University of Rochester

EVENT: Lecture by author and New Yorker writer David Owen on his new book about inventor Chester Carlson and the creation of the Xerox machine

TIME, DATE, AND PLACE: 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester’s River Campus

ADMISSION: Free and open to the public

August 24, 2004

David Owen, author of a new biography about inventor Chester F. Carlson and his determination and brilliance that produced the first Xerox machine, will open the 2004-05 Neilly Lecture Series at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester’s River Campus. The talk is free and open to the public.

Owen’s book, Copies in Seconds (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $24), likens the phenomenal impact of the copier everyone now takes for granted to Gutenberg’s printing press. Both of them dramatically altered how information was disseminated and knowledge shared. Owen builds his case for calling the Xerox machine “one of the most remarkable, most unlikely inventions ever” in an engaging book about business realities and human struggles.

After many rejections, Carlson (1906-1968), a physicist and patent attorney, connected with Rochester’s Joseph C. Wilson and his Haloid Company, a little-known manufacturer of photographic supplies. In the mid-1950s, Carlson, Wilson, and Haloid began the final push to build what would become the 914 Office Copier. Since 1961, the company has been known as Xerox Corp. Carlson’s development of xerography, the science behind the photocopy, produced the first copy—about the size of a business card now kept at the Smithsonian Institution—in Astoria, Queens, on Oct. 22, 1938.

The book—it’s full title is Copies in Seconds: How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communication Breakthrough Since Gutenberg—Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machines—wraps up the saga that created Xerox and made Carlson a reluctant multi-millionaire. Catherine B. Carlson, who chairs the Chester and Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust, continues the Carlsons’ philanthropy today. She will introduce the speaker.

Owen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a contributing editor of Golf Digest. He has written more than a dozen books on a wide range of subjects. He first wrote about the Xerox machine in The Atlantic Monthly almost 20 years ago, and decided to return to the theme because of the remarkable man and his invention.

Before the lecture, a permanent gallery exhibit about Carlson will be opened in the Chester F. Carlson Library of Science and Engineering, also on the River Campus. The exhibit will include about 30 photographs of the inventor from infancy to adulthood. One of just two of his original copiers will be displayed along with some of his papers and equipment from his lab.

The yearlong Neilly Series is supported by the Andrew H. Neilly and Janet Dayton Neilly Endowment, and the River Campus Libraries. For more information, contact (585) 275-4461.

Note to editors: A digital image of David Owen can be e-mailed to you. Please call (585) 275-4128 or send your request to