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Xerox Celebrates an Innovation That Transformed Business Communications

by Imaging Solution Bureau

In 1969, in his lab in Webster, N.Y., Xerox engineer Gary Starkweather was challenged with improving the speed of an early fax machine. His research led to an invention of laser printing, which profoundly changed how people and businesses communicate around the world.

Forty years ago, the launch of the Xerox 9700—the company’s first commercial laser printer—gave rise to the digital printing industry, which today generates more than $120 billion in global annual revenues, according to Smithers Pira. The 9700 also transformed office printing with generations of laser printers and multifunction devices using the technology.

Last year, KeyPoint Intelligence cited the 9700 as the product that heralded the third wave of industrial automation (computer-driven printers) after steam-powered presses in the early 1800s and electric-powered presses later that century.

“The Xerox 9700 helped usher in the wave of computer-driven automation in the 1970s that transformed offices, data centers, copy departments, and ultimately, the printing industry around the world,” said Jeff Hayes, managing director, KeyPoint Intelligence. “Much of how we communicate in hard copy today can be traced back to this remarkable product.”

As one of the most successful products in Xerox history, it routinely generated more than $1 billion in annual revenues. It’s likely that most North American households were touched by it. In the decade after its release, the 9700 was the printing press of choice to print bills and statements for credit cards, banks and utilities. It led the market for high-speed, high-volume production of other types of documents that use transactional data as well, including insurance policies and investment reports.

“The laser printer is arguably the greatest invention made in a Xerox research center,” said Steve Hoover, chief technology officer, Xerox Corporation. “The 9700 was the first in a long line of iconic products that were made possible by Gary Starkweather’s invention, including DocuTech and today’s iGen family.”

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