Xerox's first successful copier burst into flame so often it came with a fire-extinguisher

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37 Responses to “Xerox's first successful copier burst into flame so often it came with a fire-extinguisher”

  1. Sparrow says:

    The industrial design still stands up. Contemporary office equipment still looks like this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I whish my photocopier at work would also include a fire extinguisher, then I could beat it with it when it says paper jam and there is none

  3. Victor Drath says:

    Crazy dangerous. Dosn’t surprise me though. I drug home a small copy machine from a garage sale when I was a kid that had a insanely hellish bright light inside of it. Both the paper and what you were coping would come out hot and damn near smelling like smoke. 8(

  4. penguinchris says:

    The science and engineering library at the University of Rochester, where I went as an undergrad, is named after the inventor of the Xerography process, Chester Carlson (Xerox is based in Rochester, NY). I worked in the library shelving books and doing odd jobs.

    There’s a large display on the lower level showing an exact replica of the first successful xerography set-up and the first xeroxed document (actually just a small slip of paper with a phone number on it). Pretty cool thing to see, worth checking out if you’re ever at the university (which is unlike for most who will read this I suppose).

    Also though, the commencement address at my graduation was given by the CEO of Xerox. I wasn’t particularly impressed by her business attitudes, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the future has in store for the company (not just because of her, but from increasing competition, etc.)

  5. dwdyer says:

    The machine in the photo looks just like the main copier we had when I worked for a wee NOAA facility. In the early 90′s.

  6. nixiebunny says:

    I am amazed by how big it is. All that for 8-1/2×11 copies?

    On the other hand, I recently dismantled a tiny Japanese copier, and it contained thousands of tiny Japanese parts. Spread out, they covered my big living-room floor.

  7. chumprock says:

    They had fire problems more recently than that..

    Here’s a video of their iGen catching fire at DRUPA in ’08:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iaqy5KF9eU

  8. Anonymous says:

    I sometimes build custom scientific equipment for clients. After shipping one machine, I got a call that it caught on fire. It was cheaper to ship me to the equipment than to ship it to me, so off I go for a two day trip and a 2 minute fix.

    Because the testing they were doing was so expensive, they decided to have me on site every time from then on. Every couple months. Just to sit. Just in case.

    I never imagined that Xerox had the same business model.

  9. Boba Fett Diop says:

    This reminds me of the export version Lada Riva my parents used to own. It came with a full socket-set in the trunk. It was not a frivolous add-on.

  10. Art says:

    “…burst into flame so often it came with a fire-extinguisher”.

    Your headline just made my day :)

  11. Anonymous says:

    My boss used to service these machines when he worked for Xerox. He said that the paper tray was at the bottom front of the one shown here and that when they would catch fire, the procedure was to pull the tray to take away the fuel source. The smoke would billow out of the exit tray on top until the fire burned itself out, then you would vacuum out the ash and start it back up. On the first desktop models, the burning paper would feed right out the side of the machine and onto the floor still on fire. The safety retrofit was a metal trap-door held up by fishing line. When the flaming paper would melt the line, the door would slam shut to keep it contained in the machine.

  12. Anonymous says:

    When singularity hits, you can bet photocopiers will be the first to take up arms against us.

  13. zapan says:

    “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature” goes a long way !

    • Birko says:

      I think it was a “feature” for the CIA, as regular servicing of the copier allowed them to harvest the microfilm that was in the covert camera. Many were used in Embassies around the world.
      I read something about this a few years back, and hope that someone can comment to ratify this.
      I’m not making a conspiracy theory view, but am intrigued about this Cold War rumour.

  14. Anonymous says:

    They still came with fire extinguishers in 1969. My first job was in a drawing office where I had to spend hours using such a machine in a very hot, poorly ventilated room in the middle of summer, and yes, I did have to use the fire extinguisher a couple of times. The machines overheated, and suffered constant paper-jams, so it’s no wonder they burst into flames!

  15. klossner says:

    In point of fact, the fire extinguisher was called a “scorch eliminator.” (Reference: “Copies In Seconds” by David Owen, pub. Simon & Schuster, 2004.)

    Fire happened when a sheet of paper wouldn’t feed correctly but would turn about and bunch against the exterior of the fuser. This was called a “mispuff.”

    Early Xerography looks quaint today, but it was revolutionary at the time. It was so much better than the previous wet-process copy technology that it made business sense to have a machine that required a dedicated “key operator” and regular visits by service technicians.

  16. Michael Smith says:

    Ever since my days emptying the surplus toner bottle in the office printers I have wondered exactly how good an explosive you could make by creating an aerosol of toner. Those sticky fine grains must have a fantastic surface area per unit mass.

  17. WhyBother says:

    There’s a reason that the Unix error for a paper jam was originally “lp0 on fire”. They figured it was better to be safe than sorry, and assumed any paper jam was about to burst into flames so the admin would go check it.

  18. Wordguy says:

    It was best to use the Xerox-brand fire extinguisher. You wouldn’t want to take a risk with some low-quality off-brand extinguisher.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I saw a film once showing the steps involved in Haloid’s earlier, manual “ox box” copier.

  20. Thorzdad says:

    Early photocopiers got insanely hot, because of the heat-setting of the toner. It was standard practice to let the things cool-down before you performed any maintenance (other than adding more paper) Paper jams were especially daunting, as you could burn the crap out of your fingers while poking around in the guts of the machine, trying to dislodge the jam.

  21. Anonymous says:

    There was another machine, the Xerox 3600 III which actually had a CO2 fire extinguisher built into it. Since you could not a “fire extinguisher built into a machine, it was called a paper cooling device.

  22. Oren Beck says:

    The mechanical configuration of early “fuser” heaters was somewhere between an open coil electric heater and the commercial foodservice toasters where toast moves up a chain link belt past a flat plate heater array.

    I serviced Micrographics wide format printers that had such fusers in them. Some of the beasts are STILL in obscure locations used for recovering archived documents. Documents also were archived on an interesting media hybrid of a Hollerith card and Micrographics.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture_card

    And the printers for that media often would indeed burn a sheet of paper. Which often was roll feed with a paper cutter. Looked like someone took a POS printer’s rollfeed+cutter mech and scaled it up to 48 inches wide

    Do recall that these machines were often barely equipped with any solid-state devices more complex than Darlington pairs driving relays/SCR switches. Mechanical switches and sequenced electromechanical relays with R-C delays often were used where we’d use ASIC’s today. And often the toner was a two component “Developer and Toner” blend with various schemes to keep the ratios anywhere near controlled. IIRC one issue with the fires was a machine that was “Throwing Developer” would be dumping a somewhat flammable metallic oxide powder+the combustible thermoplastic/carbon black toner onto the paper. Not quite Thermite by a long shot but not a trivial factor either.

    Hell, I’m the guy who advocates our 3D printers having a “Smoke Operated Relay” in seried with their power supply! And maybe this whole conversation will convince the printerbot folks that my stories of such history are true:)

  23. GuyInMilwaukee says:

    We’ve been using Xerox for large-format printing for decades so were surprised to hear last month that they are getting out of the large-format printing business in North America.
    http://www.action-intell.com/2011/03/09/xerox-will-no-longer-sell-wide-format-equipment-in-north-america/

    It’s curious that I was looking for a link to that info on the goog and couldn’t find any links to articles. I had to resort to the good ole Altavista to find that link. Seems like Xerox is inverse-advertising that message. Curious.

  24. bcsizemo says:

    “scorch guard”

    Wasn’t the past so much better? When companies and people had a real sense of humor.

    Xerox for the lulz.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Damn but this takes me back. In the early 70′s I got a job as a paste-up artist and designer in a small offset printer and publisher. The typesetting department downstairs had an Addressograph-Multigraph photosetter and it’s terminals and a humungous Xerox machine. One of our artists tended to use the copier more than most, and those occasions were clearly indicated for us in the studio upstairs by the smell of burning paper wafting through the door, and someone sniffing and remarking “Hmmm, Jane’s using the copier again”
    Happy days. ヅ

  26. Maggie Koerth-Baker says:

    This puts Joan forcing Peggy to share a teeny office with the Xerox machine in a whole new light.

  27. Brainspore says:

    “Heeey, it’s Dan. Danny-boy. Dan the fireman. Puttin’ out blazes. Mr. Yellow Pants. Real American hero, gettin’ paid and gettin’ laid.”

  28. CountZero says:

    Damn but this takes me back. In the early 70′s I got a job as a paste-up artist and designer in a small offset printer and publisher. The typesetting department downstairs had an Addressograph-Multigraph photosetter and it’s terminals and a humungous Xerox machine. One of our artists tended to use the copier more than most, and those occasions were clearly indicated for us in the studio upstairs by the smell of burning paper wafting through the door, and someone sniffing and remarking “Hmmm, Jane’s using the copier again”
    Happy days. ヅ

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