Laser printer inventor passes away

Comments Comments

Gary Starkweather, the man who invented the laser printer, which then linked into the emerging desktop computers and enabled desktop publishing, wreaking havoc on the print industry, has passed away aged 81.

Laser printer inventor: Gary Starkweather
Laser printer inventor: Gary Starkweather

Starkweather was an engineer at Xerox in the late 1960s when he told his bosses he could build a printer with a laser that would print graphics as well as text. They apparently gave the idea short shrift, allegedly telling him it was a terrible idea. That led to Starkweather working on the project in secret in a part of the building that the managers did not visit.

The engineer pursued the idea, moving from Rochester to the legendary Parc lab in Palo Alto, where young staffers were encouraged to think outside the box. Less than a year after he arrived he had built the first laser printer, and seven years after his move there, in 1977, the company launched his Xerox 9700, which became a top selling product, generating more than $1bn for Xerox.

The first model cost US$295,000, took the space of half a dozen washing machines, and weighed more than a tonne. However, the price plummeted as systems for manufacture developed: a decade later laser printers were less than $5000, and today’s laser printers – still based on the same technology – cost less than $100, and are the size of a shoe box.

As Starkweather developed the printer, other engineers at Parc built a personal computer that could drive the new machine, the Alto, which eventually led to the Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows PCs. Starkweather later worked for both Apple and Microsoft.

Starkweather was a typical engineer inventor, eschewing fame, preferring to spend his spare time with his train set, and teaching Sunday School at his local church. He was enthusiastic for the benefits of technology, but scathing of the always-on culture, railing against the 60-hour week that many in Silicon Valley ascribed to. He leaves behind his wife of 58 years.

comments powered by Disqus