A staple of the classroom in the 70s, dittos preceded the photocopy and provided the only practical way for teachers to share information on the printed page. Most memorable was the intoxicating smell of paper fresh out of the ditto machine. That’s the stuff memories are made of. Let’s take a look back.

Back in the day, you were assured to receive stacks of dittos through the course of the school year, offering everything from math problems and spelling tests to announcements, field trip permission slips and even the school newspaper. They were inexpensive to produce, but not without a little effort and, as we later learned, more exposure to toxic chemicals than were probably safe.

The ditto machine works using a master copy, where the information was drawn or written, and a colored wax layer (usually purple) that coated the original. Run the master through a machine filled with solvents and they would miraculously transfer the original image to numerous sheets of paper. It was a poor man’s Xerox.


Sadly, that distinct aroma that we all craved, the one that makes us remember these pieces of paper to this day, the ones that we all sniffed to our little heart’s content … was highly toxic.


That little revelation soon had ditto machines going by way of the dinosaurs, replaced with a nifty new (and highly efficient) gadget called the photocopy machine. The days of dittos were gone forever, but their memory, and that of the odor they produced, lingers on in our collective memories.

Do you remember smelling ditto paper as a kid? I hope you’ll share your recollections with us in our comments section below.

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