, xerographic products accounted for almost 40
percent of revenues. Inspired by its modest success, Haloid optimistically changed its name to Haloid
Xerox in 1958. By that time it was well into a much larger effort: the development of a fast, cheap,
convenient office copier. People didn't have one then. But they had plenty of other options:
The A. B. Dick mimeograph machine worked well, but involved the time and expense of master
making. The Photostat machine gave good reproduction; but was costly and slow. The 3M Company's
Thermo-Fax unit needed treated paper and produced copies which darkened in time. And Eastman Kodak's Verifax machine made damp copies that had to be dried.
It was time for a breakthrough, all right. But was xerography the method, and was Haloid the means?
Though the company was doing well, Wilson feared that revenues were simply not enough to stage
the development of the hoped-for xerographic office copier, which was becoming extremely costly. He
even considered offering to share the project with larger companies which had the wherewithal. But
just as Carlson had been rejected, so were Wilson's probes. Haloid, forced to either quit or go for
broke, took the latter course, staking all it had, and a lot it didn't have, on a product no one could say
would either work or sell.
In the fall of 1959, the world saw the 914 copier (so named because it could copy sheets as large as 9
by 14 inches). In March of 1960, when the first 914 was shipped to a customer, there were predictions
that maybe 5,000 units would be placed in three years. By the end of 1962, 10,000 had been shipped,
The Story of Xerography Page 11 of 13
and manufacturing people were backlogged with orders.
Haloid made xerox a
trademark with its
own logo, then changed
its name to Haloid
Xerox before taking
the name Xerox in
In short, the 914 was an astounding success, one of the most successful single
products ever made. It launched a major corporation and revolutionized an
industry. In 1959, the company's net income was $2 million. In 1960, the first
year of the 914 in the marketplace, net income was $2.6 million. In 1961, it was
$5.3 million. In 1962, $13.9 million. In 1963, $22.6 million.
The 813 desktop copier was introduced in 1963 and also made a hit. In 1964, the
2400 (named for the number of copies it could make in an hour) was introduced.
And three generations of highly profitable xerographic copiers and duplicators --
some two dozen products in two decades -- grew from the 914.
In 1961, Haloid Xerox took the name of Xerox, and its stock was listed on the
New York Stock Exchange. XRX was an especially hot issue even in those go-go
Straining under the phenomenon it had created. Xerox frantically tried to keep up
with the demand for its products. Every third person in Xerox in 1963 had been
hired that year. In the Town of Webster, about ten miles east of Rochester, a
huge manufacturing and research complex blossomed on a thousand acres where
only apple trees had bloomed a few years earlier. And an entire sales and service
force was hired and trained from scratch.
It was an enormous gamble that paid off in spades. Some $12.5 million -- more
than the company's total earnings in the ten years from 1950 through 1959 -- had
been spent to develop the 914. The feat was accomplished by pouring profits
back into research, by heavy borrowing, by convincing investors to buy more
But mostly it was done on inspiration and courage. Like few others in their time, the Haloid people
were believers. Their motivation created one of the most spectacular business success stories of the
The Story of Xerography Page 12 of 13
How Xerography Works
In 1938, Chester Carlson invented xerography out of two natural phenomena already known: materials
of opposite electrical charges are attracted, and certain materials become better conductors of
electricity when exposed to light. By combining these phenomena in a unique way, he was able to
create a new process for making cheap, fast, good copies on plain paper.
Here are two diagrams of xerography at work. The first describes the process in elemental terms,
roughly the way Carlson worked with it. The second shows how Xerox inventors have applied it,
along with many other technologies, to an advanced xerographic machine.
(1) a photoconductive surface is given a
positive electrical charge (+).
(2) The image of a document is exposed
on the surface. This causes the charge to
drain away from the surface in all but
the image area, which remains
unexposed and charged.
(3) Negatively charged powder is
cascaded over the surface. It
electrostatically adheres to the positively
charged image area making a visible
(4) A piece of plain paper is placed over
the surface and given a positive charge.
(5) The negatively charged powder
image on the surface is electrostatically
attracted to the positively charged
(6) The powder image is fused to the
paper by heat.
After the photoconductive surface is
cleaned, the process can be repeated.
The Story of Xerography Page 13 of 13
How Xerography Works
How Xerography Works
The original document is moved automatically from
the document handler (1) to the platen (under the
document handler), where it is projected by a system
of lamps, mirrors and lenses onto the photoreceptor
belt (2). The belt carries a charge of static electricity
that is discharged in those areas receiving light from
the projected image. The charge remaining forms a
latent, invisible image.
Magnetic rollers (3) brush the belt with dry ink that is,
itself, charged with static electricity of opposite
polarity. This charge makes the dry ink cling to the
latent image on the photoreceptor, making the image
A sheet of copy paper moves from a paper tray (4, 5,
or 6) to the belt. As it approaches the belt, the paper,
too, is given a charge of static electricity. This charge
has the same polarity as the charge on the belt, but it is
strong enough to attract the dry ink forming the
image away from the belt. The copy then goes between
two rollers (7) that apply heat and pressure, fusing the
dry-ink image into the paper.
The completed copy emerges at an output station (8).