Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mimeograph Machines

Do you remember Mimeograph Machines from your school days? I do! I recall well when the class room was filled with that unmistakable odor that told us that soon we were going to be looking at paper that was filled with blue writing that was sometimes hard to read.

Mimeographs were used to print classroom materials and church bulletins during my school years from grade school through college. It wasn't until the late 1960s that photocopying and cheap offset printing began to replace Mimeographs and spirit duplicators. When I was a kid, I would hear that you could get high from sniffing the mimeograph fluid but I never knew anyone with firsthand experience with it. I suppose I have to put that story into my urban myths file.

The mimeograph process was invented by Thomas Edison but most of us are familiar with the models that were built by the A.B. Dick Company of Chicago. The word "mimeograph" was first used by Albert Blake Dick when he licensed Edison's patents in 1887. Dick received Trademark Registration no. 0356815 for the term "Mimeograph" in the U.S. Patent Office. That trademark registration is currently listed as a dead entry, but shows the A.B. Dick Company of Chicago as the owner of the name. Over time, the term became generic and is now an example of a trademark that has undergone trademark erosion. That happens when a trademark becomes so common that it starts being used as a common name the original company failed to prevent its use. Today, Xerox Corporation is engaged in a campaign to prevent that from happening to their trademark on their brand of copiers.

I remember the A. B. Dick Mimeograph that was in my school. It was a hand cranked model and sometimes when printing something that was not a test, the teacher would enlist one or more of us to crank out those endless copies. You sure could build upper body strength and endurance from your turn on the crank. When I was a boy scout, I often used our school mimeograph to turn out flyers or newsletters for the parents of the troop members. Our machine was locked safely away in a special room the size of a small closet and sometimes the smell of the mimeograph fluid could get overwhelming. We had to keep the door open when printing. About the time I was moving on to high school our school finally bought one of the powered mimeographs so the kids that came along later would be denied the physical fitness aspect of making copies.

By far the biggest advantage for students of the mimeograph machine was the early warnings for tests that it provided. If you saw a teacher cranking his or own copies out or saw the edge of a mimeograph stencil hidden in a stack of papers or smelled that special odor; LOOK OUT! A test was on the way! Oh MY!

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