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Please note that PARC Forum will be on a Tuesday evening instead of our traditional Thursday in order to mark this very special anniversary.
October 22, 2013 marks the exact 75th anniversary (“10-22-38”) of Chester Carlson's invention of the process that came to be known to the world as xerography.
Growing up in deep poverty in Southern California, Chester managed to graduate from Caltech in June, 1930, as he himself later wrote “right on time for the Depression.” He moved to New York and found a job with a firm that specialized in patent law. The job involved making copies of patent applications on a slow, cumbersome photostat machine. It was tedious, highly time consuming work.
Chester was also studying patent law at night and because he couldn’t afford the books needed for the course, he went to the New York Public Library at night where he copied them by hand. On Oct. 22, 1938 in a rented spare room next to a beauty parlor in Astoria, Queens, Chester and an Austrian refugee engineer, Otto Kornei, made the world's first xerographic copy, a flimsy piece of paper with a handwritten blurred message that read "10-22-38 Astoria."
For many years, the piece of paper with its blurred message impressed no one. After many rejections by IBM and other major companies (“They turned me down with great enthusiasm,” he wrote), Chester established a relationship with Battelle, a Columbus, Ohio foundation that provided engineering support to companies and individuals to develop promising new technologies. It was at Battelle in 1944 that he first met Joe Wilson.
Wilson was in need of a new product for his struggling upstate New York company and decided to gamble on Chester’s invention. It would be another fifteen years before the first commercially viable Xerox machine was ready to be introduced to the public. From his first vision in 1934 to the final commercial success in 1959, took 25 years.
75 years later, the Xerox machine still ranks as one of the most successful commercial products in American history.
In his one-man show, George Shea acts out the story of Chester's life, including his explorations in parapsychology, eastern religions, and life after death. Please join us for an entertaining, inspiring celebration of the remarkable life of Chester Floyd Carlson.
George Shea first stumbled on Chester Carlson in 1981 when he came upon a passage about the little known inventor (even today, most Americans have never heard of Carlson) in an obscure book on the subject of "Copy Art."
George was fascinated by the tale of struggle, patience, late success, and spiritual enlightenment and began digging into Carlson's life. In 1988 he visited the former janitor's closet in Astoria in which Carlson made the world's first xerograhic copy on Oct. 22, 1938. The ceiling still displayed obvious sulfur stains from Chester’s and Otto Kornei’s experiments.
Later George found the site of the inventor’s birth in 1906 in Seattle. The house was long gone. A vacant print shop had taken its place. A sign in the window read: "Quik Printing."
George’s other plays have been produced in New York and Los Angeles. His most recent, “Dr. Keeling's Curve,” in which actor Mike Farrell plays Keeling, was presented at USC. It tells the story of David Keeling, the first scientist who successfully measured carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere in the 1950s and gave the world its first early warning of climate change.