1960s Handbook – Xerox 914

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The 1960s Handbook takes a closer look at the cultural references that appear in each week’s episode of Mad Men.

Thanks to Chester Carlson, office life got a whole lot easier in the 1960s. He’s the man behind the first ever automatic, plain paper, office copier: The Xerox 914.

Today, the 914 is an artifact in the Smithsonian but in 1962 it represented a revolution in office work. When you recall previous duplication methods, it’s not surprising that “Xerox “became synonymous with “copy.” Care to mix chemicals before you make a copy? That’s what users of the old Contura had to do. Perhaps you had time to wait for your copies to dry — that was another problem with certain duplication methods.

Those of a certain era know what the phrase ‘ditto that’ really means and how it smelled
when someone did. To be fair, it wasn’t all bad: If you only needed one
copy, you could use carbon paper; companies like Kodak and 3M sold
small, desktop machines that could handle small duplication jobs.
Unfortunately, they required expensive, chemically-treated papers and
the copies smelled bad, were hard to read and curled up.

Not
everybody embraced the potential of the Xerox 914. In 1958, IBM
considered a joint venture with Haloid Xerox but consultants decided
the 914, “has no future in the office copying market.”
Their logic: The copier would only be cost effective for a company that
made as many as 100 copies a day, a ridiculously high number. They came
to regret this view in 1960 when the Xerox 914 hit the market and was
an astounding success. In 1959, Haloid Xerox’s net income was $2
million. In 1963, $22.6 million.

It took years for Carlson and
Haloid to get it made but, once finished, it wasn’t hard to sell
because, as one 1961 ad boasted, it “makes copies of anything…on ordinary paper…even pages in a book.

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