From here: “The stencil duplicator or mimeograph machine (often abbreviated to mimeo) is a low-cost printing press that works by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper. Mimeographs…were a common technology in printing small quantities, as in office work, classroom materials, and church bulletins. Early fanzines were printed in this technology, because it was widespread and cheap. In the late 1960s, mimeographs… were gradually displaced by photocopying and offset printing.”

This is just one of many technologies I was not particularly good at. But my father, who usually did the bulletin even into the early 1970s at our church, Trinity AME Zion in Binghamton, NY, was excellent at typing the stencil, then wrapping it “around the ink-filled drum of the rotary machine.” When I attempted to do this, the stencil was always wrinkled, and the subsequent output of copies not particularly attractive.

A YouTube video of the Gestetner 180. My wife still remembers mimeos in her small rural school district as recently as the early 1980s.

Here’s something I did not know: “The word ‘mimeograph’ was first used by Albert Blake Dick when he licensed [Thomas] Edison’s patents in 1887.” The A.B. Dick Company of Chicago once owned the trademarked name, but “over time, the term became generic and is now an example of a genericized trademark.”

But what if you were going to write something, and you wanted to have one or two copies of it? From The Exciting History of Carbon Paper! “Carbon paper is thin paper coated with a mixture of wax and pigment, that is used between two sheets of ordinary paper to make one or more copies of an original document.”

To this day, I have copies of correspondence from the 1970s and 1980s, back in the day when I used to write something called “letters.”

Of course, the limitation of carbon paper was that it “could only produce copies of out-going correspondence…; if copies were needed of incoming documents, they still had to be copied by hand. This problem was not solved until the middle of the twentieth century, when xerography became commercially available in the form of the photocopier… The invention of the photocopier began the decline in demand for carbon paper that has continued to the present day.”

Still, the terminology of making a “carbon copy”, or cc, has survived, in e-mails. One can even make a bcc, or blind carbon copy, with no wax and pigment required.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

32 Responses to “D is for Duplication; D is for Duplication”

  • The Gestetner video brings back memories. I was an office junior in my first job and running off copies was in the job description.

    There was a pump to add more ink if the copies faded and it could be adjusted to add ink across the roller or on one side or the other. I was once pumping like mad thinking it was set for the whole roller when it wasn’t. This resulted in a build up of ink on one side and before I knew it there were gobbets of printing ink splattering on the wall as the machine whirred round.

    It did not make me popular!

  • Reader Wil says:

    Great post,Roger! Interesting to see how we eventually arrived at the more convenient ways of copying letters and documents. I remember when I first started teaching I used a very primative printer at school to produce newsletters for my 42 pupils, consisting of their own stories. Lateron I used a modern photocopier and a faxmachine, which I still find very useful.
    Have a great week, Roger! Thanks for your visit and comment, which I fully agree with!

  • That looks like such a pain! For a neat history of crazy people handing you badly Xeroxed (or mimeoed) literature on streetcorners, check out University of Michigan’s library: http://www.lib.umich.edu/labadie-collection/

    Great post!

    Chris H
    ABC Wednesday
    D is for Detritus (Oceanography)

  • Carver says:

    Interesting post. I still have carbon paper. I was looking through some junk and noticed it and thought woah that’s probably at least 35 years old. I should have thrown it out because obviously I’m not going to use it but I saved it for old times sake. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  • Meryl says:

    I hate to say this but I remember having to use the Gestetner machine to mimeograph handouts of school projects when I was in elementary school (and I too was not particularly good at it). OMG I feel old!!!!

  • photowannabe says:

    Wow, we have definitely come a long way since then. I can still remember the smell and messiness involved. Oh yes and purple stained hands and anything else that wasn’t suppose to get copied…ie- my clothes.

  • We sure have come a long way since those days. I remember well the smell of freshly mimeographed work sheets.

  • Leslie says:

    I’m with Meryl (above) in that I can remember having the horrible job of doing the mimeos at school. I’d get blue ink all over myself! I can also remember typing letters and having to do multiple carbon copies. If I made a mistake, I’d have to stop and white-out every single copy & wait for it to dry before continuing on. Maybe that’s why I became an excellent typist – I hated making mistakes and going through all that rigamarole! lol

    Leslie
    abcw team

  • Wanda says:

    Oh Roger, Roger, Roger…..you put me in a time machine, and shot me back to those Saturday’s in the Church office, doing the bulletin, and wanting to pull my hair out, as the old typewriter I was using would cut out a hole every time I hit “o”….And then getting it on the drum….As a Pastor’s wife you can imagine how many bulletins I’ve done!!! HaHa

    I just kissed my computer….So glad that’s JUST a memory.

  • Lots of old memories here, Roger. The good old days!
    As editor of my small high school’s mimeographed newspaper in the early 60s, I had the dubious privilege of typing the stencils, and often running the Gestetner if no school employee happened to have time to do it. They didn’t provide me with a printer’s apron like the one the young fellow is wearing in your photo, though.
    And I certainly remember the AB Dick Company.
    K

  • Andy says:

    Dear Roger,
    Yes, how things have changed. For some of us that is good, for others…it may be too fast?? In any case, very interesting post sir.

  • You are the best educator. I remember when I was little my Mom had a few pieces in her boxes of old teaching papers. We used to fight over who could use it : ) It was so much fun.

  • I worked with a mimeograph machine while in the music industry. I was in-charged of publishing the weekly newsletter that contained new record releases to be distributed to distributors.

    Afterwards, I was introduced to the first generation of fax machines. Incredibly slow! Those were the days :)

    Cheers … visiting from ABC Wednesday!

    Tito Eric
    http://turningboholano.blogspot.com/2012/08/letting-god-be-god.html

  • Rajesh says:

    Interesting insight into the technology.

  • ChrisJ says:

    Oh the Gestetner and the mimeo machine! Do I remember those days! How about the blue correction fluid? And I still have carbon paper thinking it might come in handy one day.

  • Definitely out of my league in terms of time…. An interesting Read

    PhenoMenon, ABCW

  • Roger, I remember mmmmmmm the smell of the ink. You could get high off it! Later, with the ditto machine, I used to write out ditto masters for teachers because I had good handwriting. Didn’t know that about the mimeograph’s name… kind of like band-aids.

    When the Montgomery, AL bus boycotts were being staged, one woman stood at the mimeograph all night and printed 7,000 leaflets. That dedication has always stuck with me, how much “can do” attitude can accomplish.

    I agree with Kaishon, you are a wonderful teacher. Since I only completed high school, I’m a lifelong learner, and you and Berowne are two of my “masters class” professors! Peace, Amy

  • Lotusleaf says:

    The typewriter and the carbon sheet are still used in some lawyers’ offices here.

  • Roger says:

    Except, Amy, that J&J has technically manged to protect its trademark, though, like Kleenex, Vaseline and Xerox, the general public uses the trade name genericlaly. Aspirin used to be a TM!

  • Lisa says:

    Just think, there’s a whole generation of people who will never know the real meaning behind “carbon copy”! And who could forget the fresh scent of fresh mimeograph paper?

  • Carol says:

    Wonderful photo for ABC ~ great post ~ thanks, (A Creative Harbor)

  • Ann says:

    Boy do I remember these. I was an office assistant (a credited hour) in high school and I used one of these. I can remember how MESSY it was!!
    Ann

  • Gattina says:

    I am so happy that all this is the past !!

  • VioletSky says:

    I remember that blue ink, and the wrinkles on paper. and the smell!
    I am glad making copies is so much cleaner and faster and easier now.

  • Hildred says:

    Oh gosh, I had one of those that I used to do Sheep Breeders’ Newsletters on. When it became obsolete Charles had a wonderful time taking it all apart!!

    When I worked for the City Architect before I was married I used to do minutes of Town Planning and Zoning Appeal Boards on onion skin, – twelve copies using carbon paper! Thanks for great memories, Roger, – and appreciation for how easy it all is now….

  • Rose says:

    I worked as a secretary in school back then and those tasks are basically my daily routine. It’s amazing how making copies become more and more easier as technology progresses.

    Catching up With ABC.

    Daredevil Diva
    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  • Roger, I’m laughing out loud because of your Freudian typo: “The general pubic.” No worries, but I found it so cute!!

  • Roger says:

    Ouch! corrected.

  • Martha says:

    If not for the fact that sometimes cleaning the church also meant we ran the mimeograph machine, I wouldn’t have had a clue what that thing was. I do recall wrapping the paper around the barrel and printing out church bulletins. The mess and pain of it are harder to recall, but then I was just a kid. Ha ha, and here we were in Webster, NY just around the block from Xerox.

  • Carol Carson says:

    That post sure brought back memories. The Gestetner machine was in a sort of cloakroom around the corner from our school staff room. I remember its smell, conversations with others as they or I waited in line to use it, the work that went into preparing the stencil (I didn’t type at that time), the damp feel as I handed out the copies to students. Love the title of this Detailed and Dynamic post :)

  • zongrik says:

    i remember these. you could get high on the smell.

  • Sara says:

    Oh my gosh, mimeograph machines! Brings back memories of school days and those purple inked copies the teachers would hand out. I remember seeing one of these machines in the school office too….I am dating myself, but so be it!

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