The story of Chester Carlson's
invention and development of xerography is a classic tale.
A result was the creation of the Xerox
914 plain paper photocopier, which Fortune magazine once described as 'the most successful product ever marketed in America'.
The story provides axioms about commercialiation and immunises us against get rich quick schemes.
It is essential reading for innovators.
path to commercialisation of the photocopier
The inspiration for this article is David Owen's original book on Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography.
It adds considerably to what we know about Carlson
and the pre-history of Xerox Corp.
The book is titled Copies in Seconds: Chester Carlson
and the Birth of the Xerox
Gifts were rare for young Chester
grew up in great difficulty, bearing the burden of his
family's invalid father, poverty and uncertain future.
By the time he
was 12 or 13 he
had become his
family's principal provider.
father's ill health dominated Carlson's childhood, and his
mother's early death shocked him.
Despite setbacks he
completed high school and tertiary education, a CalTech science degree in 1930 and a New York Law School degree in the late 1930s.
As you know, there are dozens of instances of simultaneous discovery down through scientific history, but no one came anywhere near being simultaneous with Chet
I'm as amazed by his
discovery now as I was when I first heard of it.'#
5. Name everything, including process
In 1938 inventing the process that gave his
path direction, Carlson
named it 'electron photography' and then 'electrophotography'.
6. Research and test, then research and test again
In 1938 Carlson
and Otto Kornei, one of his early collaborators, produced the first xerographic image using India ink.
was thinking about the need for a copier and brainstorming for it well before 1938.
Ten more years of invention, improvement, testing and product research and development lay ahead.
7. Tell stories, promote effectively
In November 1940, when his
first patent was issued Carlson
got some runs on the board because The New York Times
ran a brief story on the front page of its second section.
returned the favour by hiring Langer to work at P. R. Mallory.
wrote to numerous companies and did numerous presentations, in the process collecting rejection letters from General Electric
, A. B. Dick
, The Charles Bruning Company
was not a showman, he
was necessarily the best man to pitch his
was perhaps too reserved in his
manner to be an effective presenter.
By the early 1940s Carlson had no or few funds to invest further; and additionally he had growing responsibilities having become the head of the P. R. Mallory patent department.
work at his
firm resulted in a 1944 presentation by Carlson
to scientists and engineers of the Battelle Memorial Institute
In late 1945 Carlson
and the Battelle Memorial Institute
settled a first agreement which Carlson
described as 'essentially an agency agreement'.
Carlson left his job at Mallory in late 1945, roughly a year after signing his agency agreement with Battelle.
Carlson then came on board as a consultant to Haloid in 1948 on a fee of $US1,000 a month.
The way Carlson used his
new income is instructive as regards its future impact on Carlson's earnings.
Rather than spending the money on luxuries, Carlson
sent much of it to the Battelle Memorial Institute
The Carlson-institute agreement gave Carlson
the option of restoring his original royalty rate by reimbursing Battelle
, within five years, for half of its spending beyond the original $US10,000.
That five year period was now drawing to a close, and Battelle
so far had spent $US40,000 - meaning that Carlson
could restore his 40 per cent royalty for $US15,000, or $US1,000 for each percentage point.
In 1948, though, putting more money into electrophotography seemed recklessly speculative to almost everyone but Carlson
- who had just received his first royalty payment ever, a cheque for $2,500, representing a quarter of Haloid's first payment to Battelle
It was only in 1949 that the first xerographic copier, the Model A (see accompanying photo), was introduced by Haloid
which had stuck by Carlson
through years of substantial investment for a company the size of Haloid
wrote a terse correction writes Owen.
wrote: "Your estimate of my net worth is too high by $US150 million.
I belong in the 0 to $US50 million bracket.
had been quietly involved in giving his
It is a photo of Chester Carlson
and his second wife, Dorris Carlson sitting outside their modest house in 1965.
Following are Dilanchian solutions
, brochures, a video tutorial and other articles relevant to the path taken by Chester Carlson
and solutions adopted by him to protect, contract and otherwise commercialise his