Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Copy That!

My grandparents' wedding picture, 1920

Is there a name for a person who has watched incredible changes take place in their lifetime, especially technological changes? Born in November of 1900, my grandma died in 1994, living through almost the entire 20th century. How much change she witnessed in her day! She was an infant when the first radio receiver was developed in 1901. That's the same year the vacuum cleaner was invented. She lived through the introduction of so many things we take for granted today: airplanes,  penicillin, nylon, zippers, pop-up toasters, microwaves, the calculator (and that was not until 1967).  Audio cassettes showed up in 1962, video disks in '63 and the Compact Disk in 1965.

And then there is computer technology. By the time Grandma died the world wide web was already four-years-old. It's enough to make a girl's head swim!

One of the most significant inventions in the 1900s was the copy machine, which Chester Carlson invented in 1938. Yesterday was its 75th birthday, but it didn't hit the market until 1959, when Xerox introduced it.

Before that, the most common way to copy information was by mimeograph machines and ditto machines. Schools and churches used them to print the weekly bulletin or run off copies of the math game that the 2nd graders were going to play in class. They did not make very legible copies, they were very fussy (especially the mimeograph machine), and they used fluid that smelled just awful! But it's the technology I knew until I started my night job at a bank the summer before I entered college. There I was introduced to The Copy Machine. It was a complete mystery to me, I assumed that, for each copy it spit out (maybe "drool" would be a better word; "spit" suggests speed), an identical image was stored on the machine. Needless to say, I was very careful about what I chose to copy.

Ditto Machine

Mimeograph Machine

If you are under 50, you may not fully appreciate a computer which allows you to correct your mistakes on the spot -- and even corrects them for you -- rather than using carbon paper, typewriter erasers, or White Out. With the click of a button you can print out your creation then step over to the copy machine, where you can reproduce your work in black and white or color, however many copies you need, and pick them off the tray, collated and stapled!

Totally amazing!

If you'd like to know more about Chester Carlson and his life and inventions, here's a great article on, and a book that goes into even greater detail.

You'll really enjoy this NPR story. Listen clear through; it ends with the head-nodding Typewriter Song.

And if you are an antique geek, you'll enjoy this site, featuring copying machines down through the ages.

1 comment:

Marcheta Gibson said...

Hi Ginger,

I like your blog. I came across it when looking for an image of a mimeograph machine for one of my blog posts. I copied one of your pictures to use, with a link under it to your blog.

If you do not want me to use that image, please contact me via my blog and I will gladly remove it.

Thank you,
Marcheta Gibson