The photo world and fans of Konica equipment in particular have an enormous debt towards Henry Froehlich, the first importer and distributor of quality cameras made in Japan on the American market and one of the pioneers of the photo industry as we know it today. A gifted photographer himself, Henry Froehlich understood early on that American consumers needed dependable and more sophisticated cameras at an affordable price. He was one of the first to recognize the potential of Japanese products at a time when the choice was limited to German cameras most often priced out of reach and Kodak-type cameras for the amateur market.
Henry Froehlich 1922-2008 (W)
Henry Froehlich's natural sense for consumers’ expectations helped him convince the Japanese government and photo industry in the late 1940s that the United States was a viable destination for Japanese cameras and optics. Coming so soon after hostilities between the two countries, such ideas were those of a visionary. He was also one of the persons who encouraged Japanese officials to set up the Japan Camera Inspection Institute (JCII), whose golden sticker has for decades adorned all photographic equipment exported from Japan. The cooperation that followed led to the flourishing of the Japanese photo industry after the war and profoundly influenced the world of photography as a whole.
Henry Froehlich was the first in the West to recognize the innovative qualities of Konica cameras, at a time when most other Japanese makers made more or less successful copies of Leica or Contax designs. In 1950, having acquired the exclusive rights to distribute Konica photo equipment in the United States, Henry Froehlich, his wife Marian and his brother Max established the Konica Camera Company in Philadelphia, with only $5,000 in capital.
Konica and other Japanese camera makers benefited greatly from the Korean War, during which many western photographers first came into contact with Japanese cameras and optical products and came away greatly impressed. By 1955, the Froehlichs' Konica Camera Company was selling Konica cameras through 22 distributors serving 1,800 dealers. It sold nearly 15,000 Konica cameras in 1958 ("Froehlich’s Japanese Cameras", Fortune Magazine, 1958, p. 232).
In 1961, Konica Camera Company merged with Berkey Photo, a distributor of other known Japanese photo brands, such as Sekonic, Sunpak, Tamron, etc. Henry Froehlich remained CEO of Berkey Photo until 1982.
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My technical appreciation for Konica cameras owes much to various photographers and Konica users, some of whom I have corresponded with for years. They include Fred McCaslin, Erik Rahlén, and Daniel Roberts, who reviewed parts of my text, pointed out mistakes, clarified a number of technical issues and provided much interesting insight. I am also indebted to Alan Myers, the spiritus movens of the Konica SLR discussion list on Yahoo for many years.
I wish to thank the professional and amateur photographers who gave me permission to quote them in the capsules that accompany the text on this site or who allowed me to use photos of their cameras. I am very thankful to Mike Michaelski who lend me most of the instruction manuals scanned in section 6.
In Japan, Mr Philbert Ono's assistance in purchasing Konica-related literature unavailable in the West has been invaluable. I was greatly assisted in my efforts to locate information about some of the prototypes mentioned in section 8 by Mr Yoshio Inokuchi of the JCII Camera Museum, Mr Michiaki Matsuzaki of Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., and Mr Tetsuo Taniguchi of Asahi Camera magazine.
Other people I wish to thank for their assistance are Mr Keith Martin of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Mr Frank Gottke of the German National Library of Science and Technology; Ms Gabriele Klausing of the Hanover University Library; and the friendly staff of the OSU University Library in Corvallis, Oregon, where I am sure my quirky interest and relentless pestering have made a lasting impression.
Many thanks also go to my wife Michelle for her encouragement and insightful editorial advice; to my two sons, Gabriel and Raphaël, both gifted photographers, for their keen eye and inspiration; and to my brother Stan, for repeated courses of html relief.
● KONICA ●