Starkweather Went Over Head of Boss to Champion Laser Printers at Xerox

(p. A10) While working for Xerox Corp. in the late 1960s, Gary Starkweather proposed to build a laser printer, able to reproduce any image created on a computer. His boss told him it was a terrible idea.

Mr. Starkweather’s persistence—and finesse in maneuvering around that boss—led to the introduction in 1977 of the Xerox 9700. It became one of the company’s top-selling products, generating more than $1 billion of annual revenue.

. . .

After the boss nixed his idea in 1969, Mr. Starkweather recalled in an oral history produced by the Computer History Museum, “I couldn’t get this thing out of my head. I thought, ‘He’s wrong. This is so good that it’s got to work.’ ”

Mr. Starkweather reached higher in the organization, sold his vision and obtained a transfer to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, where he began working on prototypes.

. . .

To avoid blurry prints, Mr. Starkweather had to find ways to direct laser pulses precisely. He devised a cluster of revolving mirrors and a lens to guide the light. One of his breakthrough ideas came while he was mowing the lawn; he turned off the mower and drove to the lab to test it out.

. . .

An only child, Gary spent much of his youth taking apart and reassembling whatever mechanical and electrical equipment he could scavenge. “We had a basement, and as long as I didn’t blow up the house I was allowed to do whatever I wanted down there,” he said.

. . .

The resistance he met from some Xerox executives reflected a lack of imagination, preventing them from seeing the possibilities of solving technical problems and bringing down costs, Mr. Starkweather said.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Inventor Dreamed Up Better Way to Print.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 18, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date January 14, 2020, and has the title “Gary Starkweather Invented a Laser Printer at Xerox.”)

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