Throughout most of the nineteenth century,
businesses relied on written correspondence and records, and the
necessary copying of such documents was performed by employees
using pen and ink. The
important, commonplace role of copyists or scriveners in the
business world was immortalized in nineteenth-century literature
by Charles Dickens’s Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol
(1843) and by Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener
copying originated in 1780 when James Watt, the inventor of the
steam engine, received a patent for a press to duplicate written
few businesses used the letterpress before the 1840s. In the process, a damp tissue paper was placed between an
oiled paper and the written document, which were then pressed
together between two plates by turning a screw or lever.
It was a cumbersome procedure and the tissue copy had to be
held up to the light to read.
The creation of a synthetic aniline dye (of
purple tint) opened the way for the invention of another copying
device in the mid-1870s, the Hektograph (or Hectograph).
in the June 26, 1880 issue of Harper’s
Weekly announced, “One of the most useful and valuable
patents ever issued … has just been granted to the Hektograph
Company.” The master copy was written, typed, or drawn with the aniline
dye, pressed face down onto a tray containing a firm gelatin pad.
After a few minutes, the original was removed and blank
sheets of paper were pressed one at a time by a roller onto the
gelatin surface, which had absorbed the ink and kept it moist.
Manufacturers claimed the process made about a 100 copies
(“hecto” means hundred), but it was reported to have produced
only about 50, with each copy lighter than the previous as more
ink was removed from the gelatin.
in the February 28, 1880 issue
described the Hektograph as a “New Process of Dry Copying” to
contrast it with letterpresses, which had to be kept moist with
water. Lawton and Company of New York produced a rival
copier called the Simplex Printer.
ad for it in the January 7, 1893 issue illustrated the
The first known use of carbon paper was in
1806, but it was messy and seldom used until the introduction in
the 1870s of both a greaseless carbon paper and the typewriter.
In 1874, Eugenio de Zuccato received an American patent for
a stencil copying process. Corrosive
ink was used on a stencil, which was then placed between an inkpad
and a sheet of paper inside a copy press.
In 1876, Thomas Edison received a patent for an electric
pen that cut holes in a stencil.
Edison’s Electric Pen and rival models sold well through
the late 1870s, but the battery powering the device was
complicated to use and sales began declining in 1880 with
competition from the Hektograph and the Cyclostyle.
The latter, patented in 1881 by David Gestetner, was a pen
with a tiny steel-toothed wheel, which required no battery and
made superior stencils to the electric pen.
A small text ad
for the Cyclostyle in the June 20,
1885 Harper’s Weekly promised “2000 copies in Black Ink
of any writing.”
In 1884, Albert Blake Dick developed a
copying system using a stylus on a stencil.
Like the Cyclostyle, the etched stencil was put in a wooden
box to which an ink roller was applied.
Dick called his apparatus a Mimeograph and convinced Edison
to manufacture and market it beginning in 1887.
About that time, stencils for typewriters were introduced,
and in 1894 the A. B. Dick Company started marketing the Edison
Mimeograph Typewriter. The
early-twentieth century saw the invention of rotary stencil
machines by which turning a crank rotated a drum on which a
stencil was placed, producing multiple copies per minute.
The two largest manufacturers of rotary stencil machines
were A. B. Dick and Gestetner’s Cyclostyle Company.
for A. B. Dick’s Rotary Mimeograph in the
October 28, 1905 Harper’s Weekly showed the machine and
emphasized its efficiency. These
and other copying methods, however, could not duplicate incoming
problem was solved after Chester Carlson’s invention in 1938 of
the photocopier, which Haloid (renamed Xerox in 1961) first
marketed in 1949.
26, 1880, p. 414, col. 2
ad, Hektograph copier
28, 1880, p. 142, col. 3-4
ad, Hektograph copier
7, 1893, p. 24, col. 3
Illustrated ad, Simplex Printer
20, 1885, p. 398, col. 1
ad, Cyclostyle copying process
28, 1905, p. 1570, col. 1
illustrated ad, Rotary Mimeograph