Whatever happened to …

… electrostatic printers?

Now this takes me back.

At one time, my regular computer was a Radio Shack Model III computer.  By the standards of the day, it was so fast.  The school practice office had three Apple II computers and they just plugged along.  Not so with mine.  But there was something missing.

I could do all this word processing and spreadsheet work but I had no way to print things.  For a while, I would do all the work and then, in particular for marks, would transcribe the results to the markbook.  Then, I’d have to take it into school and copy the marks over to the mark entry sheet for submission to the office.  There, one of the secretaries ultimately entered them into their computer for final processing.  It would never be tolerated at any level today but we had all these different machines and none would actually talk to each other.

I had long lusted for my own printer.  If only I could print my own things, I’d have won at least my part of the battle.

I used to drop into the Radio Shack store on Windsor’s Huron Church Line and look enviously at these new fangled dot matrix printers.  If only I could win the lottery! 

One day, this gentleman who was also in the store looking at printers, sidled up to me and asked to meet me outside.  It turns out that he had the money to buy one of the latest printers.  And, he had an older printer that he wanted to get rid of.  At retail, it was actually one that I could afford.  To buy it new was something that I was saving for, to buy it used, wow!

The printer was a TRS-80 Quick Printer

Thanks, http://www.trs-80.org

It was one of the fastest that I’d ever seen.  The only catch was that it didn’t print on regular paper.  Instead, it printed on this foil paper that resembled tin foil.  It came in rolls which you fed into the computer (the black part lifted out) and would roll it through, well sort of like toilet paper!  It connected to the computer via an RS-232 port.  When you told the computer to print, it flew. 

Soon, my binders were full of this foil and my notes were really high tech.  For student handouts and tests though, there still was a problem.  If you note from the image, the foil was really only about half the width of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.  To get around this, I’d have to cut the foil in half and notes and tests became actually two columns, sort of like a newspaper.  I’d have to flip scotch tape over to tape them to a regular sheet before photocopying.  An additional limitation, caused by this make shift solution was that the photocopier couldn’t feed multiple copies so each had to be done by hand.

Fortunately, the technology at school caught up and we ended up with a nice Epson dot matrix printer so I could bring my things in on diskette and print from there.  That truly left this printer sitting at home collecting dust.  I don’t recall how I ultimately disposed of it but I hope that I did send it to a recycle centre.

Of course, followup technology gave us dot matrix printers, ink jet printers, laser printers, and the best of all – paperless classrooms.  I still enjoyed being on the cutting edge, at least for a bit. 

If you’d care to share (please), how are these for starters…

  • what was your first home printer?
  • do you currently have a home printer or even need one?
  • are 3D printers even in the same category as 2D printers?
  • what do you see in the future of printing technology?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

5 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. I really enjoy these memory lane posts. Usually I end up learning about an item I haven’t heard of before. This printer is one of them. The dot matrix printer was my first one. I still remember the paper with the sides that tear off. Now I have a laser printer but rarely use it. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure, Aviva. For today’s youth, including you, it’s important to know that there was technology before what we consider common now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, printers. Where to begin?

    1) there was SOME kind of printer attached to the SOL computer in grade 11, (I think).
    2) there were those wide-form hammer type printers in the labs at UofT that were enclosed inside cases to reduce the wretched noise. Always a pleasure at 11 PM to keep you awake while you ran yet another go.
    3) there were dot-matrix printers attached to the Macs in the Hall of Technology at the Science Centre in the mid-80s.
    4) my first printer would have been an HP Deskwriter, followed by Apple’s ImageWriter which used a Canon inkjet cartridge. Early 90s.
    5) at school we were still using dot-matrix printers with the Commodore 64s, with the ICON, and with the lone Windows computer in the library.
    6) after Windows 95 became a thing (or was it Windows 98?) we started getting laser printers in the classrooms to service the pods of 3 computers.
    7) In the early 2000s I got myself a personal multi-function device (copier/scanner/printers) because I was in a portable and it was way more convenient than running inside. With digital cameras came the advent of photo-quality inkjets and glossy paper.
    8) In recent years we’ve moved to a networked copier/printer in a central location, which is nice. I still kept the multi-function device in my classroom.
    9) A year ago, a student needed everything on a specific colour of paper, and so I replaced my in-class device for one with two paper trays, a variety of presets (2 single sided to 1 double sided, use tray 2 with the colours paper — and all the variations) AND a wonderful scan-to-cloud and remote print function. Scanning something to Dropbox or Google Drive and then immediately pulling it up on the SMART board computer is really handy for sharing! Add to that the second student who uses a different colour of paper. Very handy!
    10) At home, the boys ask why I still have so many printers. The duplexing, networked, B&W laser jet is for quick printing. It doesn’t get a lot of use, but more than the others. The photo quality colour inkjet is for colour images and scanning. And the honkin’ big 11×17 capable multi-purpose, scan-to-the-cloud, colour inkjet (the big brother of the remarkable device I have in my classroom) was on sale.

    As you may imagine, Doug, I’m waiting for the day when you post, “What Ever Happened to … Handwritten Report Cards?”


  4. Doug, I always like being considered a “youth.” I knew that I liked you. 🙂


    P.S. Your point is a great one, but it was this one part of the comment that I just had to reply to! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I once had a dot matrix colour printer. It had several rows of ribbon and moved it up and down to pick the colour. Not fast but it was colour! So that made it cool.


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