The next great production invention may already be in hand
I recently attended a meeting, held in a conference room dedicated to Chester Floyd Carlson. It’s unlikely that you ever heard of him, but he changed your life. His invention is perhaps third behind only the printing press and the Internet in its revolutionary impact on communication.
Carlson was the inventor of the dry photocopy process, which led directly to the development of the Xerox machine. Like so many others, his invention was driven by personal need. An inventor turned patent office attorney, Carlson was burdened by the difficulty involved in using carbon paper to make the many manual copies that the patent office required.
Carlson patented his process, but it took 10 years before the world woke up. No one could think beyond the carbon paper approach—after all, why would an electronic device that only made one copy at a time be needed? Besides, when multiple copies were needed the tried and true wet mimeograph process was already available.
Between 1939 and 1944, Carlson was turned down by more than 20 major entities including behemoths like IBM, GE, Eastman-Kodak, and the Navy. It wasn’t until 1946 that the owners of Haloid Photographic Company saw its potential and 1949 when the term “Xerox” was created and the invention finally began to be commercialized. Eventually, Chester Floyd Carlson became one of the richest men in America.
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