A Brief History of Argus Cameras
Argus logo

Unfortunately, a lot of company histories are either sketchy or lost completely; this includes most minor US camera makers. I'll add more to these histories as I find information, but what I have here is what little I know.

In the mid 1920s, two German companies began making cameras that used 35mm movie film, the Leica and the the Contax. Unlike most other cameras that used roll-film, these cameras were small, compact, and easy to hold in one's hand. They weren't the first, but they were first to catch on, and they were enormously influential. Thirty years later camera makers across the world would still be making "Leica copies," cameras that looked similar to the original Leica.

Argus started as the camera line from a company that made radios, International Radio Corporation (IRC), which was based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. IRC had a good radio business going but wanted to expand into another field to fill some manufacturing slack. The president of the company, Charles Verschoor, was visiting Europe and came across a Leica and loved it; and decided his company could make a version of it for the domestic market.

Argus's first camera came out in 1936, the Model A, a poor man's Leica copy. It was simple to use and a lot less expensive ($12.50) than a Leica ($300) of the time. Argus followed it up with its C series, especially its spectacularly successful C3. The C3 looked like a brick with a lens stuck on it, but it was the best-selling 35mm camera for many years.

But Argus was less successful outside its amateur 35mm niche. It tried to widen the middle-class market with TLRs like its Argoflexes, but couldn't compete against Kodak's junk Duoflexes or quality Rolleiflexes. Argus did sell other 35mm equipment like slide projectors and they sold photo equipment to the military.

Argus, like Graflex and others, finally went under in the 1960s. While it had the 35mm market well staked out, Argus had no answer to the modern 35mm cameras that were coming out of Europe and especially Japan. As cameras became smaller, lighter, more electronic, sophisticated and automatic, Argus's cameras were Model T's competing against Mustangs, and the company quietly folded.

Recently the name was resurrected and the modern Argus company sold modern 35mm and digital cameras. It appears, sadly, that this company is also on shaky ground.

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