Camera and roll film designer, William Hall Walker was born in Scio, Michigan on July 26th, 1846. At an early age Walker demonstrated a decided interest in engineering science while attending is preliminary education at several boarding schools. During his early years he began his career as an apprentice in Colt's armory in Hartford, Connecticut, then moved on to work at Pratt and Whitney as a machinist, and then at the Morgan Iron Works. He attended night school at the Cooper Union where he completed course work in Mathematics and mechanical drawing. He became interested in the history of gas engines and was struck with a contradictory concept at which time he tried to obtain financial assistance for some experiments, but when he was denied, he focused his full energies on photography.
In 1880 as a result of his studies William H. Walker began selling photographic supplies in Rochester, New York during the beginnings of the Amateur photography boom. Shortly thereafter, after more studies and experiments, Walker began manufacturing his own line of dry-plates and his own camera, called the Walker's Pocket Camera. The camera was unique in that it contained interchangeable parts. However, competing with the likes of M.A Seed and George Eastman, walker found it difficult to excel due to a lack of business sense. However, within a year of conducting more experiments with his Pocket camera and with his belief that a substitute can be found for glass, he produced a film and was successful in producing negatives and prints.
In 1883, Walker sold his business to W.F. Carlton and it became the Rochester Optical Co. or ROC for short. ROC rose to be a dominant business for the photographic explosion in the 1880's and 1890's.
In 1884 Walker moved on and teamed up with George Eastman of the Eastman Dry plate company as a technical expert, where he was instrumental in developing the Eastman-Walker Roll Film Holder. Walker was responsible for the mechanical design of the roll holder and the machinery to apply the gelatin to paper plates. The roll holder was a key technology that propelled the Kodak camera with the introduction of flexible film. Walker is credited for the design. However it was not necessarily his idea. On October 11, 1881, David H. Houston patented a flexible film roll back with patent number 248,179. It is reported that Walker purchased the license for $700, agreeing to manufacture and market the camera, but sold his rights to the Eastman a few days after acquiring them from Houston. The roll back consisted of two wooden spools which stretched the paper over the shutter, which could unwind film on one end and wind it on the other. The film holder assembly was encased in a mahogany box back that replaced the dry plate holder. The Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, patented on May 5, 1885, heralded the introduction of amateur photography to the general public by providing for a simple, light weight photo system in the Kodak camera.
Due to this success, Walker became secretary for George Eastman's Company. However, due to Walkers uneasy temperament and personality which stained his relationship with Eastman, Walker shortly thereafter accepted a position at Kodak Ltd in England as the head of operations. Walkers high temperament and lack of business sense in tough times caused Eastman to let him go and Eastman replace Walker with George Dickman, a personal friend introduced to him by walker. Although distraught and angered, Walker accepted his fate and later held no grudge.
In November 1917 William Hall Walker died.
For an 1882 Journal article describing the Walker Compact Camera please Click Here or search on key words "walker compact".
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