August Nagel (inventor)

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Zeiss Ikon Contessa, model LK
Kodak Vollenda, model 620

August Nagel (born June 5, 1882 in Pfrondorf ; † October 30, 1943 in Stuttgart ) was a German camera manufacturer and designer.

After completing his apprenticeship in a small machine tool factory, Nagel attended a commercial school and gained commercial experience in various companies. He devoted all of his free time to photography and the construction of cameras .

In 1908, at the age of 26, he and his friend Carl Drexler founded the Drexler & Nagel company in Stuttgart, which manufactured cameras and photo equipment. The young company's first camera in 1908 was the Contessa No. 1 for the 4½ × 7 cm format, which was only 1 cm thick and weighed no more than 175 g.

Already in 1909 the name was changed to Contessa-Camerawerke Stuttgart. The constantly expanding factory had already developed 23 different models by 1910, which were exported worldwide. As a passionate aviator and balloonist, Nagel pioneered the development of ideas for the use of cameras in cartographic, geographic and military fields. With the Atlanta he developed a special balloon camera. In recognition of his work on the development of balloon and aviation cameras, the University of Freiburg awarded the then 36-year-old the honorary title of Dr. phil. rer. nat.

During the First World War, Nagel had to convert its factory with 500 employees to armaments production. In 1919 Nagel took over the Nettel Camerawerke in Sontheim am Neckar . At that time he had three of his own plants in Stuttgart, Reutlingen and Böblingen and relocated Nettel's production there. With the roll film camera Picolette for the format 4 × 6.5 cm (type 127), Nagel continued his successful series in 1919. This was followed by the development of the Corarette roll film camera with a film guiding mechanism that ensured that the film was particularly flat. With the Deckrullo-Nettel , Contessa developed a contemporary travel and press camera. In 1926 Contessa-Nettel with its more than 1,500 employees became part of the newly founded Zeiss Ikon AG with headquarters in Dresden, of which Nagel became the chief manufacturing director.

As early as 1928 he separated from Zeiss and founded the Dr. August Nagel factory for precision mechanics . In models like Librette and Recomar , Nagel implemented his demands for handy and elegant cameras. The magazine Die deutsche Fotoindustrie reported on the Nagel-Werke in 1933: “ Despite the economic misery at that time, Dr. August Nagel, to bring his new company to a high reputation in a short period of time and to make his products world famous. “In 1932 he sold his company to Kodak AG Berlin , but retained large parts of his production sovereignty.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the Leica Camera developed by Oskar Barnack became increasingly popular. However, their price still limited the number of units. It is reported that by 1933 only about 16,700 Leicas had been sold worldwide. 35 mm photography was therefore still the domain of a number of wealthy amateur and specialist photographers in 1933. So August Nagel came up with the ambitious plan to develop a 35mm camera for a wide range of buyers. According to his idea, such a people's 35mm camera should be built as technically high quality and solidly as possible, but also be easy to use. Last but not least, their sales price should be significantly below that of the previous 35mm cameras. Thanks to the financial strength gained and the powerful sales force of Kodak AG, the Kodak Retina was presented to the public in July 1934 at a price of 75 marks, which was both sensational and popular for a 35mm precision camera, which contributed significantly to the success of 35mm photography. The comments from experts showed that this camera was generally viewed as fully constructed. It is therefore all the more astonishing that in the following years, with the basic concept unchanged, Nagel was able to introduce a number of improvements, some of which were important, into the construction of the camera and also develop inexpensive versions of the Retina - which came onto the market in 1939 under the name Retinette . In 1939, the production of a wide range of cameras at Kodak in Stuttgart was at its peak. In addition to ongoing improvements to the "Retina", he was able to manufacture, among other new designs, above all his popular "Vollenda" roll film camera series in many variants.

August Nagel died in 1943 at the age of 61. The Nagel-Werk, at that time converted to armaments production again, was damaged in 1944 during British air raids . After the war, the plant in Stuttgart-Wangen became the headquarters of Kodak Germany. His son Helmut Nagel was chairman of the board of the Kodak works in the FRG from 1953 to 1979.


  • About the development of the handcamera . 1918.


  • Kemmler, Karl Otto: Contessa. The history of the Contessa-Camera-Werke under its founder August Nagel, 1908-26 , 1984
  • Steinroth, Karl: August Nagel, pioneer of the 35mm camera , in Bild der Wissenschaft, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, Stuttgart, June 1982 edition, pp. 145 ff
  • Karl Otto Kemmler:  Nagel, August. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 18, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-428-00199-0 , pp. 708 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Nagel, Helmut Zauber der Camera, examples from the Kodak-Nagel-Werk , 1977, dva-GmbH, ISBN 3-421-02516-9

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