How Laser Printers First Appeared and Developed

Today we take the laser printer as an integral part of everyday life in office environment. However 30 years ago when it first appeared, this piece of machinery was quite a curio.

When a document is sent to the printer, a laser beam “draws” the document on a drum using electrical charges. After the drum is charged, it is rolled in toner, a dry powder type of ink. The toner sticks to the charged image on the drum. The toner is transferred onto a piece of paper and fused to the paper with heat and pressure. After the document is printed, the electrical charge is removed from the drum and the excess toner is collected.

This is how the laser printer works now, but originally it all began from an experiment on image transition. On October 22, 1938, when American inventor Chester Carlson together with German immigrant Otto Kornei first transferred an image from a glass microscope slide to a sheet of wax paper using method later called electrophotography.

Kornei wrote the words “10.-22.-38 ASTORIA.” in ink on a glass microscope slide. Then the experimentalists prepared a zinc plate with a sulphur coating, darkened the room, rubbed the sulphur surface with a handkerchief to apply an electrostatic charge. After that they laid the slide on the zinc plate, exposing it to a bright, incandescent light.

They removed the slide, sprinkled lycopodium powder to the sulphur surface, softly blew the excess away, and transferred the image to a sheet of wax paper. They heated the paper, melting the wax off, and had their first near-perfect duplicate

In 1944 the technology goes to the Haloid Company for further development. Later Haloid renames the technology into xerography and makes up the name “XeroX” (that’s the original spelling).

On October 22, 1948, ten years after that first microscope slide was copied, the Haloid Company made the first public announcement of xerography. The first commercial product based on xerography was the Haloid Xerox Copier, which started selling in 1950. Since 1961, Haloid Company becomes known to the world as the Xerox Corporation.

Laser printing method inherits a lot from photocopying. Xerox engineer, Gary Starkweather, “merely” added a laser beam to existing xerography technology to come up with the laser printer. It tool 3 years before the first laser printer called EARS was created in November, 1971 in Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

The first commercial laser printer was 3800 made by IBM in 1976. Apart from being first commercial, IBM 3800 Printing System was the industry’s first high-speed laser printer. It could speed up to 100 impressions-per-minute and was used for printing high volumes of documents such as invoices and mailing labels. According to IBM, the printer was installed in the central accounting office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and said to occupy a whole room. Many 3800s are still in use.

One year later, in 1977 Xerox released its 9700 Electronic Printing System. According to the company, that was the first laser printer product on the market powered by Palo Alto Research Center research and a direct descendent from the original “EARS” printer. In 1981 Xerox was also the first company to present a printing solution to use with personal computers as a part of the Xerox Star 8010 Information System.

Although it was innovative, Xerox Star was considered to be a commercial failure because only about 25,000 units were sold. Xerox Star was an expensive system (around $17000) and was mostly purchased by a small number of laboratories and institutions.

In 1980s personal computer became more widespread and that was the time for Hewlett Packard. In 1984 the company introduced HP LaserJet – the first printer of the legendary series intended for a mass market. The laser printer was based on Canon engine controlled by HP software and could produce 8 pages per minute. Other manufacturers were quick to respond and soon released their laser printers, too.

An important role in making desktop printing popular played the introduction of Apple LaserWriter for Apple Macintosh in 1985. Accompanied with Aldus PageMaker software, this laser printer made it possible users to create documents that previously had been restricted to professionals.

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