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Something’s fishy about Bell & Howell Co.


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#1 Simon Wyss

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 06:41 AM

SALVE !

I have a forty-page booklet in front of me with the title Standard Cinematograph CAMERA (sic). Page Two carries the FOREWORD (sic). Sentences Two and Three: “The Bell & Howell Standard Cinematograph Camera is not an experiment. The first Bell & Howell Cameras, built in 1907, are in use today by the side of later models.” Some of you remember.

An official text available via this link http://www.fundingun...ny-History.html reads: During its first year of business, over 50 percent of the new company's business involved repairing movie equipment made by other manufacturers. What made the company famous, however, was its development of equipment that addressed the two most important problems plaguing the movie industry at the time: flickering and standardization. Flickering in the early movies was due to the effects of hand-cranked film, which made the speed erratic. Standardization was needed as divergences in film width during these years made it nearly impossible to show the same film in any two cities within the United States. By 1908, Bell and Howell refined the Kinodrome projector, the film perforator, and the camera and continuous printer, all for the 35mm film width. With the development of this complete system, and the company's refusal to either manufacture or service products of any other size than the 35mm width, Bell and Howell forced film standardization within the motion picture industry.

In 1910, the company made a cinematograph camera entirely of wood and leather. When the two men learned that their camera had been damaged by termites and mildew during an exploration trip in Africa, they designed the first all metal camera.


Others say that the so-called Black Box, the first Bell & Howell camera with wooden housing and black leather finish, was introduced in 1909 (George Eastman House). Jack Robinson in his 1982 company history book tells us that Martin Johnson took the first two BB with him to Africa in 1910. Only after his return “Bell & Howell learned ( . . . ) cameras had been destroyed by termites and mildew.”

So about one and a half years time left to develop the Standard which became ready in 1912.

There is still less time for Bell & Howell, first and foremost Howell, to develop a film perforator (1908), a continuous contact printer (1911) and more for a “complete system”.

I don’t believe it. How did Bert Howell acquire the knowledge about aluminum alloy sand casting as a mechanic absorbed by repair work? Where did that Standard come from?
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#2 Charlie Peich

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Posted 22 August 2010 - 11:14 AM

SALVE !

An official text available via this link http://www.fundingun...ny-History.html reads:
I don't believe it. How did Bert Howell acquire the knowledge about aluminum alloy sand casting as a mechanic absorbed by repair work? Where did that Standard come from?


Greetings Simon!
I want to know, when did Bert Howell acquired the knowledge to make briefcases, table lamps and razors? Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image

The "official text" you refer to, from the site you link, of the the current holder of the Bell & Howell name, is from "the 1982 book by Jack Robinson "Bell & Howell Company... A 75-Year History".

The Bell & Howell site you link to is old, the business is gone and no longer in operation. The Tele # (847) 470-7100 is now owned by a bakery named Duncan Donuts.

The owners of the B&H name at the site had none of the B&H records from the film period. A fellow B&H Filmo collector looking into B&H's 16mm history talked to them years ago, they told him all they had regarding B&H history was the Robinson book. They did copy the book for him page by page.

Also, the Robinson book has errors in it and is not 100% factual. The book was written for the stockholders for the 75th year anniversary. The 75th Anniversary diner and party was 100% perfect however.

None of the new "historians" looking into B&H's history today know where the paper records of the early years reside, or if they still exist.

However, the Bell & Howell equipment "museum" was absorbed into DeVry Technical Institute that is now known as DeVry University . Refer to the 1982 book by Jack Robinson "Bell & Howell Company... A 75-Year History" . B&H acquired DeVry Technical Institute in 1966.

The equipment museum was located at the B&H headquarters in Lincolnwood, Il (just north of Chicago). When that plant was closed and turned into a strip mall, it was moved to the DeVry Chicago campus.

I did see a portion of the collection when it was at the Larchmont Ave plant in Lincolnwood, and later when it was housed at the Chicago campus . It is my understanding that it was subsequently moved to the Oakbrook Terrace location. It is most likely still packed in moving boxes and in a storage room.

I tried a couple of years ago to track it down, but I couldn't get the interest of anyone at DeVry to look into it. When I asked about Bell & Howell motion picture equipment, film equipment, there were long pauses of silence from the other end. I got the impression they had no knowledge of what I was requesting and were not interested in digging it up.

You could try to contact the AV Dept at the Oakbrook Terrace location in regards to the collection.

Contact Sam Dodge , he restores old 2709s and I believe he has some paperwork on the cameras.


"Where did that Standard come from?" Lack of standardization? Termites and mildew?

From the Robinson book:


Posted Image


Posted Image
(type large enough ? sorry.)



I complained about the wooden cameras also. He's a pic of me with my new "all-metal" 2709s. I hated the electric motor at that time. In this photo I was filming a PA being trampled to death by an elephant in front of my tent. The batteries were dead on the other camera.

Posted Image





Regards,
Charlie
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#3 Simon Wyss

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Posted 24 August 2010 - 12:40 PM

Hello, Charlie

Yeah, I know that Robinson sometimes is off by a hair. Still, his book is the most important source of information besides the products themselves. It's about reading technology.

The Standard Camera, when it appeared, afforded such a tremendous leap forward or, let me say, significant difference in most respects of what a cine camera is, that one forgets all the other makes at once. The Akeley of same age looks crazy compared to a 2709, Universal, Ensign, both 1914, any other camera including the Leonard-Mitchell which wasn't that slim any more falls off. I think it is impossible that Howell or any other mechanical engineer had invented, designed, drawn and manufactured the camera within a few months, as Robinson writes. That is more journalism than historiography.

I have no intent to diminish Howell’s œuvre. I believe he was the man who brought many ideas into working parts. But he didn't have the expertise nor the interest in making the motion-picture camera. Ask someone in the street what a movie camera looks like: still many people outline it with Mickey Mouse ears for the mag. That's the Bell & Howell Standard. Somebody brought its brilliant concept into the fresh little enterprise. Somebody who might have known about Léon Bouly (Léon Bollée?). Somebody determined, powerful, revolutionary, conscientious. Each and every element of the 2709 acts as part of a master plan. It takes time for such a OPVS MAGNVUM, long, long years.
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#4 Simon Wyss

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 09:19 AM

1909 or 1910, the Johnsons learn about the Bell & Howell camera. They purchase at least one and take it to Africa.

 

October 25, 1911, Bell & Howell Co. applies for a patent on the camera’s mechanism. The application is renewed on July 26, 1912. US 1,083,586 is issued September 17, 1912. At that time a new camera, the Standard Cinematograph Camera Model 2709, is being sold the first time.

 

Legal protection of a “Motion Picture Machine”, as stated in the patent, after it’s been sold?

 

Something is not clear. George Eastman House says: introduction date ca. 1909, approximate manufactured quantity: 10. Eight allegedly were purchased by Essanay. They might have been kept away from the eyes of third persons, we don’t know. What we do know is that serial number 8 with GEH belonged to the collection of George K. Spoor.

 

The Bell & Howell film perforator was not patented until 1917. Sources tell us about its introduction in 1908. How or why would Bell & Howell Co. have manufactured and sold an apparatus for $1000 (more than $50,000 today) without patent protection? An answer to the question could be a licence agreement with James A. Williamson (1855–1933). Williamson had his son Stuart, a mechanical engineer, design a perforator that they put on the market in 1898. It is well possible that a US patent had run from 1900 to 1917. Resemblance exists between the two products although the Bell & Howell perforator is something more like a refined punch press. It weighs 90 lbs. The Williamson film perforator was much lighter and slender.

 

George Eastman began buying Bell & Howell perforators in 1910. We don’t know whether all the parts for the various cinemachinery of Bell & Howell were actually made by the company or bought elsewhere. There are indications that massive outsourcing was the rule with Bell & Howell Co. rather than the exception since its founding. At least the sand casting of the 2709 parts can’t have taken place at 217 West Illinois St. (Chicago Sunday Tribune, June 28, 1931, part 2, page 8), neither the casting of the perforator parts. Some parts of the 2709 stem from other industrial branches that have nothing to do with motion pictures. The perforator punches require highly specialized grinding equipment. Doubt must be allowed that Bert Howell didn’t have the necessary knowledge of producing the pilots, punch pins, and the die. How was it all put together?


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#5 Charlie Peich

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Posted 01 May 2015 - 12:03 PM

Greetings Simon!

 

It's been awhile since we talked about Bell & Howell's early years. I know I referenced the Robinson book a bit, but a few months ago I found another "history of Bell & Howell" article that goes into more detail about the early years of the company. This 2 part article was published in a respected motion picture technology Journal in 1982 (the year of the 75th anniversary of B&H).

 

There may be more info in it to answer some of your questions, for instance, they mention the then popular 'Eberhard Schneider perforators'. They discus the 2709 camera. There is a list of references at the end of the article. There may be other patent numbers for you.

 

The 2nd article discuses the Eyemo's history.

 

Both are good articles, but they may not answer all your questions, nobody left alive to tell the tail!

 

I think you'll enjoy reading it. Please, via privet messaging, send me an address that I can send these scans to. The 1st article is 14 pages.

However, you may have seen this already.

 

Regards,

Charlie


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#6 Simon Wyss

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Posted 10 May 2015 - 09:50 AM

Jack Fay Robinson, 1982: “The first Bell & Howell cinematograph camera was produced in 1910. It was made entirely of wood and covered with black leather. The following year moving picture explorers, Martin and Osa Johnson, wrote that their camera had been destroyed by termites and mildew in Africa.”

 

Martin Elmer Johnson and Osa Helen Leighty first met in April, 1910. Their first shared physical contact with Africa was in 1920.

 

 

The official story and motive for Howell to design an all-metal camera is a debunked myth.


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#7 Simon Wyss

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Posted 03 June 2015 - 08:40 AM

What?

 

Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer wrote a book, it got published on January 20 this year:

Flickering Empire: How Chicago invented the U. S. Film Industry. ISBN978-0-231-174480

 

Page 61: In the fall of 1897, Spoor had enlisted Don J. Bell and Albert Howell, founders of the future motion-picture equipment giant Bell and Howell, to make a new projector that he christened the “Kinodrome.” The projector was ready in 1899 and became an immediate hit, far outpacing the sales of the Magniscope. (Any connection between Spoor and Amet beyond that date is unlikely.) Distribution of the new projector included not just the machine itself but also films to exhibit along with it, as well as a projectionist to operate it. The Kinodrome was more advanced than either the primitive Magniscope or the Polyscope, which had the unfortunate tendency to mutilate the film prints that ran through it.

Source indicated: David Kiehn: Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. 2003

 

That’s a blow. Contrary to everything we knew about the coming of the Bell & Howell Co. they should have met in 1897? Howell, born April 17,1879, would have been 18 years of age then. Bell (18691934) would have been 28. In the case of Howell, must I say, faint doubts are appropriate. He was an apprentice mechanic from 1895 on. We don’t have more information.

 

That Spoor didn’t have any relation with Amet before 1899 is also not congruent with the often-told story how Spoor lent Amet money for completion of a projector, the later-called Magniscope, in 1894. http://lakecountyhis...-1860-1948.html

 

It’s getting fuzzy. Let’s try to make contact with the authors. I should appreciate any help.


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