75th Anniversary Of Xerography: Inspired By A Remarkable Man

By Renee Heiser, vice president, Corporate and Employee Communications, Xerox

Seventy-five years ago on this day in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., patent attorney and inventor Chester Carlson created an easier way to duplicate information on paper.  Carlson’s invention, later named xerography, propelled a tiny photo paper company into what became Xerox Corporation.

I was given the opportunity to lead a small team to develop and roll-out a program to celebrate the anniversary of xerography for all Xerox people around the world.  I spent a tremendous amount of time reading about Carlson; looking through the Xerox Archives at photos, news clips, company publications and old videos; and I was fortunate to have lunch with Catherine Carlson, Chester Carlson’s daughter – as part of my quest to learn as much as I could about the man and the history of the company.

Two things really struck me:

One, Chester Carlson was a truly remarkable man. He grew up with ailing parents in abject poverty.  He had few childhood friends and he worked from a young age to help support the family.  Despite, or maybe because of this, Carlson had incredible determination and a different way of looking at problems.  Eventually he became a very wealthy man – but he continued to live modestly.  One of his last goals was to die a poor man, and he gave away most of his money to charity. He wanted to make a difference in the world and he certainly did.

Chester Carlson Portrait
Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography.

Two, what Chester did and how he did it are very relevant to today’s Xerox. Carlson had one simple objective in mind:  “to make office work a little more productive and a little less tedious.”  That’s what Xerox does today – simplifying how work gets done – and we’re doing it in ways most people don’t expect.

There are lessons we can draw from Carlson’s life and accomplishments.  As part of our anniversary celebration, we’re using his approach as inspiration for Xerox’s next 75 years.

  • There’s always a simpler way. Carlson was frustrated by an ineffective way of doing something – so he came up with a simpler way.
  • You don’t have to be an inventor to invent. Carlson was working as a patent attorney yet he invented a technology that revolutionized office work – and created an amazing company.
  • Never give up. It took Carlson a decade to turn his invention into a business. His persistence paid off and is something we should celebrate now and always.
  • Collaboration makes us stronger.  The true potential of Chester’s invention did not happen until he began working with others -first he worked with a physicist named Otto Kornei and later, John Dessauer, chief of research at the Haloid Company.
  • Above all, strive for excellence. As elementary as it sounds, the true magic of Carlson’s invention was that it worked. Again and again.

So today we celebrate the invention of xerography,  but let’s also celebrate Chester Carlson and what we can learn from him as we start the next 75 years. As part of that celebration – take a look at 75 years of Xerox in 75 seconds.

Happy Anniversary, Team Xerox!

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Updated November 16, 2017.

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