Celebrating Spartans: Laser Printer

EAST LANSING, MI (WLNS) – With technology sprouting frequently there is one person who pioneered the high-tech gadget.  We have that one person who grew up in our own backyard that changed the way offices across the country operated.

Gary Starkweather grew up nearby Michigan State University.  He was born in the in the State Capital and had an interest in science.

“I was always fascinated by how things worked. So, what I did is, I would get parts from some junkyard and for example and get a radio, get an old TV, a gear box…take ’em apart and figure out how everything worked,” said Starkweather.

Ever since he was a child he was fascinated with the world of science.  It was at Michigan State University that he lasered in on exactly what he wanted to do.

With a degree in hand Starkweather took the tech world by storm.  It was at his first stop that people knew he was on to something that may revolutionize the way we take things for granted today.

Xerox Historian Ray Brewer said, “it was very huge…very huge, he was cutting edge technology at that time.”

The wheels started turning in 1967 when Starkweather realized he could make printing more efficiently.  When Xerox snatched up the physics major, lasers were in their early stages.  He wanted to harness the power of the laser but it was something Xerox didn’t believe in.

Brewer said, “he was warned numerous times to focus more on the light lens technology and get away from the lasers which they couldn’t see at the time would be an emerging technology.”

“My manager at the time thought that was just about as lunatic as spending the weekend on Mars. They couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do such a thing. There’s no market for it, how do we get the quality and so forth,” said Starkweather.

Nevertheless, the innovator weathered on.  By 1977, his first laser printer went commercial.  Starting with the Xerox 9700, each following printer would develop into something different and more dynamic.

“Most everything he did for the laser technology is being used today. It’s essentially a billion dollar industry for Xerox, and essentially other companies that eventually picked it up. We were the leaders in technology and his idea, his concept for the laser technology, for the printers put Xerox on the map and made Xerox billions of dollars,” said Brewer.

Starkweather commented, “so my attitude is they were a little off. There was maybe a maximum market of 1,000 machines. 2 years ago, HewlettPackard shipped its 60 millionth laser printer. My attitude is don’t listen to the forecast. Say to yourself, what can this do? Why doesn’t everyone want to do this?”

“When Steve Jobs actually came to see what Xerox had in December ’79 with all the ethernet connectivity from the PC, the alto to printing everything else he was just blown away that we had that technology at that time,” continued Brewer.

During his long career, Starkweather made stops at Windows and Apple Computer before retiring in 2005.  Not every time was easy for him.  His best advice for anyone entering the technology community? Take risks.

“We live in a society that really doesn’t like risk. Everyone wants to say let’s do it and not make any mistakes. You can’t do it good that way. You gotta be willing to step out and take chances. I bet my career on this laser printer.”

That bet ended up paying off.  Starkweather’s innovations early on led to new technology through the decades that people take for granted today.  He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2004.  Today, he’s just enjoying retirement in Florida.

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