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Leon Warnerke

By Krzysztof Slowinski

Leon Warnerke (real name: Wladyslaw Malachowski) - Polish civil engineer, inventor, industrialist, and independence activist.

Born 26 May 1837 in a manor Macie near Grodno (presently territory of Belarus) of Polish-Lithuanian nobility. His nationality in earlier sources was wrongly quoted as Russian or Hungarian, as it was in case of other prominent Poles who lived in these times. Poland was then divided into three parts being occupied by Russia, Prussia (Germany) and Austro-Hungary.

Having completed his civil engineering studies in 1859 he began working at building the Petersburg - Warsaw railroad line. In 1863 he took part in an uprising against occupying rulers (the so-called January Uprising) and, after the fall of the uprising, to avoid being arrested by Russian tsarist police, he left on ship to Great Britain with passport for the name Leon Warnerke, under which he is well recognized.

He settled in London about 1870 and soon started lively scientific activity in the field of photography, fully devoting himself to that discipline. In his private laboratory he experimented with various chemicals, in attempts to improve light-sensitive layers as well as with camera designs to simplify photographing process.

In 1875 he designed a camera with a special roll cassette, enabling to take 100 images on paper "film". The camera used Warner-invented silver bromide collodion stripping paper "film" and its bellows extension moved on a single rail. An orange-colored glass control window in the back allowed visual numbering the frames.

Warnerke founded manufacturing companies in London and Petersburg to produce his paper "film". However, in spite of excellent photographic results, the high production costs made the enterprises commercially unsuccessful. Also, for some time he published a technical journal.

At the end of 1870s he investigated gelatin silver bromide emulsions and discovered the tanning action of pyrogallol in the development of silver bromide plates. This property was later used in the bromoil process.

For improving production of silver bromide collodion emulsion, he received in 1877 in Belgium a prize from Association Belge de Photograpie. Four years later The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain awarded him with a Progress Medal for his works. In these years he used to keep contacts with various photographic organizations throughout Europe, giving numerous lectures before the photographic societies of England, France, Belgium and Germany and propagating most recent achievements and novelties from the field of photography. He was the first to bring to England description of Gabriel Lippman's interference method of color photography (a Nober Prize winner in 1908) and to demonstrate the results, or early effects of Lumiere Brothers' works on color photography material called autochrome. He personally introduced in England the Goerz double anastigmat lens, manufactured by C. P. Goerz in Berlin.

The year 1880 brought sensitometer of his design and make, that was marketed in England where it was approved as a standard and used till the end of 1890s. The device using 25-degree scale proved very useful for both photographers and plate manufacturers to determine sensitivity of photographic materials. For example - 'wet collodion plates' average sensitivity equaled 10 Warnerke degrees.

Another type of camera, with improved features of the cassette, was designed in 1881. The paper "film" length was reduced to allow 40 images and it bore kind of perforation (one hole for each frame). The holes served as checking points to electrically control the number of the frames - advancement. Each frame was signaled with an electric ringer powered by a battery located inside the roll holder.

Having been accused, though not sentenced, of passing counterfeit banknotes in 1898, he retired after this to Geneva where he spent rest of his life in almost complete solitude.

Leon Warnerke died in Geneva (Switzerland) in 7 October 1900.

All Warnerke's devices, instruments, apparatus and designs that were owned and taken care of by his daughter were lost in Nazi heavy bombing of London during WW II.



Reference Sources:
1. History of Photography by Josef Maria Eder, Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1972
2. Slownik polskich pionierow techniki ["Dictionary of Polish Pioneers of Technology"] by Boleslaw Orlowski (editor), Wyd. Slask, Katowice 1986


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