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Marquette University Alumni Association

College of Engineering Recipients

Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award

Dr. Erik Pell


Webster, N.Y.

Dr. Erik M. Pell’s book, From Dream to Riches, is not an autobiography, but it could be.

The book is a history of xerography — dry photocopying — from its invention by American physicist Chester Carlson to the historic rise of the Xerox Corp., which made xerography available to the public in the 1960s. Erik not only wrote about it, but he was instrumental in the company’s incredible success story. And, in so doing, he became a major success himself.

In 1931, at the age of 8, after his mother died of tuberculosis, Erik and his father moved to Milwaukee from Rättvik, Sweden. In grade school, he decided he wanted to become an engineer or a scientist. “I wanted to understand how everything worked,” he recalls. He grew up on Milwaukee’s east side, went to Riverside High School and then came to Marquette.

“My Marquette experience was an essential step toward success, giving me the basic engineering knowledge on which I could build a physics superstructure,” he says. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and qualified for the Navy’s radar program, which, he says, gave him “forefront knowledge in electronics.”

After serving in the Navy, Erik attended Cornell University, where he earned a doctorate in philosophy. He then worked at General Electric Research Laboratory until 1961, when he was recruited by Xerox to build a research group for solid state physics. In 1965, he became manager of Xerox’s Fundamental Research Laboratory, where he met and worked with Carlson.

Twenty years later, Erik was named manager of Xerox’s Webster Physics Research Laboratory, responsible for recruiting, training and managing the company’s team dedicated to research on amorphous photoconductors such as the amorphous selenium used in xerographic copiers.

“I define success as achievement of one’s personal ambitions and enjoying the satisfaction one experiences as a result,” he says.

Fun facts about Erik:
Hometown: Rattvik, Sweeden
Favorite book: He enjoys each book that he reads or else he stops reading it.
Someone alive or dead he’d like to have dinner with: John Adams, George Washington and Barack Obama
The Marquette faculty member who had an impact on Erik: Professor Douglas
Favorite Marquette memory: His apprentice Seaman Navy life at Brooks Hall
In grade school, Erik wanted to be an engineer or scientist.
Most influential people in Erik’s life: His physics professors, Robert Sproull, Richard Feynman and Professor Hans Bethe