Starkweather Never Imagined How Low the Price of a Laser Printer Would Fall

(p. A20) Gary Starkweather, an engineer and inventor who designed the first laser printer, bringing the power of the printing press to almost anyone, died on Dec. 26 [2020] at a hospital in Orlando, Fla.

. . .

Mr. Starkweather was working as a junior engineer in the offices of the Xerox Corporation in Rochester, N.Y., in 1964 — several years after the company had introduced the photocopier to American office buildings — when he began working on a version that could transmit information between two distant copiers, so that a person could scan a document in one place and send a copy to someone else in another.

He decided that this could best be done with the precision of a laser, another recent invention, which can use amplified light to transfer images onto paper. But then he had a better idea: Rather than sending grainy images of paper documents from place to place, what if he used the precision of a laser to print more refined images straight from a computer?

. . .

Because his idea ventured away from the company’s core business, copiers, his boss hated it. At one point Mr. Starkweather was told that if he did not stop working on the project, his entire team would be laid off.

. . .

But he soon finagled a move to the company’s new research lab in Northern California, where a group of visionaries was developing what would become the most important digital technologies of the next three decades, including the personal computer as it is known today.

At the Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, Mr. Starkweather built the first working laser printer in 1971 in less than nine months. By the 1990s, it was a staple of offices around the world. By the new millennium, it was nearly ubiquitous in homes as well.

. . .

His father owned a local dairy; his mother was a homemaker. Their home was near a junk shop, where Gary would bargain for old radios, washing machines and car parts that he could tinker with in the basement, taking them apart and then putting them back together.

“As long as I didn’t blow up the house, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted down there,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Computer History Museum.

. . .

In 1997, while still at Apple, he gave a speech about the rise of the laser printer.

The first successful product sold by Xerox in the late 1970s cost more than $5,000 to manufacture, he said. He then held up a circuit board that drove the printers of the late 1990s. It cost just $38, making his product accessible to nearly any home or business.

That was not something he had ever imagined.

For the full obituary, see:

Cade Metz. “Gary Starkweather, Inventor of the Laser Printer, Is Dead at 81.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 16, 2020): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 15, 2020 and has the title “Gary Starkweather, Inventor of the Laser Printer, Dies at 81.”)

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