A Brief History of Biel's Document ManagementBiel’s Document Management

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Biel’s Photocopy Service, as the business was first called, began operating May 18, 1939 in the upper flat of a two story house at 699 Elmwood Avenue. Upon reaching Buffalo they were able to rent this space with the small amount of money they had remaining, supplemented by loans from relatives who were already in the country. In addition to this, they had all of their belongings, both household and business, that they had shipped from storage in New York City. Most important was their German made kontophot; a 35mm microfilm camera that would be used for all photographs in the first several years.

The equipment was set up in their flat, making the best of what little space they had. Before the equipment would be operable, Biel had to reduce the electrical requirements on all the equipment brought from Europe from 220 volts to 110. Another task with which Biel was faced was the setup of a film processing area. This would eventually be incorporated into the bathroom including the use of the bathtub for washing prints. After documents were filmed, the film was developed in a series of tanks, then dried and stored. From this film, enlargements could then be made as desired. The development of these prints employed the use of a series of trays in which the prints were developed, fixed and washed. It was in this manner that documents were stored and reproduced from microfilm, a method from which Biel’s Photocopy would derive much of its early business.

Among the Biel’s first customers were the Buffalo Museum, the Erie Co. Historical Society, newspapers and various retail stores. Through the use of microfilm, as described above, documents could be photographed and then enlarged or reduced in size when printed back to paper copies. In addition to the advantage of being able to reduce or enlarge the size of a print, it also offered the ability to make unlimited copies of the same document. One of the first services that Biel successfully provided was the filming of retail items for advertising purposes. Objects could be filmed capturing the finest details, and reproduced at relatively low cost to advertisers. Another service offered was to photograph newspaper ads and reproduce them for advertisers, or their competitors, who wished to keep copies of them.

Such techniques had not previously been available from a vendor who was dedicated solely to the production of microfilm. It was the fortune of timing that brought Mr. Biel into business just when the microfilm industry was so ripe for the market. Coupled with a great deal of effort and an acute business sense, these circumstances helped Biel’s Photocopy Service to get off to a very good start.