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My Brilliant Career: 1928

My Brilliant Career: 1928

Washington, D.C., circa 1928. "Strayer's Business College." Now in session: Mimeograph 101. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


For organizing the masses, too.

Some friends had the Gestetner at their house in Austin, which gave them some heft in the antiwar movement. I also remember, prior to that, when I was in the Army in Germany, a friend drawing an antiwar cartoon with a stylus freehand on one of those stencils. It is hard to imagine how things got done then, but they did. "Then" in this case is about 1969-1973.

Been there, done that

And remember well how bleedin' difficult it was to get the stencil to lie flat so it didn't crease on the first page through, leaving lightning-streaks across every subsequent page, AND how sticky and awful that ink was to get off once it was on you. The only advantages mine had over this one was that (1) it was powered, and (2) it had an auto page counter.

And correcting typos with that weird blue Liquid Paper-clone that stank of acetone . . . don't get me started.

Olfactory Reminiscence

The ineradicable memories of Ditto fumes, freshly sharpened pencils and the thick crayons we first graders had to use.


Display Ad, Washington Post, Aug 1, 1904

Strayer's Business College

Cor. 11th and F Sts. N.W.

Shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, penmanship, arithmetic, English, &c. Day and night, all the year. Lowest prices. Books, &c., free. Typewriters sent to students homes. Situations guaranteed. 1,000 students last year. Half price for full course if you enroll now. Call, write or phone for catalogue.

Display Ad, Washington Post, Sep 17, 1923


Business College

Registration Now Being Made for Fall Term
Day and Evening Sessions


Spanish by Native Teacher
Call, Phone or Write for Information
721 13th Street N.W.
(Next door to Telephone Building)
Main 3430

Teacher's pet

My mother was a teacher from 1959 through 1988 and I can well remember helping her mark tests on the old mimeographed papers (or Gestetner, after David Gestetner, the inventor of the particular machine) usually used in the schools and elsewhere.

Life became SO much easier for Mom after the "ditto" machine came about.

Of course, being able to be the person who got to hand out the freshly produced "dittos" was lots of fun. In case anyone is wondering, the wonderful concoction was methanol and isopropanol.

State of The Art Copies

Before the mimeograph was invented, teachers had to write all that information on the blackboard, and the kids copied it into their notebooks. Talk about tedious. The smell was refreshing. Can kids get high on alcohol fumes, or formaldehyde or whatever they used?


Take another look at her outfit/grooming. Add a belt, a current hairstyle, makeup and pretty shoes and stockings, and what is different? I doubt anyone would wear their best cocktail dress to work, unless to have their picture taken. Huge pearls have been back in style recently, too. I want that dress!

Mimeograph Memories

I remember producing a church newsletter on a mimeograph in the early '80s. The stencil masters were coated in some kind of wax. I used a typewriter with no ribbon to cut through the wax and form a stencil. Had to be very careful in typing, as corrections were difficult and never looked right. Too many errors, and I'd have to start over. When I finished typing the stencil, I'd peel off the backing paper and mount it face-down on the drum as illustrated in this picture. Load paper and feed it through, and ink was squeezed through the stencil holes and transferred to the final product. Definitely looked better than a ditto, but the ink tended to smudge and smear. I always ended up with ink all over my hands and clothes by the time the job was finished.

Ticker: STRA

Little Strayer Business College has grown into Strayer Education, a $3.5 billion publicly traded company.

It's beginning to look

A lot like Christmas. All she needs is a star on her head.

Copier smell

I wonder if the odor of school copies many remember wasn't more likely from those made with spirit copiers, aka ditto machines. Most commonly these produced copies with purple-colored letters that had a very distinctive, somewhat alcoholic aroma. The masters were easier to produce. Rather than the fragile mimeo stencil material, masters were produced by typing onto a 2-ply sheet, one ply of which was akin to carbon paper, with a thick layer of material that transferred the typed letters onto the master sheet. The impressions of the material on the master actually formed the "ink," which was activated by the spirit liquid. The process didn't require the black, sticky and messy ink of the mimeograph. The downside was that dittos had a lower print run, as the "ink" on the master gradually depleted and the copies got fainter, whereas the mimeo ink could be replenished continuously. But the simplicity of dittos made them practical for such things as classroom handouts and tests. When I was a kid, I used a companion process, the gelatin hectograph, to produce my pretend-newspaper, "The Arch St. News."

Things change . . . and don't

Strayer is now Strayer University and its advertising is ubiquitous in the DC area.

Old Timey Jewels

Gosh, look at the size of those pearls. They don't come like that anymore.

Get thee to a Farkery

Only a matter of time.

Scentimental Journey!

Wow, it's been almost 50 years, but I can still smell it.

More work ahead

I love the smell of mimeograph fluid in the morning. Smells like... work.

(Or at least it did when I was in elementary school.)

Tear-Away Sleeves

Hopefully she never got those sleeves too close to the machine while it was being worked.

Breathe Deep

That scene in Ferris Bueller was not exaggerated -- my olfactory memory is atingle right now with the waft of mimeograph aroma we got as we pressed the paper to our faces.

Careful --

Don't get those sleeves caught in the machinery.

Also, do we have a photo of her holding the paper up to her nose to inhale that intoxicating aroma. Ahh, memories.

We had those machines in school

The copies had a distinct smell that you just don't forget.

Purple Haze

I loved the smell.


It took Miss Marcell some time to notice that the spatters of mimeograph fluid were affecting her fine silk blouse.

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