The Edison Mimeograph


Before the laser printer, before the Xerox, and before the carbon copy, there was the mimeograph machine. In 1876, Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931) filed a United States patent for autographic printing by means of an electric pen. A second patent further developed his system to “prepare autographic stencils for printing.”

Albert Blake Dick (1856-1934) licensed the patent and began manufacturing equipment to make stencils for the reproduction of hand-written text. In 1887, the A.B. Dick Company released the model “0” flatbed duplicator selling for $12. It was an immediate success. Dick named the machine The Edison Mimeograph.

Dick’s hinged, wooden box, measuring 13 x 10 ¾ x 4 ½ inches, has a large stenciled label on the top reading “The Edison Mimeograph invented by Thomas A. Edison, made by A.B. Dick Company, Chicago, Ill.” A series of patents are noted on the label, the last dated 1890. Inside the box are a printing frame (missing the screen), inking plate, ink roller, a tube of ink, and a tube of waxed wrapping paper. One container is empty, perhaps for a stylus and/or other writing tools.

A description of the process reads: “To prepare a handwritten stencil, a sheet of mimeograph stencil paper is placed over the finely grooved steel plate and written upon with a smooth pointed steel stylus, and in the line of the writing so made, the stencil paper will be perforated from the under side with minute holes, in such close proximity to each other that the dividing fibers of paper are scarcely perceptible.” This stencil was placed in the frame and when inked, produced a copy of the hand-written text on paper below.

The Edison Mimeograph Machine (Chicago, Ill.: A.B. Dick Company, ca.1890). Gift of Douglas F. Bauer, Class of 1964. Graphic Arts GA 2009. In process


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