Agfa, the abbreviation for the lengthy name Aktien-Gesellschaft fur Anilin-Fabrikation, was formed in Rummelsburg, Germany in 1867 by chemist Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy, a co-founder of the German Chemical Society, and his friend, fellow chemist Carl Alexander Martius. Beginning with aniline production, within five years it expanded to include a Berlin-based facility that specialized in color dyes. It is perhaps no surprise that by 1887, Agfa included a photographic department headed by another chemist, Dr. Momme Andresen, who had developed several developer patents, including Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) and Paramidophenol, and Rodinal, which enjoyed great popularity as a film developer for more than a century. By 1893, Dr. Andresen was overseeing the mass production of Isolar dry plates, and two years' later, the now-famous Agfa logo appeared for the first time.
As the twentieth century dawned, Agfa was fully enmeshed in the photographic industry, manufacturing plates, developers, and roll films, which put it in direct competition with Eastman Kodak and the Lumiere Brothers. To solidify its international standing, Agfa merged with I.G. Farben, under which several chemical companies including Bayer and BASF, were joined. The company moved to Wolfen in 1909, where its Filmfabrik division was overseen by Agfa's director-general Franz Oppenheim. Its experimentation with color photography grew to include its own patented three-layered reversal color film under the direction of Dr. Rudolf Fischer. By 1920, Agfa's photographic reputation was firmly established. After purchasing the Rietzschel camera works plant from Bayer in 1925, Agfa manufactured its first camera, the Standard. Its highly popular Billy camera appeared two years' later. Ansco was licensed to manufacture Agfa's products in the lucrative American market. In the 1930s, Agfa was producing roll film box cameras and its Agfacolor New (or Agfacolor-Neu) reversal film was manufactured in both 35-mm and 8-mm. Agfa clearly pioneered color film photography during this period.
By the end of World War II, Agfa was the most successful photographic product manufacturer in Germany. Its release of the Solinette 35-mm folding viewfinder camera quickly became a best seller. After the war, it shifted focus to X-ray films and products, but it continued its camera innovations most notably with the Optima, a 35-mm auto-exposure viewfinder camera. In 1964, Agfa merged with the Belgian firm Gevaert Photo-Producten N.V., which was a subsidiary of Bayer. Now known as Agfa-Gevaert, it developed a red sensor shutter release and Rapid 126 film cameras to compete in Kodak's successful 126 film market. To maintain pace with rapidly changing technology, Agfa became actively involved in the photocopying, typesetting, and digital markets. Camera production dwindled, and the Selectronic series cameras of the early 1980s marked the end of an era. The company went public in 1999 in hopes of salvaging its precarious financial position, but it was too little, too late. In November of 2004, Agfa as it had previously existed disappeared into an independent entity known as AgfaPhoto. But its product innovations particularly in the field of color photography have earned Agfa an esteemed place in the annals of photographic history.
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2016 Agfa Billy-Clack No. 74 (1934) (URL: http://www.mikeeckman.com/2016/04/Agfa-billy-clack-no-74-1934).
2017 Alte Farbdias: Der Agfacolor-Neu-Umkehrfilm 1936-1945 (URL: http://www.altefarbdias.de/agfa-color-diafilm.html).
2017 Agfa History (URL: https://www.Agfa.com/co/global/en/internet/main/about_us/history/history/index.jsp).
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 20.
2007 The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography edited by Michael R. Peres (Burlington, MA: Focal Press/Elsevier), p. 303.
2000 The German Chemical Industry in the Twentieth Century edited by John Lesch (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science + Business Media BV), pp. 127-128.
2017 Museum Lichtenberg: Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy (URL: http://www.museum-lichtenberg.de/index.php/menschen/lichtenberger-persoenlichkeiten/605-paul-mendelssohn-bartholdy).
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