Charles Hull invented the first commercial 3D printer in 1986, which used stereolithography. He sold this invention through his own company called 3D Systems, which still exists today. The reason many people are not aware of this technology is because it is used mostly by large companies and not individuals. Not until 2010 did this technology become widely known and popular due in part to U.S. government funding and commercial startups.
I am getting my first 3d objects that I designed in Blender 3d printed by Shapeways. I am very excited and hope it works, but it will be atleast another week. So I will tell you how it went then.