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Life of Chester Carlson

08 Feb 2017
Life of Chester Carlson

​Chester Carlson was an American inventor born in Seattle, Washington on the 8th February 1906. The process of electrophotography is what Carlson is best known for, this process included producing a dry copy rather than a wet one. The process known as electrophotography was then renamed to Xerography which is a term that means ‘Dry Writing’.

At a young age Carlson’s father Olaf took the family to Mexico to stay for seven months in 1910. However Olaf was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and as time passed he developed arthritis in his spine, his mother Ellen was later diagnosed with Malaria, which meant because of his parents being ill resulting Chester and his family with poverty. He worked himself to try and support his family from a young age. At the age of eight Carlson started to work at odd jobs, before going to school at the age of thirteen he would go to work for two or even three hours and then back to work after he finished his classes. He became the principle provider for his family by the time he Chester was in high school. At the age of seventeen his mother died as she suffered from Tuberculosis and ten years from then his father passed away.

When Carlson was ten years of age he created a news paper and called it ‘This and That’ having said this he began thinking about reproducing print early in his life. The newspaper that he created was made by hand and distributed by his friends with a routing list. Whilst being in high school and working for a local printer, Carlson wanted to attempt to typeset and publish a magazine for students with a science mind set like himself.

News paper

As he was supporting his family by working before school and after his classes, Carlson had to take a postgraduate year to fill in for the courses that he missed. At the Riverside Junior College he began to work and attended classes in the six week period. He was paying for a cheap one bedroom apartment for himself and his father, Carlson had three jobs at the time. When studying his programs at Riverside, he started to look into Chemistry but then changed it to Physics as he enjoyed it more.


Three years after studying at Riverside, Carlson started to study at the California Institute of Technology which was his ambition since he was at high school. His tuition fee was $260 a year and as he had a lot of work to get on with it prevented him from earning much money, even though he did the odd job such as mowing lawns on the weekends, and working at a cement factory in the summer. Once he finished his studies and graduated Carlson was left in a $1,500 debt. He started to seek employment and wrote to atleast 82 companies however none of them offered him a position.

At New York Law School in 1936 Carlson began to study law, he would study very hard in the New York Public Library as he could afford to buy them. He then decided to find a way to build a copying machine and began supplementing his law studies by visiting the Public Library’s science and technology department. He came to recognise his dream machine when he read a brief article, written by Hungarian Physicist Pal Selenyi.

Carlson began to experiment in his kitchen, where it would get smoky smelly and occasionally explosive. In one of the experiments the chemicals which he was working with caught fire, and alongside his wife were hard pressed to extinguish the flames.

As he was in the process of a number of experiments Carlson developed a form of arthritis in his spine the same as his father.

The Haloid company read an article about Carlson’s invention. Haloid is a manufacturer of photographic paper. In 1946 Carlson and Haloid signed the first agreement to licence electrophotography for a commercial product.

Haloid realised that in 1948 it would be best for an announcement about electrophotography, however Haloid was not very pleased with the name electrophotography as the term ‘photography’ invited the wrong type of buyers. A professor suggested the term Xerography that is combined with the Greek words ​Xerox ‘dry’ and graphene ‘writing’. Carlson on the other hand wasn’t very fond of the name, but the company’s patent department wanted to trademark it ‘Xerography’.

22nd October 1948, the Haloid company made their very first public announcement of Xerography and in 1949 the first commercial photocopier was shipped: the ​Xerox Model A copier.

 Xerox Copier A

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