In 1938, Carlson’s back-room laboratory breakthrough, the first
concrete success in the development of the xerographic process, was
in and of itself a testament to his remarkable determination up to that
point. But it was just the beginning, and a man of lesser drive may
have given up in the months and years ahead as he struggled to find
investors to help develop his invention into a useful product. Over the
next six years, he would be turned down by more than 20 companies.
Reactions to his breakthrough, as he made the rounds in search of
partners, ranged from mild interest to disdain. Throughout it all, he
remained convinced of his “big idea” but at times it must have seemed
he was the only one. Even other inventors remained skeptical and
dismissive. Among the industrial giants who passed on Carlson’s
pitch were IBM®, Kodak® and RCA®.
Carlson never gave up, despite rejection after rejection and his
determination paid off. In 1944, Battelle Memorial Institute, a
nonprofit research group based in Columbus, Ohio, grasped the
potential of the new technology and took a gamble. Working with
a team of Battelle scientists, Carlson finally began to further develop
the xerographic process.
Even this success was just the beginning. It would take the
involvement of two more key players to bring xerography to its full
potential and finally take Chester Carlson’s big idea by the tail.
“I knew I had a very big idea
by the tail, but could I tame it?”