On this day in 1876, Thomas Edison received a patent for the Mimeograph, entitled “Method of Preparing Autographic Stencils for Printing,” U.S Patent No. 224,665. The Edison’s invention involved a method of preparing autographic stencils for printing on wax paper. Mimeographs were used in classrooms, small offices, and small organizations to print bulletins in large numbers. It is believed that almost all military personnel orders given during World War II were composed and run on mimeographs.    

The method utilized by Edison’s mimeograph involves the following:

…preparing stencil sheets for printing, consisting in pressing the sheet in the lines to be printed against the numerous fine perforating-points of a slab by means of a blunt stylus that is passed over the sheet at the lines to be perforated.

In 1887, Edison partnered with Chicago inventor Albert Blake Dick, who improved Edison’s stencils, licensed the patent, and manufactured the stencil equipment for the mimeograph. In 1887, the duo also released the “Model 0” mimeograph and sold it for $12.

The Princeton University Library has an original “Model 0” on display. The description of how to use the mimeograph states:  “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 underside with minute holes, in such close proximity to each other that the dividing fibers of paper are scarcely perceptible.”

The mimeograph remained in use for almost a century after it was patent as it proved to be a cheaper and more efficient option to competing technologies.  As technology advanced so did the mimeograph. Newer versions of the mimeograph included hand-cranks or motors.   As with all technologies, the mimeograph eventually became obsolete and was replaced by the photocopier, which can process print jobs at a much faster rate than the mimeograph.

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