Happy Birthday, Chester Carlson – 1906
Born on this day in 1906 in Seattle, Washington, Chester Carlson grew up to be a physicist, patent attorney, and inventor.
Based on inventions by Thomas Edison, copies used to be made with a “wet” process called mimeography. This involved wrapping a stencil around an ink-filled drum; as the machine rotated the drum, a plain sheet of paper was pulled between the stencil and a pressure roller, and ink was forced through the holes in the stencil onto the sheet.
Carlson invented a dry copying process called electrophotography. He learned from research that light can increase the electric conductivity of some materials. He thought that, if light and shadow hit an electrically charged plate of the right material, the dark parts would attract magnetic powder and the light parts would repel it. The dark parts would be a perfect copy of the original, and heat would melt the powder onto the paper.
Carlson took out his first patent on his process in 1937, and he worked on his process for 15 years. He met with a lot of failure, and twenty companies turned down his idea. Finally a company called Haloid produced the new copier.
Carlson and the Haloid team decided that the name electrophotography was too long. So they invented the name xerography from Greek words for “dry writing.” Soon the Haloid Company changed its name to Xerox Corporation.
Even if you have never heard of Chester Carlson, you have probably heard of Xerox!
A Philosophy that Worked
Even as a teenager, Chester Carlson had to work to earn needed money but thought that creating an invention would be a good way of making extra money. Even then, he knew that an invention could also make a contribution to society. So he always tinkered around with things, trying things out, hoping to come up with a really good idea.
Later on, as a patent attorney suffering from arthritis, Carlson wished there was a better way of making copies. He also wished he had a bit more money—he had just gotten married and found supporting his new family a bit of a struggle. Then he thought to himself that “the possibility of making an invention might kill two birds with one stone; it would be a chance to do the world some good and also a chance to do myself some good."
Carlson worked hard to come up with a good idea, taking time after work to research in the library. He worked hard on developing his idea, too, following the philosophy of his hero Thomas Edison that a good invention needed even more perspiration than inspiration. He didn't let setbacks and turn-downs stop him.
And his invention made him and his associated companies rich. It certainly wasn't an easy road to riches, but I for one am happy that he did benefit from his invention!
Another thing I'm happy to report is that Carlson donated some of that wealth to others. He donated over $150 million to charities, he actively supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and he bequeathed more money, at his death, to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Make Some Copier Art
Choose some interesting items, either natural or human-made, and arrange them on the glass of a copier. Cut out copies of the various items; layer and overlap them while attaching them to heavy art paper.
Of course you can also use a copier to make a collage of various different photos, artworks, and other images.
You might want to use both color and black-and-white copies together. Or you can make some copies larger or smaller to achieve the picture you desire.
Look at this gorgeous example of copier art by Elearnor Kent.
This piece by Barbara Astman, “On Tour with Myra,” is a creative piece in which she copied one figure onto a variety of backgrounds.
This portrait by Joan Lyons shows what can be achieved with layering.