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.

Legal Copy

In the year 1779, James Watt developed a copying machine which required manual transfer of ink to the paper. Although not as speedy and efficient as the photocopier of today, this machine instantly became popular in those times

It wasn’t until 1937, that a patent attorney in New York by the name of Chester Carlson, also a part-time researcher and inventor, invented a process called ‘electrophotography’.

His job at the patent office in New York required him to make a large number of copies of important papers. The frustration caused by the difficulty and expense of copying documents motivated him to conduct experiments with photoconductivity. Carlson invented a method of transferring images from one piece of paper to another using static electricity. It then took him another 15 years to establish the basic principles of electrophotography, and he patented his developments every step along the way. He filed his first preliminary patent application on October 18, 1937.

Carlson’s early experiments, conducted with sulphur in his apartment kitchen, were smoky and smelly and soon the landlord encouraged him to find another place. At about the same time he developed arthritis of the spine, like his father. However, he pressed on with his experiments in addition to his law school studies and his regular job.

His patented process was later named ‘Xerography’. The term xerography is made up of two words, i.e., ‘xeros’ which means dry and ‘graphia’, writing.

During the 20th century the Xerography copying process became one of the most well-known inventions, and Chester Carlson received worldwide acclaim. He became extremely wealthy, as his invention created the billion-dollar copier industry. Before his death in 1968, it has been estimated that Carlson gave away almost $100 million to various charities and foundations.

Birth of a Household Name

At first, Xerography was not a popular invention. It took ten years for Carlson to find a company to develop his Xerography process. A New York based photo-paper manufacturer, called The Haloid Company, finally took up the challenge. The Haloid Company later went on to become the Xerox Corporation.

In 1955, Haloid – by then called Haloid Xerox, had produced Copyflo, the first automated xerographic machine. But it wasn’t until 22 years after the process of electrophotography had first been invented that the first true office photocopier was produced. In 1958 the first-ever commercial push button plain paper photocopier, the Xerox 914, was introduced and ended up selling in the thousands.

Competition Heats Up

It was as early as 1955 when Ricoh emerged as a potential competitor against Xerox, as they developed the RiCopy 101 Diazo copier. The coveted RiCopy DT 1200 hit the shelves in 1975 and made the position of Xerox uncomfortable. The next decade would see a surprising change as companies who were traditionally known for photography began to break into the lucrative office equipment market. Brands such as Minolta, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sharp, Konica and Canon started the production of small office copiers and challenged Xerox’s then domination of the business photocopier market.

However, manufacturers quickly realised that Xerox held very strong customer loyalty. This was difficult to break down, so to do this smaller copier dealerships were founded. In each country, small local dealerships opened up that offered a “local service”, sold by local people. This was a classic guerrilla marketing move and attacked Xerox in a way they had not anticipated – Xerox was a global corporation and the one thing they couldn’t offer was the ‘personal feel’ of a small, local business.

The most successful copier company to use this tactic was probably Canon, who by 1985 had become the world’s leading photocopier company. Canon invested very heavily in research and development and went on to produce the very first colour copier

The Xerox rivals always encouraged their sales people to correct their customers whenever they referred to a photocopier as a “Xerox machine”. Terms such as “Xeroxing”, which had become generic names, were corrected to “copying” and the “Xerox Machine” became the “photocopier machine”. All of this was aimed at breaking down the impact and hold that the Xerox brand had created

The Business Case

Today, Xerox is still one of the world leaders, and a hugely influential and trusted brand name. However, they are no longer the market leaders. While the main marketing battle in the photocopier industry was being fought from 1975 to 1985, Xerox neglected the development in their core business – instead they invested millions into the computer market. This new line extension was difficult, despite developing revolutionary technology such as an operating system which was actually a forerunner to Windows. They also invented the computer mouse. Between 1975 and 1985, Xerox was up against another well-known brand name, which has already made a huge impact in the computer market – IBM. If Xerox had continued to defend and develop their core business during the formative years of the industry, the photocopier market today might have looked very different.

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