The history of the Kardon camera is a story of forgotten American genius. The Kardon camera, manufactured in several variations from 1945-‘54 represents an important American contribution to the then-state-of-the-art “miniature” camera. And it represents Peter Kardon’s patriotic effort to answer to the US military’s need for a high-quality 35mm camera during World War II. The Kardon camera was a technical success, and a financial failure, whose last remnants now, after 60 years, reside in my camera shop.
The story begins during World War II. The US Signal Corps needed a supply of high-quality 35mm cameras. At war with Germany, it was clearly impossible to purchase cameras manufactured there. In 1941, authorized by the Alien Property Custodian Act, the US government seized control of E. Leitz Company in New York and directed them to manufacture Leica IIIa cameras for them, assuming that a facility capable of repairing that camera also could manufacture them. By '43 it was apparent Leitz was not up to the task.
In stepped Peter Kardon, a naturalized US citizen originally from Odessa, Russia. Kardon already had achieved a reasonable degree of business success as president of the Premier Instrument Corporation. According to one photographic historian, the personal risks Kardon took for the creation and manufacture of the Kardon camera were motivated by his desire to assist the nation that took him in as an immigrant in '05 and that enabled him some degree of success for he and his family. In other words, it was his inspired payback for his realization of the American Dream.
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