1930 Photostatic Copies

In the play, a photostatic copy of a cab driver’s license is given to Violet to identify as the “Ernie” she was out with on the night of the kidnapping. It is a small picture, but this information about the photocopy quality suggests that she did not mistake this Ernie for her Ernie on the basis of the copy quality. Later, it was found that Violet was out with a different Ernie, who was not (like the Ernie in the photostatic copy) a convicted felon. The police claimed that the photostatic Ernie’s business cards were found in Violet’s belongings during the initial search at the beginning of the investigation, but later lack of records indicate this evidence may have been fabricated by police, as the initial list of Violet’s items does not show the business cards in her possession.

“Photostatic Copy” of “Ernie”

The Photostat machine, or Photostat, was an early projection photocopier created in the 1900s by the Photostat Corporation; “Photostat” – which was originally a trademark of the company – is also used to refer to the similar machines produced by the Rectigraph Company.

Rectigraph and Photostat machines

George C. Beidler of Oklahoma City founded the Rectigraph Company in 1906 or 1907, producing the first photographic copying machines.


Both Rectigraph and Photostat machines consisted of a large camera that photographed documents or papers and exposed an image directly onto rolls of sensitized photographic paper that were about 350 feet (110 m) long. A prism was placed in front of the lens to reverse the image. After a 10-second exposure, the paper was directed to developing and fixing baths, then either air- or machine-dried. The result was a negative print, which took about 2 minutes in total to produce, which could in turn be photographed to make any number of positive prints.

The photographic prints produced by such machines are commonly referred to as “photostats”. The verbs “Photostat,” “photostatted,” and “photostatting” refer to making copies on such a machine in the same way that the trademarked name “Xerox” was later used to refer to any copy made by means of electrostatic photocopying. People who operated these machines, as comedian Pat Paulsen did for a time, were known as photostat operators.

It was the expense and inconvenience of photostats that drove Chester Carlson to study electrophotography. In the mid-40s Carlson sold the rights to his invention – which became known as xerography – to the Haloid Company and photostatting soon sank into history.


They would be as clear as a photograph, though a driver’s license would have a very small picture.


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