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  Aleksander Ginsberg - Polish optical industry pioneer

by Krzysztof Slowiński

Aleksander Ginsberg was born in 1871 in Sosnowiec. Having graduated from secondary school in Piotrkow Trybunalski he studied physics and math in Paris (Ëcole Polytechnique) and then in Berlin - Charlottenburg (Technische Hochschule) where he received an engineering degree.

His interests in optics showed in his early days of education when he independently made a special camera, entirely of his design, for one of his secondary school teachers, to enable photographing items of the teacher's numismatic collection.

The early efforts turned into professional interests and helped him to obtain his apprenticeship in renowned optical manufacturers including the Carl Zeiss factory in Jena and then in E. Krauss's optical workshop in Paris, where he gained remarkable experience and received position as a chief design engineer.

He settled in Warsaw (under Russian occupation at that time) and in 1899 founded an optical workshop there called Fabryka Instrumentow Optycznych FOS, later renamed to FOS Towarzystwo Firmowo-Komandytowe Ginsberg & Ska. The enterprise was realized upon venture capital collected in several preceding years. FOS (sometimes spelled as PHOS) produced quite a wide variety of optical instruments of own designs like field-glasses, binoculars, telescopes, optical sights and rangefinders for artillery, measuring devices for geodesy and others. Later also lenses for various cameras of manufacturers like the company Hüttig & Sohn in Dresden (Germany) for the camera Ideal, for Comptoir Général de Photographie (later [1899] renamed to L.[Léon] Gaumont & Cie) in Paris (France), for Dr. Rudolf Krügener, Photochemisches Laboratorium und Fabrik Photographischer Apparate in Frankfurt-Bockenheim (Germany) for the camera Minimum, and eventually for cameras of Ginsberg original designs. The products gained international recognition and excellent opinion for their high quality, and were sold across Europe. Among the awards received by Ginsberg's company were the following: A merit diploma at Exhibition in Krakow (1900), Golden medals at Pan-Slavic Photographic Exhibition in Wieliczka (1901), Golden medal at Exibition in Warszawa (1901), Golden medals at exhibitions in Petersburg and Witebsk (Russia, 1902). The factory employed 30 workers in 1903, and the employment used to systematically increase to reach the rate of about 150 workers in 1911.

In 1903 Gaumont Comptoir Général de Photographie from Paris ordered several hundred lenses to be mounted in its folding plate camera 6,5 x 9 cm Block Notes, that was then one of best-selling cameras of that type. The camera was sold also in Warsaw, most probably with FOS lenses. Since 1903 camera lenses were the company's main products. A year later FOS started marketing cameras of own design and make. The most popular FOS lens was aplanat having angle of view 70° manufactured in two versions - with focal length 160 mm (for 9 x 12 cm. negatives), and 240 mm for 13 x 18 cm. negatives. However, the company's leading product was planistigmat 1:6,6 based on well-known Goerz's double symmetric anastigmat DAGOR (1:6,8) but with a little greater diaphragm opening.

Cameras manufactured by FOS included folding camera for film 9 x 12 cm. with shutter speeds 1/2 sec. to 1/1000 sec., with optical finder and FOS lenses. The cameras were of rather of typical structure - bodies of wood and leather bellows extensions. Most metal parts were of brass.

In 1904 FOS launched a stereoscopic camera STEROTRES. The camera had three lenses - one viewing lens and two taking ones, shutter blind with changeable slit enabling 36 different exposure settings. The camera used glass plates.

Ginsberg himself was also active in photographic movement as lecturer in Polskie Towarzystwo Milosnikow Fotografii in Warsaw, where he used to give expert's advices on various photographic problems. His articles were published in photographic journals like Wiadomosci Fotograficzne, Fotograf Warszawski, Kalendarz Fotograficzny Warszawski ( He was also a member of the strict 3-person editorial staff of the journal ).

In 1915 all the factory's machinery and production equipment was seized and evacuated to Petersburg by withdrawing Russian army. It should be stressed that the production facilities were unique not only in Polish lands but also in Russia. They never returned but some twenty persons of the qualified staff did when Poland regained independence, and in 1919 they formed an optical factory Fabryka Aparatow Optycznych i Precyzyjnych H. Kolberg i S-ka which expanded to form in 1930 a joint-stock company Polskie Zaklady Optyczne, thus giving birth to the optical industry in Poland.

Aleksander Ginsberg died untimely in 1911 in Warszawa.

1903 Brewiarzyk fotograficzny by Wiktor Wolczynski, Nakladem Ksiegarni H. Altenberga, Lwow.

1982 Spojrzenie w przeszlosc polskiej fotografii (A Look Back to the Past of Polish Photography) by Ignacy Plazewski, Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa

1986 Slownik polskich pionierow techniki (Dictionary of Polish Pioneers of Technology) by Boleslaw Orlowski [editor], Wydawnictwo Slask, Katowice

1974 Historia fotografii warszawskiej (History of the Warsaw Photography) by Waclaw Zdzarski, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa

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2012-10-20 04:19:38

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