The founding years
A fortunate coincidence brought together the brilliant technician Reinhold Heidecke and the experienced businessman Paul Franke. Their different talents complemented each other perfectly, and Rollei’s success story began in 1920 with the foundation of the “Werkstatt für Feinmechanik und Optik – Franke and Heidecke” in Braunschweig, Germany. Production began under cramped conditions, in what had once been a small dance hall, with a few high-precision machines and a handful of people. A mere 16 months after the company’s foundation, Franke & Heidecke presented the “Heidoscop”. This initial technical innovation in the field of stereo cameras laid the corner stone for their future international success.
The stereo photo received new impetus with the use of roll film, which had already been developed at the end of the 19th century. In contrast to the plate technique, it was now possible to capture multiple images in succession. Taking photos and the basic handling of cameras thus became more simple and grew in popularity from the turn of the century.
With the introduction of the “Rolleidoscop” (1923), the first 35-mm camera for roll film, F & H then succeeded in making a decisive breakthrough in 1926, catapulting them into the vanguard of camera manufacturers. The product name “Rolleidoscop” simultaneously gave rise to what would later become the company name “Rollei", even at this early stage.
The beginning of a camera legend: the Rolleiflex
1928 saw the production of the first ten prototypes of the legendary twin-lens Rolleiflex. Up until the start of series production in 1929, it underwent a number of technical modifications. The patented twin-lens Rolleiflex was notable for its quality features, which had never been seen before in this category of camera: an all-metal design with precision film guide and one of the best lenses of the day, namely the Tessar. For professional photographers, the first compact reflex camera with six pictures 6x6 on B1-6 roll film became the measure of all things. The global demand exceeded all expectations, and Franke & Heidecke began to expand. The production facilities, which had already been extended substantially in 1923, were now no longer sufficient. Shortly after the company’s 10th anniversary, production was able to be transferred to a new factory building with 1,400 m2.
Work continued without interruption on further development of the Rolleiflex. In 1931, F & H presented a version for the 4x4 format.
In 1933, the Rolleicord, a scaled-down, cheaper version of the Rolleiflex, was introduced. In contrast to the expensive 6x6 Rolleiflex costing 178 Reichmark, with a price tag of only RM 88, it was also affordable for amateur photographers. [more...]