Carbon Paper

When was the ball point pen invented? What about paper clips, or fax machines? Vic Hollefruend, our Retail Furniture Manager, is on the case, researching and compiling everything you would want to know about who, where, why, when, and how of office supplies. We are pleased to present Vic’s History of Office Stuff.

Carbon Correspondence

Carbon_paperA fellow came into the store this morning asking for a “Dinosaur”…well, not literally, he actually asked for Carbon paper; and that got me to thinking, where and when did carbon paper get started? I soon found out that it had some rather saucy and naughty beginnings.

Her name was Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, and she was a blind Italian countess. Her boyfriend was a fellow by the name of Pellegrino Turri. He had invented a typing machine so she could write him racy letters without her maid’s assistance. The trouble was, she had almost run out of the specially inked paper it used; and so, On November 6, 1808 the Countess wrote “I am desperate because I find myself almost without black paper.”

Carolina needed Pellegrino’s typing machine and its fancy coated paper because without it, she had no way of writing him letters when they were away from each other. She didn’t know if she was writing in a straight line or if she even had ink on her quill. To assist his lover with her problem, Turri invented a typewriter and then invented carbon paper in 1801, which was used with his writing machine. Who would have thought that both, the typewriter and carbon paper were invented so that naughty letters could be sent to a lonely sweetheart? Although not much is known about the machine, some of the countess’ letters written on it have survived.

Ok, now that I have your attention and exposed Turri’s dirty little secret, we’ll get back to carbon paper. There was another fellow, an Englishman named Ralph Wedgewood who had invented an ink impregnated paper. Interestingly, both Turri and Wedgewood invented their “carbon paper” as a means to an end; they were both trying to help blind people write through the use of a machine, and the “black paper” was really just a substitute for ink.

From Balloons to Paper

By 1823, however, another fellow, an American named Cyrus P. Dakin of Concord, Massachusetts, was making carbon paper similar to Wedgewood’s. He sold it exclusively to the Associated Press. Now, fast forward Forty plus years to 1870; the same Associated Press was covering a balloon ascent by a guy named Lebbeus H. Rogers; (with a first name like Lebbeus I’m surprised he didn’t fling himself from the balloon when it reached altitude). Rogers had just become a partner in a biscuit and grocery firm and this was a promotional stunt highlighting the new business.

While conducting an interview in the newspaper offices after the flight, Rogers happened to see Dakin’s carbon paper and immediately saw its commercial potential for the copying of office documents. The immediate outcome was that the firm of L.H. Rogers & Co. was founded in New York, and in 1870, it broke the carbon paper sales record with its first major sale ($1,500) to the American War Department. However, it took until 1872 and the development of a practical typewriter for commercial office use (the Sholes and Glidden typewriter), for Rogers’ vision to be proven correct.

Paper Production

Originally carbon paper was made entirely by hand. They used a mixture of carbon black (the pigment) and oil in naphtha (a solvent) and applied it to sheets of paper using a wide brush. Eventually, Rogers’ company developed the first carbon-coating machine, and introduced the use of hot wax applied by rollers to replace the messy oil applied by brush. In this way modern one-sided carbon paper came to be made in a variety of qualities.

Although the photocopier probably struck the biggest blow to carbon paper and other early methods of copying, a technology was developed around the same time with the potential to eliminate carbon paper entirely. NCR, or No Carbon Required paper, was developed by the National Cash Register Company in 1954. This process used the pressure of a pen or typewriter to bring about a chemical reaction between different coatings on adjacent sheets of paper. The original was produced by the pen or typewriter, while the chemical reaction left a blue copy sharply delineated on subsequent pages. NCR is ideal for business forms produced in large quantities, but is not economical for small applications. Consequently, it has yet to replace carbon paper completely.

Carbon paper is still commercially available today. However, its use has declined significantly in the last 20 years, despite the proliferation of copying in the modern office over the same period. Perhaps it will continue to be used until the “paperless office” becomes a reality, or perhaps it will always be ideal for some applications. Regardless of its ultimate fate, carbon paper has already left its mark on one of the most recent technologies to enter the workplace: many electronic mail computer programs (E-mail) include the abbreviation “cc” to indicate the recipients of a “carbon copy” of the electronic message.

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