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Chester Carlson

(1906—1968)


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(1906–1968)

US physicist and inventor of xerography.

Born in Seattle, the son of a barber, Carlson was educated at the California Institute of Technology. After working for Bell Telephones he took a law degree and ran the patent department of P. R. Mallory and Co., a manufacturer of electrical components. The constant demand for multiple copies of complex patent specifications and drawings alerted Carlson to the need for a machine to produce cheaply and quickly smudge-free copies of a variety of documents. Working in his spare time, and with the help of Otto Kornei, a refugee German physicist, Carlson had a workable machine ready in October 1938. The process, described initially by Carlson as electrophotography, involved sensitizing a photoconductive surface to light by giving it an electrostatic charge. It was immediately protected by Carlson with an impenetrable web of patents.

Apparently easier to invent than to sell, the process was turned down by twenty leading manufacturers of office equipment. In 1947, however, a small firm of photographic paper manufacturers, the Haloid Company of Rochester, New York, became interested. Carlson sold the process to Haloid but retained a royalty interest. A professor of classics at Ohio State University offered the name ‘xerography’, meaning literally dry writing, to describe Carlson's process. It took Haloid (which later became the Xerox Corporation) until 1960 and the investment of a further seventy-five million dollars to produce the xerox machine that swept the world. When Carlson died, eight years later, his royalties were estimated to have brought him fifty million dollars.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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