Discover Tech Life Cycle of Mimeograph: an Obsolete Technology

by Zahidul Hossain

A mimeograph machine, also known as a stencil duplicator, is a low-cost duplicating machine that pushes ink through a stencil onto paper [1]. Thomas Edison patented autographic printing using a duplicating press and an electric pen for cutting stencils in 1876 [2].  The Edison Mimeograph was a huge success.  

The A. B. Dick Company was the most popular supplier of office duplicating machines and auxiliary equipment by the early 20th century in the United States [3]. The suppliers of the U.S. and Europe developed their duplicating machines with stencils, pens, and inks [2]. It became commonly recognized as mimeography in the United States. They introduced the Model "0" flatbed duplicator for $12 ($294.85 now) in 1887 [3]. 

The A. B. Dick Company improved the rotary design and adapted the stencil [3]. The company required machine buyers to sign a license agreement that postulated the usage of only its paper, ink, stencils, and implements for authorized operation [3]. The firm promoted mimeography as an office-friendly duplication system [2]. The A. B. Dick Company earned $300 million annual revenues and had more than 3000 employees around Chicago [4].

People started using mimeograph mostly because it produced thousands of copies in a single sitting [2]. It was helpful for spirit printers and hectographs in official works, printing study materials and essential documents in the classroom, and political and church announcements in the 19th century [3]. Mimeographs saved people’s valuable time by creating document copies in a short time.

Later, some renowned companies developed the technology of mimeograph for faster mechanical production. The Hungarian inventor David Gestetner founded the "Gestetner Cyclograph Company" in 1881 [1]. He made the model named "Cyclostyle" [4]. This model included 'rotating cylinder machines.' This company made the templates and the pens for Gestetner's process. The process of his machine was to place the paper on a flatbed and pass under the rotating ink rollers [4]. In 1890, 'Cyclostyle' produced 1200 copies per hour by progressive modification [4]. David Gestetner's machines were well equipped than others because he used the most sophisticated system of "wavering roles" [4].

The Gestetner's company hired the young American industrialist Raymond Loewy in 1906 [4]. Their purpose was to make mimeograph far better and more identifiable. Raymond's target was to improve the mimeograph's appearance and branding. A.B. Dick Company sold over 20.000 devices until 1889 to establish copying technology among enterprises and authorities [4]. However, they sold considerably less since Edison's device was too sophisticated. S. F. O'Reilly improved on Thomas Edison's existing electric pencil [4]. He invented the first real electric tattoo machine on December 8, 1891 [4]. His invention made the needle more OK and faster.

Around 1900, two types of equipment were in use: one was two-drum machines, and the other was single-drum devices [3]. The color drums were replaceable, and the unused inking units may be kept in the lower cabinets of the machines [4]. William Ritzerfeld invented the spirit duplicator in 1923 [1]. The producers distributed it as "Ditto machine" in the USA, "Banda machine" in the United Kingdom, or "Roneo" in France and Australia [4]. The number of mimeographs was 200000 in 1910, and it increased to 500000 in 1940 [4].

However, unlike mimeographs and subsequent risograph printers, the spirit printer's prints were of poor quality. Its usage was imperfect due to rapid fading [5]. The letters were not legible on white paper [5]. A single run could not take multicolor copies [5]. One had to change the drum in the machine costs to make copies in multiple colors [5]. A tiny business office could not pay the stencil, paper, and machinery [5]. Gradually, people began to use mimeographs less frequently for these reasons. Finally, Xerography replaced the mimeograph in 1970 [4]. It was a more promising and high-volume printing process.

Chester Carlson invented Xerography in 1938 [6]. Xerox Corporation developed and commercialized it [6]. People started using it widely because it could produce high-quality text and graphic images. Carlson defined the process as electrophotography [6].

Mimeograph and other duplicating machines were predecessors of Xerography and high-tech photocopier machines. If we research the development of mimeographs and perform technical improvements, we may revitalize this obsolete technology.     



Works Cited


Wikipedia,    "Mimeograph," March 31 2021. [Online]. Available:


M. O. Printing,    "Mimeograph Machines," [Online]. Available: [Accessed July 14    2021].


E. H. Hawley,    "Revaluing mimeographs as historical sources," RBM: A Journal    of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, vol. 15.1, pp. 40-55,    2014.


"The    xerographic process: Exploriso: Low-tech fine Art," Exploriso, February    27 2021. [Online]. Available:


O. Management,    "Duplicating Machines | Types or Methods | Advantages &    Disadvantages | Choice,", [Online]. Available:


"Chester    Carlson and Xerography," Xerox, April 26 2021. [Online]. Available:


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