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Makin' Copies: the Complete History

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My friend Diana Rooks wrote this fun piece on the history of carbon copies, which originally appeared in History Magazine back in August '06. It was so interesting that I wanted to share it with our readers. Read on!

From the development of the typewriter in the 1870s until the emergence of photocopy machines in the 1960s, carbon paper was an indispensable office supply. The smudge-prone substance on the back of the paper was actually printer's ink, not graphite. The term "carbon" was, however, an accurate reference to carbon black, the standard color of ink.

Englishman Ralph Wedgwood and Italian Pellegrino Turri developed the first manifestations of carbon paper independently around the same time. In 1806, Wedgwood patented a composition aid for the blind, the stylographic writer. The device replaced the standard quill with a metal stylus and substituted a sheet of carbon paper in place of liquid ink. The carbon paper was placed between two pieces of stationery and slid between metal guide wires. Pressure from the metal stylus left impressions of the writer's penmanship on the bottom sheet of paper, which became the original document. The top piece of paper, meant to keep the writer's hand clean, picked up a mirror image copy of the manuscript on its underside. When Wedgwood's intended market showed little interest, he modified the stylographic writer and repackaged it as a document copier.

By at least 1808, Pellegrino Turri had also developed carbon paper as a composition aid for the blind — specifically, his ladyfriend, Countess Carolina Fantoni. He built a machine, not unlike a mechanical typewriter, that allowed the Countess to correspond with him without dictating her innermost thoughts to a third party.

Initially, the only professionals who had much commercial use for carbon paper were journalists for the Associated Press. They bought their supplies from American Cyrus P. Darkin, beginning in 1823. Other businessmen feared that the new technology would facilitate forgery.

Around 1870, a grocery manufacturer noticed a sheet of carbon paper in the hands of an AP reporter and decided to form a new company. L.H. Rogers & Co. saw the demand for its carbon paper skyrocket a few years later as the Remington typewriter came into widespread use. The typewriter struck the paper hard enough to quickly produce both a professional-looking original document and a legible duplicate beneath a sheet of carbon paper.

It became common practice for businesses to compose every outgoing form in triplicate, using two sheets of carbon paper to create three copies. Soon, retailers found it convenient to create instant copies of receipts, invoices, money orders, checks, and other financial records. For more than 80 years, carbon paper was the cheapest and most essential tool for making copies.

Three innovations were responsible for removing carbon paper from desk drawers. Photocopying came into vogue in 1959, with the perfection of the Xerox Model 914. the copy machine enabled businesses to make an unlimited number of copies of not only outgoing documents, but incoming documents as well. Around the same time, office supply companies developed carbonless paper. Treated with chemicals that changed color under pressure, carbonless paper replaced its messier antecedent in most retail transactions. The yellow "customer copy" of some credit card receipts is an example of carbonless paper.

Despite the encroaching technologies, carbon paper remained useful as long as businesses continued to use typewriters. However, the advent of word processors in the late 1970s accelerated carbon paper's descent into obsolescence.

Perhaps in deference to a technology they replaced, most e-mail programs allow the author to send a carbon copy, or cc, to a secondary recipient.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.


A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.


Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.


Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.


The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.


Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.


Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]


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