Milestones:Development of the Commercial Laser Printer, 1971-1977


Date Dedicated
Dedication #
Palo Alto, CA
IEEE Regions
IEEE sections
Santa Clara Valley
Achievement date range
The Innovation Museum by SRI's front reception desk, which includes the Alto, Laser Printer, and Ethernet Milestone plaques on its back wall
Dedication dignitaries in The Innovation Museum: Lawrence Lee (SRI Sr. Director, Strategic Development), Bob Metcalfe (former PARC engineer), Tom Coughlin (2024 IEEE President), Ron Rider (former PARC engineer), David Parekh (SRI CEO), Brian Berg (IEEE History Committee Vice Chair), John Shoch (former PARC engineer), and Vint Cerf (Google Chief Internet Evangelist)
Original sign at Xerox PARC site in Palo Alto
Bean Bag Conference Room at PARC with writable wall, where Computer Science Laboratory (CSL) staff presented new ideas: Jim Mitchell, Ed Fiala, Terry Roberts, Vicki Parish, Wesley Clark, and Ed Taft; (c) SRI
Bean Bag Conference Room on day of dedication, with Bob Metcalfe, Ron Rider, and John Shoch and their signatures; (c) SRI
"The Office System Of Tomorrow" from 1977 Xerox World Conference in Boca Raton, FL, which featured a demo of the Alto, Laser Printer, and Ethernet working together; (c) SRI
Gary Starkweather, the optical specialist who invented the laser printer at PARC
Scanned Laser Output Terminal (SLOT) head on a Xerox 7000 copier that became the EARS printing system; (c) SRI
Bob Metcalfe and Ron Rider debugging the EARS (Ethernet-Alto-Research character generator-Scanning laser output terminal) printing system software on one of the first Altos; (c) SRI
Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System employing laser-based EARS software, introduced in 1977; (c) SRI


Development of the Commercial Laser Printer, 1971-1977


Xerox PARC researchers demonstrated the feasibility of laser printing on a one-page-per-second Xerox copier in 1971, and with computer-generated images in 1972. As the networked printer in 1974, it transformed office automation and led to desktop publishing at PARC. The Xerox 9700 printer proved commercial viability in 1977, and helped launch the non-impact printer industry into a new era of printed communication for print shops, home, and office.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

  • Site 1: PARC (part of SRI International), 3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304 US (37.402370, -122.148354)
  • Site 2: Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043 US (37.414757, -122.077679)

Details of the physical location of the plaque

  • Site 1: On the back wall of The Innovation Museum, which is to the left of the front reception desk, and alongside 2 other IEEE Milestone plaques (Xerox Alto and Ethernet)
  • Site 2: On the inside face of the front patio brick wall, near the museum's Main Entrance

How the plaque site is protected/secured

  • Site 1: Building security; 8am-4:30pm access on weekdays
  • Site 2: Building security; 24/7 access

Historical significance of the work

Quote from the url site about Gary Starkweather’s induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2012, see reference. This quote addresses technical significance, social and business importance. "While working for Xerox in Webster, New York, Gary Starkweather began work on an idea for a laser printer, a machine that could print any image created by a computer. Computer printers did exist at the time but were large, awkward, mechanical machines that had many limitations. After creating a crude prototype, Starkweather transferred to Xerox PARC in 1971 to continue developing his idea. At PARC, Starkweather created SLOT, his "scanning laser output terminal," using a Xerox 7000 copier as his base. A laser beam carried digital information, and the copier then developed the imaged digital information to make a print. In 1977, Xerox launched the 9700 laser printer which would become one of Xerox's best-selling products. In fact, the original laser printer made billions of dollars for Xerox, the most commercially profitable product to come out of the PARC facility."

From the Starkweather Laser Printer article printed in the San Jose Mercury News, a reprint from the Wall Street Journal The laser printer became over a $2 billion annual business. Similar articles appeared in the LA Times and New York Times. Social significance: allowed people to readily print computer files including graphics, which enhanced social communications. From Starkweather obituary in the LA Times, "He originally received pushback from his employer, Xerox. But his invention eventually became nearly ubiquitous in every office and home."

A more detailed summary is given in reference, Thompson, Geoff: Development of the First Laser Printer.

The 5 patents, shown as references, support the features invented by Starkweather, etal. The story of the design is can be followed in the book, “Dealers of Lightning” and in the Starkweather oral history. Both are included as reference.

Obstacles (technical, political, geographic) that needed to be overcome

Prior to the laser printer, printing reproduced a fixed page image (copier technology) or generated a slow character-at-a-time output from computer data. The major obstacle was to find a means of generating computer data at copier printing speeds and to develop an optical system that could place the image into the copier. At the time, copier speeds greatly exceeded computer data processing speeds, and a computer driven optical system was not yet developed. The goal was to provide printing capabilities for computers to complement the development of the higher-power individual computer workstations that were being developed. Work was ongoing at PARC during this era. Reference: the fully approved milestone proposal, Docket #:2018-10, “The Xerox Alto Establishes Personal Networked Computing, 1972-1983.”

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

This invention commenced the era of high-speed single-page commercial printers, introducing this printing concept into both the commercial and consumer markets. Previous direct-contact line printers limited the quality and speed of computer reproduced images, which were being printed onto large spool-fed continuous-sheet paper stock. Invention of non-contact single-sheet laser printing led to the wide scale commercial adoption of computer based printing of higher quality custom images onto cut sheet paper. This concept of readily printing custom computer images onto cut sheet paper would eventually inspire development of other consumer market printers that came to fruition through the creation and application of different technologies.

Significant references

Supporting materials

Dedication Ceremony

A Celebration of 50 Years of the Internet


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