What is the earliest SF story in which a matter duplicator plays a significant or central role. By a "matter duplicator" I mean a machine or device which can be used to easily and quickly produce an exact (or nearly exact) duplicate of any physical object. There may be an exception for living beings.

This would not include miracles performed by a God or other divine being, and would not include devices that only reproduce a single item or very narrow class of item.

I am particularly interested in stories where the social or economic effects of a duplicator are mentioned, but this is not a requirement for a valid answer.

Comments have mentioned the replicators in Star Trek. I wasn't thinking of those, and they are later by several years than my examples, but I think they would fit the conditions. I don't recall much detail on how they worked, or what limits they had.

Examples that I know of are:

  • Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys (1960) A matter transmitter also functions as a duplicator. No attention to social or economic issues, but lots to ethical and philosophical issues, and to issues of identity, a recurring theme of Budrys's.
  • A for Anything by Damon Knight (1959) Duplicator leads to a collapse of civilization and the rise of a Neo-fuedalism.
  • "Business as Usual, During Alterations" by Ralph Williams (1958) Duplicator seems to lead to only minor social readjustments.
  • "Pandora's Millions" by George O. Smith (1945) One of the later stories in the "Venus Equilateral" series.
  • The Duplicated Man by James Blish and Robert A. W. Lowndes (1953) I am not sure if this involves a true matter duplicator
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    This trope predates science fiction.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 21:37
  • 3
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 21:58
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    @Spencer - Given that the trope predates scifi by about three thousand years, it's not a terribly interesting question as to when it was first used in scifi. It's like asking about the first god in scifi or the first time someone used a sword in scifi
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 22:08
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    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 22:09
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    DavidSiegel Is there any evidence Star Trek replicators have been used to produce Star Trek replicators? I think your question is ill-posed and you are moving the goal post to @Valorum's comments.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 22:14

2 Answers 2


1939: "The 4-Sided Triangle", a novelette by William F. Temple, first published in Amazing Stories, November 1939, available at the Internet Archive. At first the device is used to make replicas of paintings and other art objects; later, after experiments with animals, it's used to copy a woman the two male inventors are both in love with.

1930: "An Extra Man", a short story by Jackson Gee, published in Astounding Stories of Super-Science, October 1930, available at the Internet Archive and at Project Gutenberg. A man sent through an experimental teleportation device is accidentally duplicated when the signal is picked up by two different receiving stations. In principle this is a duplicator which can make unlimited copies of anything or anyone. In the story the device is suppressed by the authorities, not to be used again.


It goes back to folk tales. A few hundred years old, at least.

An example may be found in the tale "Why the sea is salty" There are many variations of this tale. They involve a magic mill that can produce anything when asked. Anything includes food, clothing, a house and livestock. It gets set to producing salt and nobody knows how to turn it off. The ship carrying it sinks, and the mill continues to pour out salt at the bottom of the sea, making the ocean salty.

One version here.

A possible precursor to the tale is The Mill's Song, 13th Century or earlier. That mill was only used to grind out "wealth" though, so it's production capabilities are limited.

  • "What is the earliest SF story. . ."
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 3:02
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    Are you saying magic isn't SF?
    – Pete
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 7:22
  • I'm saying folk tales aren't SF.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 9:02
  • They are if they contain fantastic elements such as magic, unicorns or talking wolves.
    – Pete
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 11:39
  • Science fiction is not defined or characterized by the "elements" it contains. It is a literary genre or movement or marketing category originating early in the 20th century, produced and consumed by a certain community of publishers, writers, and fans. A fiction story published by an SF writer in an SF magazine is ipso facto SF, regardless of whether it contains any monsters or magic rings or impossible inventions.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 12:03

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