“When we say ordinary paper, we mean ordinary paper. For instance, office stationery. Or how about plain bond paper? Now if that isn’t ordinary enough, wait a minute,” says the suited man in the black-and-white ad.
He tears a piece of brown wrapping paper off a roll and cuts it for the machine. “How much more ordinary can you get?” he asks, before slipping it into the machine’s paper tray and and photocopying a page from a book — “that’s right. A page from a book.”
What looks hokey now was, in 1959, revolutionary. The introduction of the Xerox 914 Plain Paper Copier, the first copy machine that ordinary office workers could use in ordinary office clothes to create dry, fast copies. Before this, Xerox's model the Xerox A used a messy 39-step process that was used to replicate blueprints and for other industrial applications, but wasn't suited to an office.
The first Xerox 914—the ordinary one for ordinary offices—weighed nearly 650 pounds, writes Edward Tenner for The Atlantic. “It needed a carpenter to uncrate it, an employee with ‘key operator’ training, and its own 20-amp circuit.”
Still, Tenner writes, the machine fundamentally changed the way we use information and its 17-year production run was a triumph given how few people thought there was a market for copying.
What you’re watching is the culmination of a process that in some ways started in 1942, when Chester Carlson — born on this day in 1906 — patented the technology that makes Xerox machines possible. Carlson worked for a patent office and was studying at law school, writes A. Dinsdale for Photographic Science and Engineering. In the course of his patent work he noticed there were never enough carbon copies of patent specifications. The only ways to get more copies made was to use the imperfect machine copying of the time or to have a typist make more copies that then needed to be proofread in case of typos.
“It soon occurred to him that it would be highly desirable to have a small copying machine in the office into which one could feed the original document and obtain a finished copy in a few seconds,” Dinsdale writes. Seventeen years later, his now-patented idea was owned by the Haloid Company, which became the Xerox Corporation, and office copiers were born.