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DOWNEY – Remember the mimeograph? If you’re of a certain age, you might recall school days long ago when the ink on class tests was lavender or purple in color. If you were a teacher way back then, perhaps you remember the light smell of alcohol in the faculty work room, or waiting your turn to run this week’s pop quiz on that somewhat noisy machine with the big drum that rolled out enough copies for everyone in the class. Of course, if you were running late, those pages might still be a bit damp and odorous as they landed on the desks of your students.
For those of you who didn’t live those grand old days, the mimeograph machine offered a widely popular low-cost printing method which peaked out in the 1950′s through the early 70′s and has since been superseded by more sophisticated printing options, such as photocopying. Like “Xeroxing,” the best known brand name for photocopying, the term “Mimeograph” was originally also a trademark. It was invented by Thomas Edison through two patents filed in 1870 and 1880, which were then licensed in 1887 by the A.B. Dick Company in Chicago.
Less widely known, but used for higher quality small-scale printing needs, was the Ozalid process, which came into being in the early 1920′s. Ozalid printing was used where the quality of a mimeograph would have been inadequate. For example, it was the gold standard for printing multiple copies of music in the L.A. film music industry as recently as the 1990′s, when this writer became familiar with the process.
Speaking of obsolescent O-words, ever heard of the ophicleide? The ophicleide was a widely popular musical instrument of the nineteenth century which gave way at the turn of the twentieth century to the modern tuba. It also bore several design similarities to another instrument invented in the mid-1800′s by one Adolphe Sax. That instrument, of course, was the saxophone. So the ophicleide, like the dinosaur, eventually became extinct, replaced by two other instruments which are now standards of the musical palette, from marching bands to modern jazz. In fact, it would be hard to imagine the existence of jazz without the saxophone.
Returning to the topic of printing the written word, when was the last time you rolled a piece of paper into a typewriter? The typewriter is another formerly ubiquitous device that has largely faded with the advent of the personal computer. And nowadays the term “carbon copy” has meaning only as a reference to the past, for the “portable document file,” going by the acronym “pdf,” has digitally replaced that messy old carbon paper. You can send copies to anybody anywhere by hitting the ‘enter’ key. You can even fill out forms, as the more recent versions of software programs such as Adobe Reader allow for digitally embedding text and signatures.
The point of this trip down memory lane is that the old ways of doing things have been supplanted, even in recent memory, by more sophisticated processes. In this case, the new technology is also more environmentally friendly, saving trees that we desperately need to help convert a lot of CO2 back into oxygen.
Further, these changes echo our recent discussion of the environmental significance of whales. Both demonstrate a world in transition, where new approaches are needed to preserve and sustain it. We’ll return to our whale discussion and its implications in the next column.
For now, it’s quaintly engaging to remember the mimeograph. But it’s definitely time to go paperless.
Published: March 7, 2013 – Volume 11 – Issue 47