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  Andrew Wollensak

Andrew Wollensak was born to Johan and Elizabeth (Bollin) Wollensak on November 13, 1862 in Wiesbaden, Germany. Attending public schools until age 14, he became a machinist and millwright's apprentice. After marrying Franziska (Frances) Noll, the young machinist refused to comply with the authoritarian government's mandatory military service, and at age 20, Mr. Wollensak moved to the United States. Settling in Rochester, New York, he found employment at the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company, as young scion Edward Bausch's assistant. Mr. Wollensak was instrumental in the design and development of its iris diaphragm shutter. During his 16-year tenure, he moved slowly through the manufacturing ranks, eventually becoming a departmental foreman.

Anxious to go out on his own, Mr. Wollensak resigned from Bausch & Lomb in June 1899, and embarked upon his own one-man factory operation. Located in the Karle Lithographic Building, at 280 Central Avenue and Chatham Street, Mr. Wollensak was soon joined by his younger brother, John. Desperately needing capital, he sought financial aid from investor Stephen Rauber, one-time president of the Union Brewing Company. Operating with the name of Rauber & Wollensak, the company manufactured custom-made shutters and cameras. Their products were soon in high demand, and by 1902, with the departure of Mr. Rauber, the firm was incorporated and became Wollensak Optical Company. Initially manufacturing achromatic landscape lenses that sold for 75 cents, within three years Mr. Wollensak expanded his operations with the purchase of the Rochester Lens Company, and subsequently secured the rights to the design of the Royal Anastigmat portrait lens, which was renamed Vitax.

In 1913, the company headquarters moved to a massive 76,000 square foot facility at 1425 North Clinton Street. Under Mr. Wollensak's leadership, the firm grew to include designing and manufacturing microscopes, binoculars, cinematic Velostigmat and Raptar lenses along with its trademark lenses and shutters, and proved to be a strong competitor to the company president's former employer, Bausch & Lomb. Over the next decade, Mr. Wollensak would receive two dozen patents for his inventions. The company moved its operations to its Hudson Avenue location in 1924, with its aging president still at the helm and actively directing production. Seventy-three-year-old Andrew Wollensak died in adopted hometown of Rochester on January 10, 1936. His company continued to flourish for several decades as a major producer of motion picture lenses. However, the increased market domination of German and Japanese camera manufacturers proved its eventual undoing, and the Wollensak Optical Company closed its doors for the last time in 1972.

2017 Advertisement Gallery: Wollensak Optical Company (URL:

2017 Antique Rauber & Wollensak Lens Rochester NY USA 1900 (URL:

1936 Camera, Vol. LII (Philadelphia, PA: Columbia Photographic Society), p. 181.

1916 Encyclopedia of Biography of New York, Vol. IV, by Charles Elliott Fitch (Boston, MA: American Historical Society, Inc.), pp. 142-143.

1972 Glass, Brass, and Chrome: The American 35mm Miniature Camera by Kalton C. Lahue and Joseph A. Bailey (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), pp. 48-49.

2015 Made in Rochester by Donovan A. Shilling (Victor, NY: Pancoast Publishing), p. 268.

1910 New York State Men: Biographic Studies and Character Portraits, Vol. I, by Frederick Simon Hills (Albany, NY: The Argus Company), p. 68.

2002 Stereoscopy, Vol. XLIX (Zurich, Switzerland: International Stereoscopic Union), p. 31.

2017 The Wollensak Optical Company (URL:

2017 Wollensak Vitax No.2 F/3.8 Petzval Portrait Lens (URL:

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2018-12-31 10:56:31

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