Copy that! Science

Making copies with a mimeograph

Editor Albert Saijo inspects a copy of Echoes, high school paper, being run off on the mimeograph machine by Toyoji Sugita (staff artist and technician).   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What do you do when you miss out on a few classes because of your absence? You either take the notes from your best friend and write a copy for yourself, or just run it through a photocopier and get the notes in seconds. About 150 years ago, the former would have been your only option…

Filling a gap

Before printers and photocopiers became the dominant form of making copies of an original, the only form of copying was with carbon papers. While carbon copies could be made if the number required was small, it wasn’t convenient for a higher number. And even though a printing press could be employed to print thousands of copies, it was neither cheap nor practical for a lesser number. Thomas Alva Edison invented the mimeograph to fill in this space.

The process behind Edison’s mimeograph was simple: cut a stencil using a portable perforating stylus, use the holes created to push the ink onto the paper, and repeat the same. On August 8, 1876, Edison received a patent for his stencil duplicator, titled “Improvement in Autographic Printing”.

Edison’s patent covered an electric pen for cutting stencils and the flatbed duplicating press. The business model was also straightforward, as it involved selling the machines, stencils and the ink.

The Edison Mimeograph

Albert Blake Dick, a Chicago inventor, experimented with wax paper and improved on the stencils. He merged his efforts with that of Edison’s and in 1887 released the model 0 flatbed duplicator for $12.

Dick’s stroke of genius involved obtaining the permission to use Edison’s name with the term ‘mimeograph’ that he had coined, calling the machine ‘The Edison Mimeograph’, making it instantly recognisable with the brand that Edison had already become.

Even though electric pens were followed by typewriter keyboards, both were used to cut out stencils well into the 20th century. The handheld devices were particularly useful for mathematical formulas and scientific diagrams that were beyond the gamut of the typewriters.

Improvements kept coming along, with the flatbed press being replaced with a rotating cylinder and the hand roller for ink giving way to ink reservoirs that could be automated. But once photocopiers became accessible and affordable, mimeographs no longer stood a chance. If, on the off chance, your grandparents still own one of these devices, be sure to make some noise about it.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 2:12:28 AM |

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