Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Back in Time - Preparing Lessons

Ditto machine
This time of year always takes me back to the days of preparing lessons and informational handouts for my students. Thankfully, technology has made it easier for today's educators to prepare lesson for their classes.

In order to have multiple copies of worksheets and information for my students, I used a ditto machine from the early 70s to nearly the late 80s. The machine was notorious for jamming if the ratio of duplicating fluid was not matched correctly to the speed of the turning drum on which the ditto master was secured. Many times, the sheets would come out blurry and quite damp. I can still vividly recall the smell of the duplicating fluid. The first machines I used were hand crank, but eventually, the school(s) replaced them with electric ones.

The ditto masters were messy to prepare. I often would write on the master rather than type because any error or mis-strike on the typewriter required scraping of the thick blue material off of the white base. Sometimes I resorted to cutting out the error with a razor blade or covering the error with Scotch tape. Nonetheless, the blue gunk would ultimately end up on the cuffs or front of my blouse and on my hands.

Thermofax machine - first used in the 1950s - was the predecessor
 of the office copy machine
Another machine that was used in the late 70s was the Thermofax. This allowed a ditto master to be prepared from a plain piece of paper. The document was placed inside a special sleeve and fed through the machine which burned the document on a thin master that could then be used on the ditto master machine. The Thermofax also could be used to prepare transparencies for the overhead projector. Because it was more expensive to use the Thermofax machine, teachers were encouraged to use the ditto machine instead. While more convenient to use, the copies were not too sharp on the master created by the Thermofax.

It wasn't until the early 1980s that photocopy machines were widely available in the schools where I taught. Even then, because of cost, the use of photocopiers was discouraged, and the mimeograph was used until nearly the mid to late 80s.

Another machine that was used to print higher quality copies was the mimeograph machine. The stencils used in this machine were longer than a ditto master, and any errors were corrected with a correcting fluid. A stylist could be used to add larger fonts or numbers. This type of machine was usually used to produce school newsletter or newspapers and/or brochures.

Do you remember ditto masters, mimeograph or Thermofax machines?


  1. As elementary students, we loved the smell of freshly run ditto papers. I remember we would be excited if the paper was still damp and each of us would hold it up to our nose, breathe deeply and sigh.

  2. Working as a teacher's aide in the mid-seventies and early eighties, I got to know these machines inside and out.
    Thank goodness for technology!

  3. It isn't something I remember or knew...so glad for the new ones.

  4. Oh the memories! Especially of the smell of the freshly run dittos. I can even hear the sound of cranking the machine for copies. I'm thankful for technology too.

  5. Mimeo!!!! Oh yeah ... I ran one of those when Stephen was in elementary. And, I too, remember sniffing the damp ditto papers. LOL

    No wonder I liked school. We were all high on ditto fumes! ;-)

  6. I had no idea these existed! Wow, what a pain they must have been.

  7. Oh yes, I remember cranking that machine. I usually wrote on the sheets instead of typing too, though I did have to type the tests. I also remember that distinct smell and those damp pages. Copy machines have sure been a blessing, haven't they?

  8. Yes I do remember that smell! It was considered something special to be asked by the teacher if we'd like to crank the handle. Clever teacher! They called those machines by a different name here - something like gestetner. I don't know about the spelling.

  9. Three of my four years of high school I worked in the mimeograph office, typing masters and running the machine. Most of the time my teachers gave me oral tests because I was the one who typed all of the tests.

  10. I remember all of them. What a hassle they were for those of us who wanted to creat our own handouts. No wonder so many people used workbooks.

  11. I remember mimeograph machines ! I still marvel at our printer in the basement. How I touch a button on a computer and have it print out there blows this mind!

  12. I was waiting for the mimeograph to get a mention! I used to help with that... to keep my hands (and thus, mind) from being idle and naughty.

  13. The purple ink...and we would all smell our fresh papers. I wonder if every kid did that?:)

  14. I remember those well, as I taught for 27 years. When the schools finally got Xerox copiers, we were told to save them for something special, like a handout for parents. And we were never supposed to copy something personal for ourselves, such as a cancelled check, receipt, etc. I wrote on the ditto masters & loved the smell of the ink. Didn't love the purple that sometimes got on my hands or clothes.
    God bless you Nancy, for all the beautiful quilts & things you have made for others


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