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How photocopiers changed the way we work

From their creation in the fifties to their consistent use in today’s modern offices, the humble photocopier is an essential item that businesses simply could not operate without. Transcending the office environment, photocopiers even helped to transform the world of politics and art in the 20th century, providing people with mass information in an incredibly short time frame. To put it simply, getting your message out to a wide audience had never been easier.

In today’s world of information, the rise of 3D printing and more digital-specific methods of transferring data have seen a shift in the way that we work. However, no matter how far technology progresses, we expect to see photocopiers remain an important part of the office for the foreseeable future. Read on as we take a look at the importance of photocopiers and how they changed the way that we work.

Where did it begin?

Up until the fifties, copying a document and spreading printed knowledge was a time-consuming and tedious process that wasn’t accessible to most. It would often mean having to handwrite books and documents in small batches, that would then rely on word of mouth to be shared. Thomas Jefferson was known to use a pantograph, the most stripped back form of a photocopier, created from wood and connected to a duo of pens that would imitate the lead pen, to create mechanical copies. Other crude, yet similar copying machines were created at this time. At the turn of the 20th century, the closest machine to the photocopier, the mimeograph machine, was created.

This all changed in 1959. Xerox introduced the ‘914’, the world’s first easy-to-use photocopier, that was electronically powered and simple enough for any worker to use. The ‘914’ was groundbreaking in terms of its speed and productivity, having the ability to produce around 2,000 copies per month and printing each copy in as little as seven seconds. This made a huge change to the way that information moved around and by 1966, Xerox was printing a total of 14 billion copies for Americans each year. Newspapers, posters and flyers all became staples in offices, for politicians and in the military, helping to shape today’s working environment in a multitude of ways.

How did the photocopier affect offices?

From its introduction to offices in the 1970s, the photocopier completely changed the way that companies and offices functioned, introducing an entirely new way of recording, processing and storing information. Instead of giving a possibility of plagiarism and untruth, the photocopier meant that staff were able to print and store information that workers could understand and gain access to much more easily. The mass-production capabilities of photocopiers and printers also meant that there was added transparency in many companies and office environments, as company directors, managers and employees were able to keep track of past statements and documents.

Outside of the office, the photocopier changed the political landscape, giving minority groups and smaller political parties the chance to be heard by the mass public. Important messages were able to be copied in their thousands, and distributed across cities, regions and even countries. As well as affecting the political landscape, the photocopier also became a huge help to public services and the health industry, providing an easy way to alert and educate the public about certain illnesses or outbreaks. Condé Nast and NBC took advantage of this, using the photocopier to print thousands of copies of posters and fliers that were then distributed across New York for AIDS awareness campaigns.

What did the photocopier mean for creatives?

As well as providing easy-to-access sources of information and data, the photocopier was a brilliant addition to the creative world. Up until its introduction to the mainstream, publishing relied on crude methods of reproduction or hand-crafted creations. For artists and creatives, the scope of potential was much more limited.

The photocopier introduced a new world of possibility, with the ability to create zines, magazines and booklets a reality for anyone. Illustrations could be mass produced and sold to the masses, and creating mixed media work became more attainable and attractive.

Advertising and marketing industries hugely benefited from this, discovering new and inventive ways to interest and engage the public. This helped to push the marketing industry to new heights, in turn creating space for more printed marketing agencies and an entirely new way of promoting products and brands.

How has the photocopier developed?

Since the photocopier’s introduction to offices in the seventies, there haven’t actually been many big changes. The development of the combi-photocopier was the biggest advancement and one that happened within a decade of photocopiers being introduced to offices. Most offices today now have a combi-photocopier, which has proven to be perhaps the most popular form of the photocopier. Other than this, the majority of changes have been superficial.

Technology advanced and saw photocopiers go from optical scanning to digital, essentially helping them become faster – and adapting to the world of computers. Rather than using light to scan and process a document, a document on a digital photocopier is first scanned and then saved as an electronic file which is used to print a replica. The results of digital photocopiers are superior to their predecessors, and a noticeable difference of print quality is apparent between the two. In today’s offices, you’ll only find digital photocopiers and combi-photocopiers.

Andrew HoyleHow photocopiers changed the way we work