Gary Starkweather, Inventor of the Laser Printer, Dies at 81

Gary Keith Starkweather was born on Jan. 9, 1938, in Lansing, Mich., the only son of Richard and Crystal Starkweather. His father owned a local dairy; his mother was a homemaker. Their home was near a junk shop, where Gary would bargain for old radios, washing machines and car parts that he could tinker with in the basement, taking them apart and then putting them back together.

“As long as I didn’t blow up the house, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted down there,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Computer History Museum.

While studying physics at Michigan State University, he met Joyce Attard, a nursing student two years behind him. They married in 1961 and moved to Rochester so that he could join Bausch & Lomb, which at the time made lenses for eyeglasses, cameras, microscopes and other equipment.

After several of his colleagues were laid off, they moved to Xerox, and he followed them.

His move to PARC came after he read about the lab in the company’s newsletter. After visiting PARC in 1970, he phoned his wife in cold Rochester and asked how she felt about moving to sunny Palo Alto. Her response, he recalled, was, “I’ll have the furniture in the street by the time you get home.”

As he developed his printer, his new colleagues built a personal computer that could drive it: the Alto, a machine that eventually gave rise to the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows PCs.

“One of the goals of the Alto was to build a computer that could work with images that were as flexible as those made with all the tools of graphics arts that had been developed over the previous 500 years,” Butler Lampson, who founded the Alto project, said in an interview. “We made it possible to do that on the screen. And Gary made it possible to take the information on the screen and put it onto paper.”