A Brief History of Revere & Wollensak Cameras
Revere logo Wollensak logo

This is actually the (brief) story of two companies that later merged, so I'll start with the better-documented one.

Andrew Wollensak left his job at Bausch & Lomb to go into business with his brother John in 1899 to make photographic shutters, though they soon began making lens and became Wollensak Optical. Based in Rochester, New York, the home of many photographic concerns, the Wollensak brothers ran the company until their deaths in 1936 and 1939 respectively.

Kodak made its own lenses, but most other camera makers purchased their optics from the independents; Bausch & Lomb and Wollensak were the two American independents with famous names. Wollensak lenses graced many American cameras; and they made binoculars, telescopes, and other optical equivalent. They very likely also sold unbranded products to other camera makers, though I am unable to site examples.

Wollensak optics are generally not classed along with the best European glass from their competitors Carl Zeiss, Schneider, Goerz etc., but many are considered to be very good.

Revere is, sadly, one of the least documented companies I've tried to research. I haven't found much about this company at all. But here is what I know. Samuel Briskin began Excel Radiator in Chicago in 1920. In 1939 one of his sons began making movie cameras through a subsiary. Briskin eventually sold off Excel and devoted himself fully to Revere Camera. They grew to become the #2 movie camera maker behind Bell & Howell; not bad considering Kodak was a competitor too.

Revere eventually purchased Wollensak to vertically integrate its source of lenses and shutters. While they were at it, they decided to use the brand on cameras as well. They began making a basic model which carried the Revere name, then upgraded the components and features and sold those under the Wollensak name (e.g. the Revere 33 and the Wollensak 10 are identical except for their lenses; but you can see numerous examples in their movie cameras). Revere's bread and butter was its movie cameras, but they did try to expand business with stereo cameras and well-regarded audio equipment (I also own an old Wollensak reel tape recorder).

Unfortunately, Revere never quite made it to the next level. Stereo cameras were a fad; they never got serious about other still-camera markets; Bell & Howell distanced itself in the cine market as amateur movie cameras developed electronic exposure; competition from other audio companies like Webcor and Ampex was ferocious, and in 1960 Sam Briskin himself sold the company to 3M after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer.

3M phased out the Revere name but kept the Wollensak brand for audio equipment through the 60s, but it was a rough decade to be an American camera or electronics manufacturer. Wollensak's Rochester factory closed in 1972 and its name was retired; another famous brand lost.


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