When you look through any series of textual records, you will encounter a wide variety of document types. Here is a look at the backstory of one of them: the photostat.
In the pre-Xeroxing days, there was a plethora of different reproduction methods if you needed a copy of a document. Mimeograph and Thermofax machines were fine for single sheet copies, but what did you do if you needed a copy of pages from a book, or a map, or some other type of oversize document? You would turn to the Photostat; in fact, this is one of the earliest mechanized documentary reproduction processes to be commercially successful.
Developed around 1910, the Photostat machine looked like a large view camera (which it essentially was), but it also had a built-in photographic developing system using huge rolls of photographic paper, film, and chemicals.
During World War I, the U.S. Shipping Board, among other agencies, made use of the new technology:
Emergency Fleet News, Sept. 26, 1918, p. 11, from NAID 574775
Here is one in use at the Department of the Treasury around 1920:
121-BA-1294, in NAID 532288
And here is a view of the National Archives' original Photostat machine, taken in the brand new Archives Building in July 1936:
64-NA-91 (cropped from NAID 7820656)
Automatic Photostat Machine, Division of Photographic Archives and Research
Note how the size and complexity of the machine have increased. Those earthenware crocks in the background hold the developer, stop bath, and fixer to process the Photostats. And it all happened inside the machine!
Here it is, with a full day's work to do:
64-NA-501 (NAID 18519964)
Continuous Photostat Machine by Thomas Bailey, 9/23/1947
At the National Archives, photostats were produced well into the 1980s. They were used for reproducing all manner of paper records throughout the holdings. Here are two reproduction request forms tucked into a volume of Pardon Warrants (NAID 4509703) at Archives II:
Found in http://research.archives.gov/description/4509703 volume 43
These bound volumes contain Photostat copies of the official pardons signed by the president. So, in 1947 the requester received a Photostat of a Photostat!
The machine was also used to reproduce large-format or fragile photographs in holdings of the National Archives' Still Picture Branch. The copies were then bound and housed in the research room, so that researchers could view the images and save wear and tear on the originals.
Here they are, awaiting their move to Archives II in early 1994:
Photo by Author
The photostat albums are still in use today. Here is an image from the immigration station at Angel Island, California:
90-G-152-2038, in NAID 522915
So, who thinks Photostats are awesome?
90-G-125-34, in NAID 522915
Bonus: Here is a photo of Irish Prime Minister(Taoiseach) Eamon de Valera looking at a Photostat machine, ca. 1930s:
306-NT-721-40, in NAID 541877