Just finished David Owen's dense-yet-inspiring biography of Xerography and its inventor, Chester Carlson, entitled Copies in Seconds



In his first few chapters, Owen tries to imbue his fascination for the ordinary (to those of Generation X and afterwards) office copier. Frankly, his treatment of the development of copying is boring. I don't care about scribes, Gutenburg, or Ditto machines. He spends inordinate prose on the distinction between "copying" and "duplication", and why the idea of 'copying' is so important.

The thing is, "copying" is dying. It became necessary because of the industrial world, but in the post-industrial world, everything is digital and the concept of "files" and "originals" holds less and less meaning. Still, Carlson's invention underlies every copier and laser printer. He invented toner, and it's LXK's sale of toner that pays my salary, so I, at least, am suitably in awe.

The book comes into its own in the second part, once we're through the treatise on printing and Carlson's own hard-luck story. There are a few salient points:


  1. Carlson came-up with the concept of xerography (he called it electrophotography) independently. No one else was working on it, and no one else has developed a siginificantly different version of it since. Literally, without this man and his idea, plain-paper copiers and laser printers might not exist today.

  2. Once Carlson convinced someone to develop his idea, after every other corporation turned him down, it took years to develop a working, automated copier. He presented the concepts to the Haloid (later 'Xerox') corporation in the early 1940's, and the first coper, the Xerox 914 didn't appear until 1960. The man defined persistence.



Okay, I saved you from reading the book.

Still, there were some awesome anecdotes and quotes. I'll leave you with one:
Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

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