Memory Lane: Laser Printers and Other Ephemera

(Cross-posted from Livejournal)

Laser printers have come along way. These days you can buy one for almost nothing, and avoiding the manufacturer’s scam by having your cartridges refilled makes using them pretty cost-effective.

The first laser printer I ever saw was the size of a small web press, used by the State of Washington in 1980 to print its payroll checks. The next one I encountered had shrunk considerably:


This is actually the Xerox version of the Wang LPS-12 (or LIS-24) laser printer, which would manage 12 or 24 pages per minute. We had several of them in the Translation Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they got heavy use because we were able to dive into the font files and character mapping tables and tweak the characters to customize Wang’s OIS system for 116 languages instead of the 16 supported ones. I recall loading these onto hand trucks and moving them from office to office occasionally, as we had one physical location that for security purposes could not be connected to the outside world. Toner was loaded in bulk from large gallon bottles, and could be supremely messy.

After decades of searching, the Internet finally disgorged this cartoon, seen in the November 15, 1988 issue of PC Magazine:

Laser Printer Mr. Bond

The same printer in its original incarnation was also used with our Xerox Star 8010 system and its successor, the 6085.


This system was the result of research at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and had Xerox been as good at marketing as Steve Jobs, we might be using Xerox iMacs today. You can see the GUI elements, graphic capability and multilingual fonts that the Macintosh was so successful at popularizing, here being used years before the Macintosh hit the market.

Going even farther back, I was reminded of the first electronic calculator I laid hands on in 1968, the Wang 320SE. It had four nixie-tube terminals connected to a central processing unit, and I remember prominent instructions on each terminal never to do bad things like dividing by zero or setting up any trig function that resulted in an undefined result, because it would crash the CPU and take 3 hours to reboot, or some such nonsense.


Sheesh. My Droid may have more computing power than the room-sized Univac 1108 I learned to write Fortran code on in 1969.


Memories. They’re interesting to look back at, but I would never want to return to that level of technology.
The Old Wolf has spoken.