ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Copiers Through the Years

Updated on January 9, 2014
Vintage advertisement
Vintage advertisement | Source

Early method of copying

Those of you who have read about my early years already know that I was 'educated' for the first eight grades in a one room country school. There was no telephone, no running water (well and pump outside), no electricity, but a huge coal burning furnace. Needless to say, there were no modern conveniences.

During my last four years (4-8 grades), I had the same teacher who grouped all of us according to ability; that is, we were given the same worksheets if we read at the 5th grade level, for example. Obviously, she would need a few pages that were just alike.

The teacher's duplicating process

This process was called a hectograph or gelatin duplicator or jellygraph. It is a printing process which involves the transfer of an original, that has been prepared with special inks, to a pan of gelatin. Just think of a jelly roll baking pan filled with unflavored gelatin. That is how it looked to me and it was really fascinating to see and to watch her make the copies.

First, she would write the lesson, using a special pen for this purpose. The ink was purple and she would write a lesson or quiz on the back of special paper. She then laid the special paper, ink side down, on the gelatin, taking care that it was alligned accurately and that there were no wrinkles.

After transfer of the image to the inked gelatin surface, copies were made by pressing paper against it. When a pad ceased to be useful for any reason, the ink was carefully cleaned from the top of the gelatin and the gelatin pad was ready to be reused for the next master. Care was needed to keep the gelatin smooth and clean.

The Ditto copier

A few years later, most of us in offices and other places where a number of copies were needed, used the spirit duplicator which was invented in 1923. The best-known manufacturer of these in the United States and the world was the Ditto Corporation of Illinois.

The Ditto was much easier and quicker to use then the gelatin variety described above. One could write or type on a master, which was then inserted in a holding device on the machine. I've only used dark blue or purple ink but understand there were a variety of colors.

The mimeograph copy machine

The mimeograph copy machine was invented by A. B. Dick in 1884. This machine used heavy waxed-paper stencils that a pen or a typewriter was able to cut through. To copy, the stencil was wrapped around the drum of the (manual or electrical) machine, which forced ink out through the cut marks on the stencil. The paper used for printing was similar to modern copy paper and the ink was black and odorless. The person operating the machine had to be very careful not to get the ink on clothing ... it was virtually impossible to remove!

More copies could be made using this process and, as I remember, the stencil could be saved to make more copies at a later date. As I also recall, it was possible to correct typos if was done carefully and only one or two letters in one word was to be corrected. Needless to say, the goal was 100% accuracy.

Differences between the ditto and the mimeograph

Ditto machines and mimeograph machines were competing and complementary technologies during the first half of the 20th century. Mimeography was generally a more forgiving technology, and still survives in various forms into the 21st century.

Ditto machines required much finer operating tolerances and careful adjustments to operate correctly. Overall print quality of spirit duplicators was frequently poor, though a capable operator could overcome this with careful adjustment of feed rate, pressure, and solvent volume.

Source: Wikipedia

Commonly used copiers of today

Should my grade school teacher encounter one of our modern copiers, she would be astounded, shocked, and speechless. Imagine the gelatin copier of her experience alongside one that can print one or two sides, collate the copies in a specified order, staple, and hole punch. To do this, one can use one or more copies as a master or scan in a master. What a marvel!

Yes, they are marvelous inventions and prices can be shocking, especially for the ink. Just realize, however, the time and personnel numbers saved and, also, these machines can be used as a business expense on tax returns.

We do need to understand how much progress has been made and just as we appreciate successes, we must also contemplate our failures.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Sounds like you had an interesting education in a rustic setting. I attended 1st grade at the same school in South Georgia where my Dad had been taught. In fact, I had the same teacher he did. The school room once housed all grades, but by the time I attended, they were divided into grade levels.

      The gelatin duplicator would be fascinating to see working. I clearly remember mimeograph machines and the first thing the students did with their copies was sniff them. They had a distinct, medicinal smell that was appealing.

    • wabash annie profile imageAUTHOR

      wabash annie 

      5 years ago from Colorado Front Range

      It was certainly something to see ... appreciate your comments.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the useful information, wabashannie. It was interesting to read about the history of copiers. I'd love to see a gelatin duplicator in action!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)