David Gestetner, born in Csorna, Hungary, moved to London, England, and in 1879 filed his first copying patent. A later patent in 1881 was for the Cyclostyle, a stylus that was part of the Cyclograph copying device. He also established the Gestetner Cyclograph Company to produce duplicating machines, stencils, styli, ink rollers and related products the same year. The Gestetner works opened in 1906 at Tottenham Hale, north London, and employed several thousand people until the 1970s. Gestetner's inventions became an overnight success, and an international chain of branch offices that sold and serviced Gestetner products was established.
The Gestetner Company expanded quickly during the early and mid-20th century. Management was passed to David Gestetner's son, Sigmund, and from him to his sons, David and Jonathan. Gestetner acquired other companies during the years: Nashua (later changed to Nashuatec), Rex Rotary, Hanimex and Savin. Eventually a holding company was set up called NRG (N = Nashuatec, R = Rex Rotary, G = Gestetner). In 1996 the international Gestetner Company was acquired by the Ricoh company of Japan. The company was renamed NRG Group, and markets and services Ricoh products under its three main brand names, primarily in Europe, South Africa and the Middle East, but also through dealers throughout the world.
On 1 April 2007, Ricoh merged its Gestetner dealer network with the Lanier dealer network that had been selling Lanier-branded products on behalf of Ricoh for the North American market. Ricoh indicated that the merger's rationale was based on the fact that both "Gestetner and Lanier brands have been marketing identical products for many years." Thus, Gestetner's American customers can simply substitute Lanier-branded products for previous Gestetner-branded products even though Lanier-branded products are the same as Ricoh and Savin.
The Gestetner Cyclograph device
The Gestetner Cyclograph was a stencil method duplicator that used a thin sheet of paper coated with wax (originally kite paper was used), which was written upon with a special stylus that left a broken line through the stencil — breaking the paper and removing the wax covering. Ink was forced through the stencil — originally by an ink roller — and it left its impression on a white sheet of paper below. This was repeated again and again until sufficient copies were produced.
Until this time, any "short copy runs" which were needed for the conduct of a business (e.g., for the production of 10–50 copies of contracts, agreements, or letters) had to be copied by hand. (If more were needed, the document would have to go to the printers.) After the run had been copied, business partners had to read each one to ensure that they were all exactly the same, and that human error or tiredness had not introduced an error into one copy. The process was time consuming and frustrating for all. The stencil copy method meant that only one copy had to be read, as all copies were mechanically identical.
Over the years Gestetner further developed his invention, with the stencil eventually being placed on a screen wrapped around a pair of revolving drums, onto which ink was placed. The drums were revolved and ink, spread evenly across the surface of the screen by a pair of cloth-covered rollers, was forced through the cuts made in the stencil and transferred onto a sheet of paper which was fed through the duplicator and pressed by pressure rollers against the lower drum. Each complete rotation of the screen fed and printed one sheet. After the first typewriter was invented, a stencil was created which could be typed on, thus creating copies similar to printed newspapers and books, instead of handwritten material.
- T. F. T. Baker, R. B. Pugh (editors), A. P. Baggs, Diane K. Bolton, Eileen P. Scarff, G. C. Tyack, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5: Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, pp. 333–339. Victoria County History, British History, 1976. Date accessed: 16 October 2010.
- "Notice for Gestetner Customers," April 2, 2007. Gestetner USA website. (Retrieved April 28, 2009.)