Benjamin French was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire in 1819. At the age of 21, he relocated to Boston where he would remain for the rest of his life. By the 1840s, Mr. French was transforming his interest into photography into a business that manufactured, imported, and sold a huge inventory of photographic materials that represented the latest innovations in cameras, lenses, lanterns, tripods, frames, chemicals prepared by German chemist Ferdinand Beyrich, albumen paper, and dry plates.
In 1844, Mr. French opened a daguerreotype studio, but the high prices of his photographs limited his profits. He, therefore, turned his attentions to supply and demand. That same year, he founded Benjamin French & Company in partnership with L. H. Hale. The original location was at 109 Washington Street, where it remained for 20 years before moving to 319 Washington Street. It quickly earned the reputation of being one of the preeminent suppliers of photographic materials in the United States. The business soon became an international agent of specialty lenses and magic lanterns from Canada, Mexico, South America, and Australia.
Mr. French's company was well-stocked with quality merchandise at affordable prices and was the only distributor of Darlot and Voigtlander & Son products. In 1856, Benjamin French & Company first introduced Jamin and Darlot products to American consumers. Soon known simply as Darlot, these lenses – which French & Company carried in three styles - were enduringly popular choices for hand-camera users because of their efficient and compact design, which earned them the affectionate moniker "little giants". Although several attempts were made by American retailers to sell facsimiles of the Darlot lenses to cash in on their huge demand, Mr. French's company remained their only authorized agent in the United States. One of his most famous Darlot customers was the Edward Anthony Company.
The Voigtlander line was introduced in 1859. Voigtlander cameras and portrait lenses, in particular, were highly sought because of their unparalleled perfection. They were constructed with the finest optical glass and subjected to a rigorous testing process. Voigtlander's Euryscope was one of the most impressive rapid wide-angle lenses ever produced.
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