February 28 Marks a Date of Distinction in Xerox History

By Gregory Pings

Here’s a notable news item from an edition of The Pioneer, the company newsletter of what was then Haloid Xerox.

All photos courtesy of the Xerox Historical Archives.
All photos courtesy of the Xerox Historical Archives.

This understated item reports on the first-ever commercial installation of the 914 copier, exactly 55 years ago today. The 914 was the world’s first fully automatic, plain paper copier, and it was the result of the xerographic process that Chester Carlson invented 22 years earlier. It took that long to get from a proven idea to a fully automatic machine that could instantly – and cleanly – produce an exact copy of any document.

It was so easy to use, a child could operate it — as this early commercial demonstrates.

But not everyone was sold.

George Lois, the real-life “Mad Man” executive from the Papert Koenig Lois ad agency who created the “Debbie” commercial above, recalls a skeptical response from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC, it seems, didn’t believe that a child could operate the 914 without an adult’s help, according to this article from the IndieWire blog. Lois’ response was to re-create the commercial, nearly shot for shot — but a chimpanzee made the copy, instead of a little girl.

Xerox remains true to the principles underlying the 914. We still apply technology to large-scale business processes that are repetitive, time consuming, and prone to human error in order to make the process quick and accurate. We combine our expertise in very specific work-domains, and marry it with our innovative history in computing, imaging, process engineering and human-centric design to produce unique solutions.

Back to the commercials: Legend has it that the latter commercial aired only once. That’s because the morning after its debut, secretaries across the U.S. walked into their offices to find that wise-guy managers placed bananas on their desks. They resented the implication that a monkey could do their jobs, and they complained to Xerox; hence the commercial never aired again. I don’t know if this story is literally true, but I have yet to find someone who can tell me otherwise.

*Updated May 13, 2018.

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4 Comments

  1. Hugh Sutherland February 28, 2015 - Reply

    Great read. Do you know if the Standard Pressed Steel Company, now SPS Tech, still use Xerox technology?

    Would be good to know Xerox have managed to keep the business relationship strong for all of these years?

    • Gregory Pings March 2, 2015 - Reply

      Hugh:

      Standard Pressed Steel is now known as SPS Technologies, and they indeed are a Xerox customer today.

      Cheers,

      Greg

  2. John Vacca March 1, 2015 - Reply

    i remember that unit like it was yesterday. I joined Xerox that same year as a Tech Rep. I remember the waiting list for that unit was one year. We had a special room in our office that contained secret projects. That is when I saw the wooden mouse. Xerox had invented.
    I left Xerox to join Mnolta as a sales manager.
    I remember the story about the salesman who sold his stock to put a new roof on his hous. That same number of share were worth one million dollars a year later.
    I have a million stories from that era, if anyone is interested.

    • Elaine Shepardson Lanni March 4, 2015 - Reply

      Hi John.

      Thanks for posting. I’d love to hear a million stories (ok, maybe just a thousand).

      My dad is the third from the left in the group photo.

      Xerox was his life. He passed away in Dec, 2013 at the age of 93.

      Elaine S. Lanni

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