Chester Carlson - Later Life

Later Life

To know Chester Carlson was to like him, to love him, and to respect him. He was generally known as the inventor of xerography, and although it was an extraordinary achievement in the technological and scientific field, I respected him more as a man of exceptional moral stature and as a humanist. His concern for the future of the human situation was genuine, and his dedication to the principles of the United Nations was profound. He belonged to that rare breed of leaders who generate in our hearts faith in man and hope for the future. —U Thant, secretary-general, United Nations, at the Xerox memorial service for Chester Carlson

In 1951, Carlson's royalties from Battelle amounted to about $15,000 (in current terms, $134 thousand). Carlson continued to work at Haloid until 1955, and he remained a consultant to the company until his death. From 1956 to 1965, he continued to earn royalties on his patents from Xerox, amounting to about one-sixteenth of a cent for every Xerox copy made worldwide.

In 1968, Fortune magazine ranked Carlson among the wealthiest people in America. He sent them a brief letter: "Your estimate of my net worth is too high by $150 million. I belong in the 0 to $50 million bracket." This was because Carlson had spent years quietly giving most of his fortune away. He told his wife his remaining ambition was "to die a poor man."

Carlson devoted his wealth to philanthropic purposes. He donated over $150 million to charitable causes and was an active supporter of the NAACP. Carlson's wife Dorris got him interested in Hinduism, particularly the ancient texts known as the Vedanta, as well as in Zen Buddhism. They hosted Buddhist meetings, with meditation, at their home. After reading Philip Kapleau's book The Three Pillars of Zen, Dorris invited Kapleau to join their meditation group; in June 1966, they provided the funding that allowed Kapleau to start the Rochester Zen Center. Dorris paid for 1,400 acres (5.7 km2) of land that became Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji, a Zen monastery in the Catskill Mountains of New York led by Eido Tai Shimano. Carlson had purchased a New York City carriage house for use by Shimano; he died four days after it was dedicated. Carlson is still commemorated in special services by Shimano; his dharma name, Daitokuin Zenshin Carlson Koji, is mentioned.

In his essay "Half a Career with the Paranormal," researcher Ian Stevenson describes Carlson's philanthropic style. According to Stevenson, Carlson's wife, Dorris, had some skill at extrasensory perception, and convinced Carlson to help support Stevenson's research. Carlson not only made annual donations to the University of Virginia to fund Stevenson's work, but in 1964 he made a particularly large donation that helped fund one of the first endowed chairs at the University. Stevenson was the first incumbent of this chair.

Although Carlson insisted on anonymous donations, wrote Stevenson, he was unusual in that he closely followed the details of the research, maintaining contact with Stevenson. "He rarely made suggestions, but what he said always deserved attention," wrote Stevenson.

In the spring of 1968, while on vacation in the Bahamas, Carlson had his first heart attack. He was gravely ill, but hid this from his wife, embarking on a number of unexpected household improvements and concealing his doctor's visits. On September 19, 1968, Carlson died of a heart attack in the Festival Theatre, on West 57th Street in New York City, while watching the film He Who Rides a Tiger. Dorris arranged a small service in New York City; Xerox held a much larger service in the corporate auditorium in Rochester on September 26, 1968.

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