Throughout history, copying information has been arduous, messy, and even dangerous — until one bored, depressed man figured out the secrets of selenium.
Featured above: The first “xerographic” photocopy in history, which Chester Carlson made by hand.
Connections: So many connections in this episode as to get tied in knots. For instance: One of Trithemius’ most notable students was the man himself, Paracelsus. Even more remarkable, Alexander Graham Bell won the Volta Prize for his efforts with the telephone — named after Alessandro Volta, whom we mentioned in episode 30. With that prize money, he founded Bell Labs — the same where the transistor would later be invented. And, funnily enough, Chester Carlson also worked at Bell Labs for a time, but was unfortunately canned before making his breakthrough.
Kids Today With Their Photocopiers: Like literally every single new technology, the photocopier inspired plenty of hand-wringing upon its debut. Even from a Xerox executive named Linowitz, who was quoted in Life magazine as saying, “Have we really made a contribution by making it easier to reproduce junk and nonsense?“
Verbatim: The below is an absolutely incredible little video from a New York Times series called Verbatim. I think they only produced two episodes, but the idea is they take court transcripts and reenact them. This one, beyond being true and absurd, is perfectly cast, in my estimation. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
Click To Read Transcript
- The Canadian Encyclopedia, Alexander Graham Bell, Aviation Pioneer. Terrance Macdonald, August 29, 2017.
- The Vintage News, Back To The Future: In 1880 Alexander Graham Bell Invented The Photophone,The World’s First Device For Wireless Communications. Tjana Radeska, September 18, 2016.
- ThoughtCo., Alexander Graham Bell’s Photophone Was An Invention Ahead Of Its Time. Mary Bellis, March 7, 2019.
- Alexander Graham Bell: Making Connections, p.84. Naomi Pasachoff, 1999.
- Alexander Graham Bell For Kids: His Life And Inventions, With 21 Activities. Mary Kay Carson.
- My San Antonio, Fiber-Optic Communication Began 130 Years Ago. Arturo Gallardo, June 21, 2010. ed: This is a pedantic note, but no it didn’t. There was no fiber involved whatsoever with the photophone. It was wireless, remember?
- io9, Medieval Monks Complained About Their Jobs In The Margins Of Ancient Manuscripts. Annalee Newitz, March 23, 2012.
- Atlast Obscura, The Strange And Grotesque Doodles In The Margins Of Medieval Books. Anika Burgess, May 9, 2017.
- In Praise Of Scribes. Johannes Trithemius, 1492.
- The Life And Letters Of Martin Luther.
- nypl.org, NYPL, Mother Of Invention. Michael Wenyon, January 30, 2009.
- Xerox, The Story Of Xerography.
- Business Insider, This Is The First Xerox Copy Ever Made. Kelly Dickerson, October 22, 2013.
- Slightly messy here, as they changed their name to “Haloid Xerox” first, in 1958.
- Smithsonian Magazine, How The Photocopier Changed The Way We Worked — And Played. Clive Thompson, March 2015.
- The New York Times, At Age 13, Creating The Pentagon Papers, Photocopies, At Least. James Barron, January 28, 2010.
- Royal Society Of Chemistry, Selenium.