Why You Can Thank Arthritis for the Photocopier

By Gregory Pings, Global Communications for Xerox

Smithsonian Channel
Actors re-enacted Chester Carlson’s 1938 experiment, which produced the world’s first xerographic image. (Images courtesy of Smithsonian Channel.)

If I’ve told this story once, I’ve told it a thousand times. But I love telling this story, and it gives me a special joy when someone else decides to tell it in their own way.

I’m talking about how xerography was invented. This truly is one of the great American success stories of a solitary man who never lost faith in his idea, even after numerous rejections and obvious technical barriers.

Enter Smithsonian Channel’s “My Million Dollar Invention,” a series that tells the priceless stories of inspiration, controversy, triumph, and tragedy behind the technology that we take for granted today.

Here’s their take on the photocopier: “Why You Can Thank Arthritis for the Photocopier.” This segment is part of the episode, “The Vision Thing,” which will debut on Sunday, June 21, at 8 p.m. EDT.

Chester Carlson and The Vision Thing

This episode of “My Million Dollar Invention” retells the story Chester Carlson. Let’s be clear. Carlson did not invent the photocopier. He invented xerography, the technology that makes it possible for us to use photocopiers – and laser printers.

Xerography is the means that allows an image of an original document to be copied to another medium. The photocopier is the technological muscle that enables the xerographic process to work reliably and continually. The technologies came together years after Carlson’s 1938 patent, when he finally found a company that was willing to help him work through the technical barriers that most of the best minds of the time considered impossible.

Copying and sharing information has always been a critical process for businesses, governments and people. There had to be a better way to get it done, and Chester Carlson is the guy who found it. It’s why we celebrate him even after all these years.

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  1. DB Stephens June 18, 2015 - Reply

    A very interesting article, but how did arthritis bring about the photocopier?

    • Gregory Pings June 18, 2015 - Reply

      DB: The short answer: Watch the show and find out.




  2. Steven Laird June 18, 2015 - Reply

    Always interesting to see how, while necessity might be the mother of invention, vision is its dad. Curious to know if Carlson simply picked up clues to xerography from his work at the patent office, or had some technical knowledge to start with. Promises to be an interesting show. Thanks for posting.

    • Gregory Pings June 18, 2015 - Reply


      The vision thing was obvious to Chester. His No. 1 problem: He couldn’t communicate it very well. His demonstrations to various companies fell flat. As he put it: “My idea was met with an enthusiastic lack of interest.” Few people saw the possibilities of xerography, including Otto Kornei, the lab assistant that Chester hired. How the invention moved from idea to the 914 copier is a most unlikely story … but here we are!



  3. Jackie May 4, 2017 - Reply

    We have a Xerox 5222 model,when a service should be done to the copier,please?

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