The family tree planted by Bausch & Lomb in 1874?, that bifurcated and recombined across over a century of American optics production, has been well documented elsewhere (notably Rudolf Kingslake and Dan Fromm, but it is worth preçis here, with added information relevant to the identification and dating of enlarger, projector and industrial lenses. However, where other accounts tell the story in forward chronological order, we’re going to examine the presently visible – physical artefacts like lenses, buildings and currently-trading businesses – and trace them briefly to their roots.
Ilex closed their doors in 1985. Most of the products in the circulation come from the post-1963 period, when the company was rescued from post-war doldrums by the intervention of Elgeet employees Eugene Miller and Manuel Kiner. [PRODUCT LIST DETAILS]
Ilex’ pre-war period is poorly documented, and ‘Delta-relevant’ lenses are rarely seen. The company was formed in 1911 by Rudolph Klein and Theodor Brueck, shutter designers at . . . Bausch & Lomb.
Navitar is a rarity: an optics company with deep, continuous historical roots still trading in 2023 – a club with few members: Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Taylor Hobson, Schneider, Zeiss and not too many more.
The name ‘Navitar’ is a callback to several groundbreaking designs in the company’s catalogue, starting in 1954 with a 259mm missile tracking optic created by Robert Hopkins; then, in 1955, the Golden Navitar 12/1.2 for 16mm cine cameras – the world’s first commercially produced aspherical lens; in 1960, a wide angle 8/1.5 for TIROS-1, the first infrared telephone and information satellite; and, in 1978, a high-end range of slide projector lenses. However, the name has only applied to the corporation since 1993. Previously the company was titled D.O Industries (Dynamic Optics) and, before that, Elgeet.
Industrial, projection and enlarger lenses can initially be dated by branding alone, ie:
D.O. Industries (Dynamic Optics): 1972-1993
During the Elgeet years, the company briefly acquired Steinheil in 1964, but immediately sold it to Lear Seigler. In 1953 Elgeet acquired the assets of John Seebold’s ‘Invisible Camera’ company which had taken over Gundlach Manufacturing in 1928, which had been formed in 1878 by an ex-employee of . . . Bausch & Lomb.
Wollensak is a long-defunct company, officially ceasing to be in 1972, after a string of failed takeovers. However it was a major player in the Rochester scene and at its height in 1958 employed 1200 workers. Wollensak lenses were in production from 1902-1972, with a wide range of process, enlarger and taking lenses in multiple generations: including Raptar, Enlarging Raptar, Pro Raptar [etc].
In 1905 they acquired the rights to produce The Rochester Optical Company’s range of Royal Anastigmat lenses. The company was formed in 1899 by brothers Jack and Andrew Wollensak, who in 1882 had been a foreman at . . . Bausch & Lomb.