Walter Zapp, Inventor of the MINOX, 1905-2003

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Inventor of the MINOX “ultraminiature” is dead

Walter Zapp has now died as the last pioneer of photography

 Wetzlar/Binningen. Dr. h. c. Walter Zapp – inventor and designer of the legendary MINOX camera – died in Binningen, Switzerland, on Thursday July 17, 2003.

 As announced by MINOX GmbH, Wetzlar, on Friday, the German Balt, born in Riga, Latvia, on September 4, 1905 died at 97 years of age. Walter Zapp, who did not go to university or complete any training, is considered by experts to be one of the great pioneers of photography, equal ranking with Ernst Leitz, Carl Zeiss, Oskar Barnack and Karl Kellner. Working as a photographer in Riga, camera technology already fascinated him as a young man. In 1934 his pronounced technical skills led to his development of what is still today the smallest series-built camera in the world, the MINOX. It went into production in 1938 at the Valsts Elektrotechniska Fabrika (VEF) in Riga, where, up until 1942, a total of 17,000 cameras were manufactured and marketed throughout the world. In 1948 production was taken up again in Heuchelheim near Giessen. Zapp, having fled from the Russian occupying power already founded the MINOX GmbH in Wetzlar in 1945, together with his longstanding partner and friend, Richard Jürgens, where the MINOX underwent further technical development. Up until the beginning of the Nineties there was a workforce of over 600 at the production plant which had been set up under the financial participation of a cigarette manufacturer in Heuchelheim. Walter Zapp moved to Lake Constance during the Fifties and then on to Switzerland where he lived with his family in modest financial circumstances. He had assigned his MINOX world patents to the financial supporter. When the MINOX GmbH in Heuchelheim entered financial straits it was taken over by Leica Camera AG in 1996. Walter Zapp got back into business with the new, young management at MINOX. In his role as advisor he helped the MINOX GmbH launch new technical developments. Walter Zapp was able to experience the phenomenon of close to one million MINOX cameras being sold across the globe. In 2001 the pioneer of photography was awarded the doctor honoris causa of the Latvian Business Academy in Riga and the Cross of Honour of the Latvian Republic.

Postscript, Associated Press & obituary . The Rinn family had got Zapp and Jürgens to sign over their rights to the Minox design and slowly they eroded Zapp in the decision making for design and production. He had sold the patent for a life annuity and a settlement.

To supplement his income, he made a wide range of products,  from a beer stopper to binoculars.

Among the honours which Zapp received was the German Cross of Merit, and a street was named after him in Wetzlar.

All he left was a workshop with experiments and a box full of pictures and poems in Binningen, where he lived  with his son, said the weekly Zurich-based newspaper NZZ am Sonntag. Zapp is survived by a son and a daughter. A private funeral was held July 22, 2003 in Binningen.


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Last Updated on 29th July 2003