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August Semmendinger Manufacturer of Photographic Apparatus
by Paul and Ryan Semmendinger.
August Semmendinger (1820 - August 6, 1885) was a manufacturer of Photographic Apparatuses and the inventor of the Excelsior Wet Plate Camera. Semmendinger first made his cameras in New York City at Nos. 410 & 412 West 16th Street. The second factory where he built his cameras was located in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
August Semmendinger was born in 1820. Records indicate he emigrated to the United States from Germany. August married Magdalene Kinney who it seems certain was from Switzerland. Different spellings exist regarding her name. On some documents, including a family tree, her first name has been spelled "Magdelina."
This much is known, August Semmendinger arrived in the United States aboard a ship named Columbia which had embarked from Bremen, Germany. The arrival in New York City was on July 6, 1849. A copy of the Manifest of Passengers lists August Semendinger (interesting that the name is spelled with only one M) as passenger number 123 on the Columbia. The document seems to indicate that August was 29 years old upon his arrival in New York. August's occupation was listed as a "workman." The document lists August as coming from Urach. Known today as Bad Urach, this is a town in the district of Reutlingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Along with August were passengers numbered 124 and 125. Passenger 124 was Magdalene Semendinger, his wife, aged 20 or 21. Passenger 125 was a one-year-old baby, a daughter, Alsoine (sp?) Semendinger. It is not believed that this daughter ever reached adulthood. Save for this listing, no other record exists of this child. There have been no records that indicate anything about August Semmendinger in the period between his arrival in 1849 and 1859 when the next information is known. It is an almost certainty that August Semmendinger lived in New York City at this time.
On February 21, 1860, August Semmendinger was awarded Patent No. 27,241 by the United States Patent Office. This patent was for a Photographic Apparatus. The inventor of the item is signed Aug. Semmendinger. In this document, "August Semmendinger of the city, county, and State of New York has invented a new and Improved Photographic
Apparatus." Witnesses to attest to this invention were Charles Wehle (of 378 Broadway) and Jul. Wehle.
On August 7, 1860, he was awarded his second patent, Patent No. 29,523 from the United States Patent Office. This patent was simply for a Camera. He again signed his name as Aug. Semmendinger.
Still living in the city of New York, State of New York, August Semmendinger states that he has -invented a certain Improvement in Photographic Cameras. - Witnesses seem to be the same two gentlemen; listed this time as Chs. Wehle and Jul. Wehle.
By this point, August Semmendinger had moved to Fort Lee, in the county of Bergen and State of New Jersey. For this patent, August Semmendinger stated that he invented a new and useful Improvement in Photographic Plate Holders. It is believed by this author that this patent is for what August Semmendinger titles his "Celebrated Silver Double Corners." For this, he was awarded Patent No. 145,020 by the United States Patent Office. Witnesses to this were W. Hauff and E.F. Kastenhuber.
August Semmendinger was able to earn a fourth patent fourteen years later on March 31, 1874. This, the final patent he earned, Patent No. 149,255 by the United States Patent Office was for Camera-Stands. August Semmendinger of Fort Lee, New Jersey explained that he -invented a new and Improved Camera-Stand.- Witnesses to this patent were W. Hauff and Chas. Wahlers.
It seems apparent that by 1871 at the latest, August Semmendinger was a well-known camera maker. This author holds a letterhead dated from 1870s that states:
Office of Aug. Semmendinger Patentee and Sole Manufacturer of the Celebrated Multiplying and Roller Camera Boxes and Photographic Apparatus, &c. & c. Nos. 410 & 412 West 16th Street New York.
This letter head has the year 187___ printed. Added to the line is the exact date June 27, 1871. Written on the paper is an agreement to rent from A. Semmendinger, two Rooms of his new Building in Fort Lee. In addition, the New York addresses are crossed out. This seems to indicate that August Semmendinger moved from his buildings in New York City to Fort Lee at about this time.
A copy of a one-page Semmendinger advertisement seems to also be from the 1870's. There is also a very difficult to read United States Census Report from June 4, 1880.
Inhabitants in (illegible) in the County of Bergen, State of New Jersey. Listed under the surname Semmendinger are August (aged 60), Magdeline (aged 50) (Wife), Theodore (27)(son), Alvina (18?)(daughter), Roland (20)(son), and Guido (16) (son). The document seems to indicate that all of the children were born in New York. Further, the (barely legible) - Place of birth for the father was listed as Germany, while the place of birth for the mother was listed as Switzerland.
One other letterhead exists, and is in this author's possession. This letterhead dates from the 1880's as the printed date is listed as 188__. This document adds the words "& Sons" to the title indicating that Augusts' sons were involved in the manufacturing of cameras. In addition, this document claims that August Semmendinger's business is "The Oldest Firm of Camera Making. Established 1859."
August Semmendinger died, in Fort Lee, New Jersey on August 6, 1885. An obituary was printed in Anthony"s Photographic Bulletin (Volume XVII. 1886). The obituary reads: "August Semmindinger, the well-known camera manufacturer, died at Fort Lee, N.J., on August 6, 1885, at the age of 65. He was a native of Wurtemburg, Germany, and always an active man, whether in business or social life. He was the inventor of a number of improvements in the camera, for which he held patents. Mr. Semmindinger's (sic) sons carry on the business founded by their father."
Visit Paul's Semmindinger's extensive site on his great great grandfather, August Semmindinger Here