Saturday, September 05, 2009

Gustave Fassin Time Line

The name of Gustave Fassin is well known to Argus Camera collectors as the designer of the Argus A and C lines of 35mm cameras.

The following notes from on line sources document some steps along the way in Fassin's career, with most referencing his many patents in the area of precision optical instruments.

The first reference is an excerpt from a history of Rochester University's Institute of Applied Optics:

"In 1929, then University President Wilkins reported the appointment, part time, of Gustave Fassin, an employee of Bausch & Lomb, to teach mechanical design of optical instruments. A Belgian who had taught at the Technical School of Ghent and had charge of workshops in the Societe Belge d'Optique, he was an original and competent designer. After the close of the optometry school, more prominence was given to Fassin's work: instruments designed and completed for use in research involving optics. In 1938, there was another major change in the faculty" Gustive Fassin left town to join another company and so had to relinquish his superb teaching of instrument design at the University. He was a great personality, and his loss was a serious one for the Institute."
(The Staff of the Institute by Maria J. Achnitzler)

Fassin's most productive work was accomplished in the 1930s. It was then that he established his relationship with Charles A. Vershoor of the International Radio Corporation, leading to the production of the Argus A and Argus C lines, the most successful designs of photography's mechancal age in the U.S. At the same time, Fassin was doing work for at least two other manufacturing powerhouses in the photo world, Kodak and Bausch and Lomb. In the midst of all that design activity in his field of precision instrument design, and perhaps as a perk of financial success from the first Argus work, Fassin found time to delve into architectural design.

"In 1936 Gustave Fassin, a Kodak scientist, designed and built a house for himself in a wooded section of Irondequoit. Fassin, who worked in lens manufacturing at Kodak's Hawk-Eye Plant, acquired rejected glass lenses from Kodak and incorporated them in the interior of his house as others would use glass brick to transmit light through floors and walls. There was a singular absense of ornament on the exterior; the house had a flat roof, smooth and uniform concrete wall surfaces painted white, horizontal bands of windows that turned around corners, a small circular window here and there, and a sleek triple band of metal for a roof cornice. It was modern, and since the inspiration came from Europe with practitioners like Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany, J.J.P. Oud in Holland, and LeCorbusier in France, it was known as the International style. Its debut in Rochester in the Fassin house was a highly noted even, and the interior won Fassin the local Lillian Fairchild Award in 1936."
(200 years of Rochester architecture and gardens, page 129, by Richard O. Reisem, Andy Olenick, Bill Buckett)

The Argus A, patented in 1936, was the first popular miniature camera made in the U.S. to use the new Kodak 35mm cartridge. It was clearly Fassin's invention, and it seems odd now that he allowed Vershoor to claim the patent. Perhaps this was the result of also being employed at the same time as a designer for Kodak and Bausch & Lomb? In any case, by 1938, the success of the first effort in producing the Argus A seems to have given Fassin the clout to insist that his name go on the design of the Argus C.

"Design for a Photographic Camera
Gustave Fassin, Irondequoit, Monroe County,
N.Y., assignor to International Radio Corporation, Ann Arbor, Mich., a corporation of
Application June 2, 1938..."
(Design for a Photographic Camera, Patent Application)

While working for Argus, and apparently resident in Michigan, Fassin designed the sleek little Argus M camera. Building the camera in 1940 around the 828 film format proved to be bad timing as the film was in very short supply during the war years. It was nevertheless a very forward design concept which presaged the appearance of many popular and successful point-and-shoot cameras that would come along a generation later.

"Photographic Camera
Gustave Fassin, Grosse Pointe, Mich., assignor to Argus, Incorporated, a corporation of Michigan
Application September 30, 1940..."
(Photographic Camera, Patent Application)

After the war, Fassin moved to California and worked with the Precision Products Corp. in Burbank. His design for a two-film camera allowing a choice between color and black & white may have gone nowhere because of the post-war economic slump, but it also seems a bit too bizarre to have realized commercial success. The most interesting aspect of Fassin's patent for the two-film camera is probably the revelation of his citizenship status. He would no longer begin such applications with the phrase: "I, Gustave Fassin, a subject of the King of Belgium..."

"Be it known that I, Gustave Fassin, a citizen
of the United States, residing at Los Angeles,
in the county of Santa Clara and State of California, have invented a new, original and
ornamental Design for a Camera..."
(Design for a Camera, Patent Application)


Bill Valenti MD said...


Enjoyed your Fassin timeline. I live in Fassin's house in Rochester, NY.

Always enjoy reading about the history of this house and its first occupant.

Bill Valenti

Mike said...

What a great coincidence that you would find my little tribute to Fassin. Maybe you will permit me a brief tour next time I get back there.

Eddie DaRoza said...

This is really cool. Gustave Fassin is my great-grandfather and I've been trying to learn a lot more about him. Thanks

Mike said...

Thanks for dropping by. Glad the info seemed useful. If you have any pictures or additional information on Fassin's career you would like to share, I would be happy to post it here.

Bill Valenti MD said...

Taking another look at timeline. Think I will buy a Fassin camera on eBay. Already have a C3.

Let me know when you are ready to tour.

Bill Valenti

Mike said...

Thanks again. We are over-due for a visit to NY, so maybe this will be the year.

C3 cameras are always fun, and 10 bucks will usually get you one. I have one of the standard black models as well as the sporty-looking Matchmatic with a coated Cintar lens.