I must at this point acknowledge the great assistance I have received from Don Lyon in sorting out the various companies and personalities and changes of ownership, and particularly for giving me access to his voluminous records and files. He really should be giving this talk instead of me. I have gained most of my information from the city directories, and also some from the catalog files at the George Eastman House. Although I have found out a lot about the numerous optical and camera companies of Rochester, my records are far from complete, and shall no doubt continue to find out interesting facts for many years to come. If anyone detects an error in my story, I hope they will point it out so that I can get everything correct as far as it goes.
I am very conscious that I should have started this research before the center of Rochester was torn to shreds to make room for the inner loop and the Urban Renewal project. Some streets have completely disappeared, many have changed their names, old buildings have been torn down to make room for parking lots, and it is often hopeless to find out where a company actually was located. This prod em has been rendered even more difficult by the renumbering of streets that occurred in 1899 and 1911.
I have deliberately omitted companies devoted primarily to the manufacture of film, printing paper, plate holders, and the like, and more especially to optical companies making only spectacles, which has been a very active business in Rochester over the years. Thus I have omitted reference to companies such as Haloid, Defender, and even Xerox! The two large companies, Bausch and Lomb and Kodak have kept remarkably clear of each other's activities, and it is possible for tine historian to consider them separately, as I have done. The various camera companies were mainly related in some way to Kodak, while the lens and shutter companies were mostly connected with Bausch and Lomb. There have been exceptions, of course, as we shall see. There have also been several companies that have had no connection with either of these giants.
Bausch and Lomb.
The photo-optical industry in Rochester was born in 1880. In that year
Bausch and Lomb began to make photographic lenses; the Rochester
Optical Company began to make cameras; and George Eastman began to
make plates. However, my story actually begins back in 1853 when
J. J. Bausch founded his tiny spectacle business and sat around vainly
waiting for customers.
John Jacob Bausch was born in Gross Suessen, Germany, of a poor family, and was apprenticed to a spectacle maker. At the age of 20, in 1850, he decided to emigrate to America, and after a harrowing 49-day journey in a sailing vessel, landed in New York. He proceeded to Buffalo, where there was a cholera epidemic, and after trying unsuccessfully to find work, he moved to Rochester, where again he had the greatest difficulty in finding any sort of employment. He finally, at age 23, decided to set up an optician's shop in the Reynolds Arcade under the name of "J. J. Bausch, Optician". At that time scarcely anybody in this country used eyeglasses, and many people had never even seen a pair, so his sales were almost nil. In 1856, as his trade card shows, his shop was called the "J. J. Bausch Optical Institute."
In his endless struggle to find work, and even to survive, Bausch was greatly helped by a Mr. Henry Lomb, a cabinet maker, whom he probably met at the Turn Verein club. Lomb was born in 1828 and had also emigrated from Germany in 1849. He was a bachelor, and in 1853 decided to join Bausch, where he proceeded to learn the optician's trade, and lodged with the Bausch family, turning over his earnings to them. At the outbreak Of the Civil War, Lomb immediately enlisted, and finally rose to the rank of captain. He returned to Rochester in 1863, and in the following year the firm became "Bausch and Lomb, Optician." By then business had improved to the point where they could open a factory at the corner of Andrews and Water Streets. Henry Lomb married in 1865, and in the following year moved to New York to act as the firm's sales agent there. He died in 190S, and because of his many civic activities and particularly his great interest in the Rochester Institute of Technology, a handsome memorial shaft was erected in his memory in 1932 in Rochester. Incidentally, the name of the company was changed to the "Vulcanite Optical Instrument Company" from 1866 to 1876, as this material was being extensively used to make spectacle frames. The name was changed back to the "Bausch and Lomb Optieal Company" in 1876. After World War II it became "Bausch and Lomb Inc."
After the Civil War, interest in spectacles rose rapidly, and the company constructed an enlarged factory in 1868 at River and Water Streets, followed six years later by an even larger building at the present location in St. Paul Street, the date 1874 being carved over the door. During the first World War they added a large building in front of the old one. We are now told that the company plans to abandon the entire establishment and move into the old Bond Clothing building on North Goodman Street.
Returning to 1875; at the urging of Bausch's eldest son Sdward, the firm decided to branch out into optical instruments, beginning with the microscope for which there was a growing demand. To get started, they hired a temperamental character named Ernst Gundlach, who had previously made microscopes in Berlin and was then living in Hackensack, New Jersey. Gundlach was employed by Bausch and Lomb from 1876 to 1878, but they quarelled frequently and finally separated. The microscope work, however, proceeded successfully under Edward Bausch's direction, and by 1903 they had sold about 44,000 instruments.
Bausch and Lomb added photographic lenses to their line in 1883, and began the manufacture of shutters in 1888. In 1892 they became the only company in America licensed to make Zeiss Anastigmats and other lenses. They also made Compound and Compur shutters by agreement with Deckel. These arrangements were finally terminated in World War I.
Some 1903 statistics are impressive. At that time Bausch and Lomb was making some 20 million spectacle lenses a year, and had manufactured 500,000 photographic lenses and 550,000 shutters. As you know, the company is still in existence with branches in several other cities and abroad, making a wide range of optical and electronic products of the highest quality.
I have mentioned that difficult individual, Ernst Gundlach, who left
Bausch and Lomb somewhat unwillingly in 1878. His address at that time
was 171 St. Paul Street while Bausch and Lomb were at No. 179, so he
lived practically next door to the plant. In 1879 Gundlach was joined
by a Lewis R. Sexton, and together they set up and operated an optical
goods establishment in their home, while Sexton doubled as a teacher
in No. 7 school, later becoming principal of School 17 and then of
School 9. Being certain that the optical business was in good hands,
Gundlach moved to Hartford, Conn., in 1880, where he lived for the
next four years, giving his occupation as "Optician." The following
year Sexton moved the optical establishment to 29 Stone Street, where
he was joined by two other opticians, J. C. Reich and J. Zellweger. In
the 1883 Rochester directory he was listed as "Dealer in Ernst
Gundlach's Microscopes and Objectives."
Lewis R. Sexton died in August 1884 after having dropped out of optics, and Gundlach immediately returned to Rochester. He re-organized the business at 29 Stone Street as the "Gundlach Optical Company", with himself, Reich, Zellweger, and H. H. Turner, a machinist, as officers. They claimed in their advertising to be "Sole Manufacturers of E. Gundlach's Microscopes and Objectives." During the next eight years the company occupied several different locations, finally ending up in 1892 at 761 South Clinton Avenue where they stayed until well into the 1930's. In 1889 Gundlach was joined by his son Karl, who lived with him for many years.
Early in 1895, for some reason, Ernst Gundlach left the firm and established a rival company called the "Gundlach Photo-optical Company" at 5 South Water Street, as that building was then being vacated by the Rochester Optical Company. In an advertisement published in the American Journal of Photography, Vol. XV, for August 1895, he stated that "Ernst Gundlach has severed all connections with the old 'Gundlach Optical Company', and we are now the sole owners of his patent of Dee 9, 1890, under which his celebrated 'Rapid Rectigraphic', 'Perigraphic', and other lenses were so long made." Thus from 1895 there were two Gundlach companies existing independently in Rochester.
Late in 1895, the name of the second company was changed to "Ernst Gundlach, Lens Manufacturers" and in 1896 it was changed again to "Ernst Gundlach, Son, and Co." then at 202 Court Street, the officers being B. W. Fenn, Z. P. Taylor, G. B. Gilbert, and A. S. Gilbert. However, the business cannot have been very successful, for two years later the Gundlachs left the city and moved to Chicago. After they left, the plant was re-named "The Rochester Lens Company," and operated by Fenn and Gilbert. It was finally acquired by Wollensak in 1905.
To return to the original Gundlach Optical Company: In 1895 H. H. Turner was manager, J. Zellweger and J. C. Reich were opticians, and in 1896 they acquired the Milburn Korona Company, which had been founded two years before by Gustave G. Milburn, and so added Korona cameras to their previous line of lenses. In 1896 they began also to advertise shutters, and added the Turner-Reich Anastigmat (U.S. Pat. 539,370) to their lens list. In 1898 Turner was president and manager, Zellweger was vice-president, and Reich secretary and treasurer. In August 1902 the company acquired the Manhattan Optical Company Of Cresskill, New Jersey, and changed the name of the company to the "Gundlach-Manhattan Optical Company." Their building at 761 South Clinton Avenue at various times acted as the home of other companies, including the Rochester Panoramic Camera Company (1905), the Seneca Camera Company (1903-1910), and the Ilex Optical Company (1912-1916).
Around 1926 the name was changed to the Gundlach Manufacturing Company, and in 1928 it was taken over by John E. Seebold, president, and Walter H. Ashby as vice-president, under the strange name of the "Seebold Invisible Camera Company." Seebold left the following year and Ashby became president. They suffered badly in the depression and finally moved to Fairport in October 1935, their old building on Clinton Avenue becoming the Kane Furniture Store. Early in 1954 their remaining assets were acquired by Albert Drucker, of Burke and James in Chicago, and finally re-organized as "Dynamic Optics Inc." with David Goldstein as president. The firm ceased operations in 1972. In 1946 Mr. Turner's son, Donald, founded the Turner Bellows Company which is still in existence at 165 North Water Street, making thousands of bellows a day for Polaroid.
The second company to branch off from Bausch and Lomb was
Wollensak. Andrew Wollensak was first employed as a machinist by
Bausch and Lomb in 1882, and became a foreman the following year. He
helped Edward Bausch with the design of the Iris Diaphragm shutter in
1890, and probably worked on other shutters as well. In 1899 he and
his brother John decided to establish a new company for the purpose of
manufacturing a line of high-quality shutters which could be sold at a
reasonable price. The brothers managed to obtain financial help from
Stephen Rauber, former president of the Union Brewing Company in North
Clinton Avenue, and the new company, Rauber and Wollensak, was
established in a building at 280 Central Avenue. Mr. Rauber died in
1901, and the name of the firm was then changed to the Wollensak
Optical Company. The following year Wollensak commenced the production
of lenses as well as shutters. The famous 'Optimo' shutter was
designed by Andrew Wollensak in 1909, and was sold extensively until
1930. The company purchased the Rochester Lens Company in 1905,
thereby obtaining the right to manufacture the 'Royal' anastigmat line
developed by that company.
Andrew Wollensak senior, president of the company since its foundation, died in January 1936, his brother John having died three years earlier. John left five children, of whom Andrew A. and Frank J. remained active in the business for many years, and I knew them both. In 1913 the company moved to 1415 Clinton Avenue North at Norton Street, and in 1924 to 872 Hudson Avenue. In 1938 a larger and more desirable building a few yards to the south, at 850 Hudson Avenue, fell vacant (it had been a clothing factory), and Wollensak moved into it. Unfortunately, during the past 15 years, after several changes of ownership, including Revere and 3M, the company gradually went downhill and in 1972 finally closed its doors.
Wollensak was one of Rochester's finest companies, and at their height in 1958 they had over 1200 employees. Their lenses, shutters, and other products were considered to be excellent, and during the war they made a wide variety of optical equipment for the armed forces. It is too bad that they could not manage to survive.
The next offshoot from Bausch and Lomb was Ilex. In 1910 two Bausch
and Lomb shutter designers named Rudolph Klein and Theodor Brueck (the
latter had designed the "Volute" shutter in 1902) invented the
revolutionary and extremely important shutter delay mechanism
involving a rotating gear and a rocking pallet
(U.S. Pat. 1,092,110). This device for the first time enabled a
shutter to be made which would be accurate independently of
temperature and other atmospheric conditions.
Klein and Brueck decided to leave Bausch and Lomb and set up their own business, which was called the "XL Manufacturing Company", to manufacture the new shutter. They were aided financially by a wholesale jeweller named Morris Rosenbloom, and they set up their first factory on his premises at 156 Main Street East. However, they soon discovered that C. P. Goerz was also making a line of so_called "X excel L" shutters, so to avoid confusion they twisted the letters around and renamed their shutter the "Ilex," and in 1911 the firm was called the Ilex Manufacturing Company. Very soon after, Friedrich Deckel of Munich sought permission to use their delay mechanism on a royalty basis in the famous line of "Compur" shutters, which proved to be a considerable financial help to Ilex.
From 1912 to 1916 the company, now called the Ilex Optical Company, occupied space in the Gundlach building at 761 South Clinton Avenue; in 1917 they moved to 724 Portland Avenue, and eventually in 1930 to 690 Portland, where they are today. In 1921 they tried the experiment of setting up a separate lens factory at 814 St. Paul Street called the "Acme Optical Company," but it lasted only a couple of years.
One of the major contributions of the Ilex company was the invention of a self-contained internal flash synchronization mechanism during World War II. This was designed by Alfred Schwartz, and the idea has, of course, been incorporated in all shutters by all manufacturers since that time.
Ilex has suffered many ups and downs in prosperity over the years. The first president, Morris Rosenbloom, died in 1935 and was succeeded by his son Rufus as president and E. C. Roland as vice-president. Roland died in 1942, and after the war the company's fortunes sank to a low ebb. Finally, in 1963, their remaining assets were acquired by two young Elgeet employees, Eugene Miller and Manuel Kiner, and today the company is thriving with over 200 employees, and having to increase its factory space to keep up with the demand for its products.
Talking of Ilex reminds me of Elgeet. The Elgeet Optical Company was
founded by three young men who had been boyhood friends: Mortimer
A. London, then a lens inspector at Kodak, with David L. Goldstein and
Peter Terbuska of Ilex. (The firm's name is an acronym of L, G. and
T). In 1946 they began by leasing some machine tools to make
lens-polishing machinery, and with this they set up shop in an
Atlartic Avenue loft, where they did all their own lens manufacture,
packaging, and selling.
By 1952 the firm had grown sufficiently to enable them to purchase a former clothing plant at 838 Smith Street. At that time Goldstein was president, Terbuska was secretary, and London treasurer. The company prospered and with nearly 300 employees they manufactured thousands of lenses for small movie cameras and many other applications.
London left in 1960, and in 1962 the firm acquired ownership of the ancient establishment of Steinheil in Munich, but they soon sold this, I believe to Lear Siegler. In 1964 there were difficulties at stock-holder's meetings, and the firm was reorganized with Alfred Watson as president. Two years later the assets of the company were acquired by MATI (Management and Technology Inc), who acquired Turner Bellows at the same time. MATI survived only until 1969, when they disappeared. Goldstein purchased the remaining assets of the former Gundlach Manufacturing Company in Fairport and reorganized it under the name "Dynamic Optics Incorporated," but this also ceased operations in 1972.
The Rochester Optical Company.
So much for Bausch and Lomb and their daughter companies. We will now
turn our attention to the camera business initiated by William
H. Walker, who came to Rochester in 1880 and set up as "Wm. H. Walker
and Company", at 79 Exchange Street. (He must not be confused with
James T. Walker Of Palmyra, who made the Takiv camera ten years
later). In 1882 Walker joined with W. H. Reid and J. Inglis to make
dry plates, a business continued by Inglis for several years. In 1883
Walker gave up making cameras, and the "Rochester Optical Company" was
established by W. F. Carlton to take over his assets. Meanwhile, in
January 1884 Walker joined Eastman to make the Eastman-Walker Roll
Holder, and the following year he became secretary to the Eastman Dry
Plate and Film Company. Shortly after this he was sent to England as
Eastman's representative in that country.
The new Rochester Optical Company was located at 9 and then 11 Aqueduct Street, near the four corners in Rochester, and at first they continued to make some of Walker's cameras. They soon added new models of their own, their most successful innovation being the "Premo" line, introduced in 1893 and continued for almost 30 years. In 1890 the plant was moved to 5 South Water Street, and early in 1895 to its final home at 45 South Street, the building being still in existence.
In 1891, H. B. Carlton, brother of W. F., decided to set up a rival company in the old building at 13 Aqueduct Street, which he called the "Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company," making Poco cameras. This became the Rochester Camera Company in 1895, at that time located at 29 Elizabeth Street, and finally in 1897 the Rochester Camera and Supply Company.
In 1899 five camera companies decided to join forces to form the "Rochester Optical and Camera Company." They were: the Rochester Optical Company, the Rochester Camera and Supply Company, the Ray Camera Company, the Monroe Camera Company, and the Western Camera Manufacturing Company of Chicago. The new combined company occupied the R.O.C. building at 45 South Street. In spite of this union, their products retained their old names of Poco, Premo, Ray, and Cyclone, The officers of the new company were W. F. Carlton, manager, with H. B. Carlton, B. E. Chase, and F. P. Allen. Unfortunately the new combined company was not a success and lost as much as $100,000 a year, so in 1903 their entire assets were acquired by George Eastman for $330,000, and their name was changed back to the Rochester Optical Company. In 1907 it became the Rochester Optical Division of the Eastman Kodak Company, and in 1918 the Rochester Optical Department. The factory at 45 South Street became Kodak's Premo Works from 1912 to 1921, after which the name was finally abandoned and the building sold.
The Ray Camera Company
In describing the formation of the Rochester Optical and Camera
Company, I mentioned two small companies that were included, namely,
the Ray and the Monroe. The Ray company was founded by two men named
Mutschler and Robertson. In 1893 Albert Mutschler was a toolmaker and
John A. Robertson a foreman at the Photo Materials Company on St. Paul
Street. The following year they decided to organize a machinist and
model-making establishment at 177 West Main, and in 1895 they
commenced the manufacture of "Ray" cameras at that address. This was
apparently successful, and in 1898 they moved to 204 Commercial Street
and renamed the company the "Ray Camera Company." With the
amalgamation of the five companies in 1899, the two partners became
superintendents, but Mutschler left in 1903 to become once more a
machinist. Robertson stayed on with the new Rochester Optical Company
and in 1904 was elected vice-president in charge of manufacturing
The Monroe Camera Company.
The Monroe Camera Company, named after Monroe County, was incorporated
in 1897 with a capital of $25,000, the president being Fred
A. Sherwood, the vice-president Albert Beir, and the
secretary_treasurer Charles V. Case. Sherwood was a leather dealer at
108 Mill Street; Beir had been a camera manufacturer at 21 North Water
Street for about a year previously; and Charles Case was a
bookkeeper. His son Charles Z. Case became an Eastman employee and was
responsible for the "Bantam" film development in the 1930's. The
Monroe Camera Company occupied a building at 48 Stone Street, but it
lasted only three years before being absorbed in the Rochester Optical
and Camera amalgamation.
Eastman Kodak Company.
The third part of my story is that dealing with George Eastman and the
Kodak Company. This story has been so well documented that it is
probably known to you all, but nevertheless it may be worth
summarizing the principal facts briefly In 1878 George Eastman was a
young 24-year-old assistant bookkeeper at the Rochester Savings Bank
at Main and Fitzhugh Streets. He lived with his widowed mother at 49
Jones Avenue. Having been urged by a friend to take up photography, he
purchased a wet-plate outfit and took lessons from a photographer
named George H. Monroe living in Main Street. However, gelatine dry
plates were just coming into use at that time in England, and Eastman
determined to use them even though it meant that he had to make his
own. In 1879 he took a trip to London, where he obtained some further
recipes and incidentally patented a plate-coating machine of his own
invention. His plates were so satisfactory that in 1880 he rented a
loft on the third floor of a building at 101 State Street, where he
began to make dry plates for sale. His principal outlet was E. and
H. T. Anthony in New York, who agreed to take all the plates he could
make. During this time he continued his employment at the bank, doing
all his photographic work in the evenings. Incidentally, Eastman's
former teacher George H. Monroe, in an 1880 advertisement, claimed
that he used dry plates in all his photographic work. In 1882 Monroe
also started to make dry plates for sale, at 282 State Street, and
continued this business until he left the city in 1888 and moved to
Jamestown. The building was then occupied by Frank Brownell until
To return to George Eastman, he soon found that he needed money for expansion, so on January 1, 1881, he formed a partnership with Henry A. Strong, a buggy-whip manufacturer and a family friend. This was known as the Eastman Dry Plate Company, with Strong as president and Eastman treasurer. They soon had six employees, and were so actively engaged in the plate-making business that Eastman at last decided to leave the bank and devote all his time to photography. The plant was moved to its present location at 343 State Street in 1883. The toll building on that site was erected in 1914, and the top three floors added in 1930.
In 1884 Eastman began making a flexible film on a translucent oiled paper base for use in the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, and the company was incorporated as the "Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company", with a capitalization of $200,000. There were 14 shareholders. In the following year, a stripping film on a paper base was introduced. After processing, this was soaked off and transferred to a temporary glass support, and a sheet of clear gelatine was then soaked and squeegeed against the delicate negative, and after drying it was peeled off the glass for printing. Finally, in 1889, a transparent film on a cellulose nitrate base was produced and patented by Eastman and his chemist Henry H. Reichenbach. This completely supplanted the earlier stripping film, and was adopted by Edison for his early motion-picture experiments. I have not time to go into the fantastic Goodwin patent suit on the invention of transparent film, which is fully described in Taft's book "Photography and the American Scene." The suit ran for 27 years in the courts and in the Patent Office, and it was finally settled in favor of Goodwin. In 1889 a new corporation was organized, capitalized at one million dollars, called simply "The Eastman Company."
Of major interest to this group, the first "Kodak" camera was announced in June 1888. The wooden body was made here by a Rochester cabinet maker named Frank Brownell, and the metal parts by Yawman and Erbe. The lens was probably made by Bausch and Lomb. Based on the success of this camera, the name of the company was changed once more, in 1892, to "The Eastman Kodak Company" of New York, with a capital of 5 million dollars; and in 1901 it was reorganized for the last time as "The Eastman Kodak Company of New Jersey," with a capital of 25,000,000 dollars. Eastman set up the Camera Works under Brownell's direction at 333 State Street in 1892. It was moved out to Elmgrove Road in 1968.
Eastman's success over his many competitors was mainly due to massive advertising and an excellent sales organization with world-wide affiliations, to which must be added his uncanny knack of hiring the right people, and anticipating what would best please the public.
Eastman acquired a few other camera companies, including in 1898 the Blair Camera Company of Boston, the American Camera Manufacturing Company of Northboro, Massachusetts, and the Photo Materials Company of Rochester. He moved all three companies, with some other smaller outfits, into the PMC building in St. Paul Street, near Driving Park Bridge. In 1911 the building was named "Hawk-Eye Works" after a line of cameras made there by Blair. The Kodak lens department was moved there from Camera Works in 1913 which has since filled the whole building plus several additions. The building is still in use at 1447 St. Paul Street; it was vastly expanded during World War II.
In 1903 Eastman purchased the Rochester Optical and Camera Company, renaming it the "Rochester Optical Company", where Premo cameras continued to be made until 1922 when that name was abandoned. In 1905 he acquired Folmer and Schwing, as we shall see. Eastman died in 1932 at the age of 78. Soon after we came to Rochester, in 1929, we were fortunate enough to be invited to one of Mr. Eastman's Sunday afternoon musicales, probably because of our connection with the new Institute of Applied Optics at the University. He appeared only briefly at the end of the evening. I saw him again shortly before his death while he was on a visit to the University.
The Photo Materials Company.
Of the various companies taken over by Eastman I should like to
discuss three, namely, the Photo Materials Company (PMC); Folmer and
Schwing; and the Century Camera Company. The Photo Materials Company
was incorporated in 1892 by Henry M. Reichenbach, a chemist who had
been working with Eastman for several years on the development of
cellulose nitrate film; Gustave D. Milburn, a camera maker; and
S. Carl Passavant, another chemist.
Milburn had opened his camera factory at 11 Aqueduct Street when the Rochester Optical Company moved out, and in 1891 the rival Rochester Camera Company also found space in the same building. Milburn gave up his business in 1892 to help found PMC, and he served as salesman there for a couple of years. However, in 1894 when PMC gave up making their Trokon and Trokonet cameras, Milburn left and started his second camera company at the foot of Platt Street. Here he developed the line Of "Korona" cameras, and in 1895 changed the name of his firm to the Milburn Korona Company. This company was acquired by Gundlach in 1896 and Milburn either died or left the city.
Photo Materials Company manufactured a variety of sensitized photographic materials including "PMC Bromide Paper" and "Azo" paper, both of which were retained by Eastman after he acquired PMC in 1898. The company was finally merged with Eastman in 1902.
Reichanbach, Morey and Will.
Although Henry Reichenbach was a chemist, he evidently had a great
interest in cameras, for in 1896 he left PMC and joined with John
E. Morey, of the Rochester Cut Sole company, and Albert Will,
manufacturer of stoves and ranges, to found a company to make "Alta"
cameras; this was located in a building at 323 University
Avenue. Reichenbach was president, Morey treasurer, and Will secretary
of the new enterprise. I must explain that at that time University
Avenue went along what is now Atlantic Avenue, the eastern end of the
present University Avenue being a cul-de-sac with trees down the
middle, called Culver Park. In 1897 Culver Park was cut through to
join Culver Road, and the whole street was then called University
Avenue, as it is today. The old road was renamed Atlantic Avenue but
it was not renumbered, so that 323 University Avenue became 323
Atlantic Avenue. Two years later, in 1899, much of the city was
renumbered, and Atlantic Avenue was numbered from the junction, so the
Reichenbach Morey and Will building became 59 Atlantic. It was all one
building with numbers 61 and 65, and indeed the three numbers seem to
have been used somewhat interchangeably.
Vogt Optical Company.
In 1891 a man named Louis J. Vogt, who had operated the Vogt and
Klippert machine shop and model-making establishment at 151 State
Street, left to become an optician at Bausch and Lomb. He later joined
Reichenbach Morey and Will as a foreman. Apparently there was
dissension within the company, because in 1899 he and Mr. Morey
decided to start a separate company called the Vogt Optical Company at
146 North Water Street. The following year (1900), Reichenbach Morey
and Will was disbanded and the Vogt Company moved into their building,
along with the Rochester Lens Company and the Century Camera
Company. The Vogt Company survived only one more year, but the
Rochester Lens Company lasted until 1905 when it was acquired by
Wollensak, and Century in 1903 moved to 12 Caledonia Avenue (now 154
Clarissa Street). The building at 65 Atlantic Avenue was apparently
occupied by other firms until 1909 when the Crown Optical Company
moved in and occupied it until 1912. The building is still standing
but terribly run down.
The Century Camera Company was founded in 1900 by three former
employees of the Rochester Optical Company, namely, J. M. Walmsley,
president, G. E. Mosher, and G. J. MacLaughlin. They first occupied
space at 65 Atlantic Avenue along with Vogt and the Rochester Lens
Company. In 1903 their stock was acquired by George Eastman and the
company was moved to 12 Caledonia Avenue. In 1905 the Century Company
took over the Rochester Panoramic Camera Company, maker of the Cirkut
camera, which had been patented in 1904 by Johnston, Reavill, and
Brehm. In 1907 they became the Century Division of Eastman
Kodak. They were merged into Folmer Graflex, but the name "Century"
continued to exist until 1920.
In 1887 William F. Folmer and William E. Schwing entered into
partnership to establish a bicycle company in New York City. The
company was incorporated in April 1890 as the "Folmer and Schwing
Manufacturing Company." Because of the general association of bicycles
and cameras at that time, the company gradually added cameras to their
line, probably made first by Scovill and Adams. Their 1896 catalog
shows a "4 x 5 Cycle Graphic camera" on the back page; this sold for
$25 with a Victor shutter and Rapid Rectilinear lens. They also listed
regular "Graphic" cameras in three sizes up to 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches,
Mr. Folmer was an inventor, and in 1898 he built the first Graflex camera. This had a complicated focal-plane shutter with a variable aperture, but it gave so much trouble that in 1904 he changed it to a simple cloth curtain with a series of apertures of different widths, leaving the user to select the one required for any given exposure. This arrangement proved to be highly reliable, and it was manufactured for over 60 years.
In April 1905 the Folder and Schwing Manufacturing Company was purchased by George Eastman and brought to Rochester, where it was installed in the building at 12-14 Caledonia Avenue. This building had been previously occupied by the Rochester Camera Company, in 1898, and by the Century Camera Company since 1903. In 1907 the company became the Folmer and Schwing Division of Eastman Kodak Company, and in 1917 the Folmer-Century Division. Mr. W. F. Folmer continued as general manager until 1926.
In 1926, as a result of a court order, the Folmer-Century Division of Eastman Kodak Company was offered for sale, but no buyers appeared. So finally the Folmer Graflex Corporation was organized to take over the assets of the Division. Mr. Nelson Whitaker became president and general manager in 1928, and his son Gaylord C. Whitaker succeeded him in 1949. The company became known as "Graflex Inc." in 1945.
Business was bad during the depression of the 1930's, and the payroll dropped to less than 100 employees. However, things gradually improved and we learn that by 1957 there were 760 employees. The best-known product of the company was for a long time the "Speed Graphic", a solid reliable camera that was the work-horse of the press photographer; indeed, it almost became his badge of office. Numerous other models have, of course, been made over the years.
In August 1956 Graflex became a division of General Precision Equipment Corporation, and in July 1957 the plant was moved out to 3750 Monroe Avenue, near Pittsford. The company became the Graflex Division of the Singer Corporation in 1966, and it is now known as "Singer Education Systems", engaged in making audio-visual equipment.
Sunart and Seneca.
Besides the three main divisions of photo history that have been
discussed, there have been a number of other companies, not all small,
that have had no connection with the larger companies. Chief among
these is the Sunart Photo Company that became Seneca.
The Sunart Photo Company was founded in 1893 at 1 Aqueduct Street, and it continued in that location until 1899. They made a novel magazine camera, but it was not particularly successful, and in 1899 its assets were acquired by a vigorous group of men who were establishing the Seneca Camera Company at 248 Mill Street. The new company was incorporated in 1900 with a capital of $25,000. The first officers were Frank T. Day, a superintendent at Kodak Camera Works, president; William C. Whitlock, vice-president; and Lorin E. Mason, a hardware merchant at 348 State Street, secretary and treasurer. The new company quickly became established as one of the most successful camera manufacturers in the country.
In 1900 Seneca moved to 160 Court Street, and in 1903 to the Gundlach building at 761 South Clinton. In 1910 they moved again to the Woodworth building at 299 State Street, and in 1917 to Central Avenue where they occupied several locations. In 1924 the company was sold to Conley, then a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sears Roebuck, and Seneca disappeared from the city in 1926.
In late 1901 or early 1902, Seneca absorbed the Bullard Camera Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, when Edgar R. Bullard, the founder, returned to his original home at Wheeling, West Virginia. The 1902 Seneca catalog carries these words: "Successor to Sunart Photo Co. and Bullard Camera Co."
As a personal note, my father in London used a 4 x 5 Bullard magazine camera for many years. It was equipped with a Koilos shutter and a Voigtlaender Collinear lens, which must have been added later as that particular shutter was first made about 1906. My own first camera was a 4 x 5 folding Seneca with a Wollensak "Uno" shutter. I acquired it in exchange for a set of box tops of the cereal called "Force" about 1912, and I used it regularly until one day I could not resist taking the shutter to pieces, and in the process a wire spring flew out and I never found it again. The shutter was useless without it, and so also was the camera. I still have a number of glass negatives made with that early Seneea.
The Crown Optical Company.
This company was founded in 1906 by A. H. Hatmaker, president, and
A. E. May secretary-treasurer, to manufacture lenses. They first
occupied a building at 484 Clinton Avenue South, and moved to 65
Atlantic Avenue in 1909, to 299 State Street in 1912, and finally to
203 State Street in 1917. They disappeared in 1919 at the close of
World War I.
One of the few Rochester companies that has apparently existed by
itself and free from any alliances or encumbrances is the Projection
Optics Company. It was founded in 1918 by William H. Repp, at 203
State Street, and in 1930 it was moved to its present address at 330
Lyell Avenue. Its principal product is a line of projection lenses for
professional motion-picture projectors. The company was acquired in
the 1960's by Beseler of New York, but it remains a largely autonymous
organization to this day, after being in existence for 56 years.
Gassner and Marx.
Probably the least known of the Rochester camera companies was Gassner
and Marx. The founders were Benjamin Marx, president; James
Rothschild, vice-president; and Henry Gassner,
secretary-treasurer. The company occupied rooms in the Cox building at
36 St. Paul Street in 1898, and it was incorporated in that year.
They manufactured the "Day Plate Camera", a box camera containing a
special magazine in which a folded strip of black paper carried a
series of separated 3 1/4 x 4 1/4-inch glass plates (Pat. Sept. 6,
1898), permitting daylight loading. The arrangement was described in
Scientific American for October 8, 1898. The company and all its
officers left the city during the following year (1899).
The Movette was an unusual negative-positive motion picture system
using a special 17 1/2 millimeter film, with two perforations to a
frame on each side. The frame size was 11 x 14 mm, and a special
Kodak film was supplied in cassettes holding 50 feet which ran for two
minutes. The hand-cranked camera retailed for $30 and the projector
for $55, a packet of film costing $1.50 with another $1.50 for a
positive print. The inventor of the system was a Mr. Frank L. Hough of
The Movette Camera Company was organized in Rochester in 1916, and was first located at 1155 University Avenue. In November 1917 it was incorporated as Movette Inc., with a capital stock of $1,250,000, and the plant was moved to 545 West Avenue. In 1920 they moved again to 295 State Street, the building later occupied by the Photostat Corporation. The chairman was then Homer Strong, the secretary W. F. Strang, and the president was Howard Strong, secretary to the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. In 1921 Howard Strong moved to New York, and Homer Strong took over the presidency. In 1922 the company moved to 101 North Water Street, and by 1927 it had disappeared.
In spite of everything, the Movette had little appeal to the public. Possibly the need for a separate positive print may have been one reason. Certainly the Kodak 16mm reversal system announced in June 1923 proved to be infinitely more successful and quickly replaced all other systems.
Photostat and Rectigraph.
These early types of document copying cameras using sensitized paper
in a large camera, with a prism in front of the lens to reverse the
image, must be included in my story although they have now practically
The Rectigraph company was founded in Rochester in 1909, and after occupying a few places was moved to its final location at 282 Hollenbeck Street in 1921. In 1937 it became the Rectigraph Division of Haloid; in 1958 of Haloid-Xerox; and in 1961 the company was merged into the Xerox Corporation. Obviously, with electrostatic copying working so well the old type of photocopier using wet processing quickly became obsolete.
The Photostat Corporation was incorporated in Rhode Island in 1911, and the company set up an office and factory at 299 State Street, Rochester, in 1921. In 1956 they moved out of town, to 1001 Jefferson Road in Henrietta, and in 1963 it was absorbed by Itek and is now known as "Itek Business Products." Undoubtedly the old familiar type of Photostat machine has disappeared forever.
Present-day optics companies in Rochester.
Besides Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Ilex, and Projection Optics, there are
Tropel of Fairport, making very high-quality lenses (now owned by
Coherent Optics of California); Anson Instrument Company and Anstron
Optical Company in the former Wollensak building on Hudson Avenue;
Planar Optics making prisms of all types; Stefan Sydor Optics; Dorn
Optics in Webster; Fresnel Optics on Mount Read Boulevard making
high_precision moulds for Fresnel Lenses; JML Optical Industries (was
Precision Optics); and several smaller companies. The optical center
of America is no longer in Rochester, but spread between Boston and
Source: Kingslake, Rudolf. The Rochester Camera and Lens Companies, Rochester, NY: Photographic Historical Society, 1974.
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