Thursday, October 25, 2012

America's greatest camera company

This is the building where I work, but it now has nothing to do with cameras or photography. In fact I have not found one person who works here that is aware of the buildings history. It was constructed in 1957 for what has been said was the only great United States camera company.

Sure there were a lot of cameras built in the US of A, and some were pretty good, but most were simple snap-shot devices. The cameras built here were iconic and nearly universally used by the press and comercial photographers around the world. From the early 1900's to the mid 1970's they were the cameras that said "I am a serious photographer".

Of course by the time most of us were getting into photography (even us old timers) this brand was on the downward slope and, although effort was made, they were not successful in advancing the technology in a way that retained the market. New offerings from Germany and later Japan left them in the dust.

If you have not guessed by now the company name was Graflex. The Speed Graphic, and its progeny, were THE cameras of their era.

Most people think of Eastman Kodak when they think about photography and Rochester NY, but there were over a dozen camera, film, and optical companies in the city during the early part of the century. Kodak did own Graflex for a few years, but for the most part they were separate entities.

When Graflex moved into this building 50 years ago they surely did not know that their name would be nearly forgotten, yet their building would live on.


  1. What a great story. How ever did you find out the history of your building? If there isn't a plaque, you need to make and post one.

    1. Thanks Denise,

      Here is a link to details of most of the former Rochester camera and lens concerns:

      Rochester Camera and Lens Companies

  2. At least for a Dorothea Lange fan, the name "Graflex" sounds familiar. The sad fate of the company however is not unusual: Rollei, Agfa, just to name two German ones, are history now, only their label names grabbed by some vultures and applied to cheapo Chinese bulk goods.

  3. Interesting as I expected you were talking about Kodak. Thanks for the short lesson. I now know more than when I crawled out of bed.

  4. A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) I worked in the photo studio at Bausch and Lomb and we used 4 Graflex cameras, in addition to others. I used to go to this building where they had an in-house repair facility to get some of the cameras fixed. They may have kept the repair facility even after the company went out of business. I loved using the cameras and the 4x5 format, but eventually the medium format replaced it and then 35mm became more cheaper and more convenient. However, they couldn't match the quality of a good 4x5 negative.
    Interesting, the building is really beautiful, even at today's standards.