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Did Apple really rip off Xerox with the Mac

J. Otto Tennant

Close. "Formica" literrally means "FOR MICA", i.e. the material was intended as a subsbreastute for MICA, a glbutty crystalline mineral which normally sheds into sub-millimeter flexible sheets and which was commonly used as an electrical insulator at the time.

The surface of today's kitchen counters is actually melamine. This article from the website of the Formica company describes the early history of the products and the company.

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The need to develop a better product has been at the core of Formica since its inception in 1912.

At that time, powerful, new electrical equipment of the Industrial Age demanded tougher, lighter, less costly insulators.

A young engineer had an idea that was pretty straightforward: take fabric, coat it with resin while it winds on a spindle into the shape of a tube, slit the tube lengthwise, unroll it, press it flat and then cure it. The result was a laminated plastic material that was tough, light and an excellent electrical insulator. It was easy to see the commercial potential of this new material.

*Formica Founders*

That engineer's name was Dan J. O'Conor. He was just 31 years old, and he worked for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh as head of the process section of the research engineering department. One of O'Conor's friends at Westinghouse was Herbert A. Faber, 30, the manager of insulating-material sales. Faber's engineering training at the University of Cincinnati gave him a technical appreciation of O'Conor's new insulating material.

O'Conor filed for a patent in February of 1913. His immediate reward was one dollar - the price Westinghouse paid for rights to employees' inventions. Faber knew of customers eager to buy such material, but Westinghouse wouldn't let him sell it except to licensed Westinghouse distributors.

Within weeks, O'Conor and Faber quit Westinghouse to start their own insulator business. O'Conor sought investors. They found what they needed in Walton, Ky., where a lawyer-banker named John G. Tomlin agreed to put up $7,500. He became a silent partner. O'Conor and Faber ran the business.

The material commonly used in those days for electrical insulation was mica. The new product was a subsbreastute "for mica",? so that's what Faber named their new company. (He had no idea that 75 years later, applied to an altogether different product, Formica would be one of the world's 10 best-known brand names.)

They began operating on May 2, 1913, filling an order for V-rings for electric motors from Chalmers Motor Company. By September, Formica had 18 employees making parts for Bell Electric Motor, Ideal Electric and Northwest Electric, the predecessor to Delco. And in that first year, their problem wasn't a lack of business; it was keeping up with demand.

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Lars Poulsen

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