American Bolex Company

American Bolex Company

April 26, 2006 -- Michael Tisdale
The American Bolex Company is mentioned on several pages throughout this website. Although most of their products are listed in the Accessories section, and advertisements are displayed in 1940s Ephemera, I thought a more descriptive article on the history of the company was deserved. After all, they were responsible for first importing Bolex cameras to the United States - a country dominated by Kodak, Bell & Howell and many other manufacturers.

Ezra S. Brockway
Ezra S. Brockway

The American Bolex Company was founded in 1936 by Ezra S. Brockway, an enterprising businessman from New York. [1] From 1936 to 1948, American Bolex was the sole distributor for Paillard products in the United States and sold both Bolex cameras and Hermes typewriters.

It began as a small family business, located at 155 East 44th St. in New York City. The company mainly advertised the H-16, H-8 and the model G projector in photographic magazines and product catalogs during the 1930s.

American Bolex soon began to market many other still and motion picture accessories, and even manufactured their own line of Ambol equipment. These accessories, however, were not manufactured or endorsed by the parent company Paillard of Switzerland, despite being branded with the Bolex logo. Still, they were quality products.

American Bolex mail and catalogs
American Bolex Company catalogs and letters

The line of American Bolex products (sometimes termed "Ambol") ranged from rebranded Cinea accessories (film reels and cans) and Chardelle projection screens (Ambol screens), to items of their own design. The latter included American Bolex film winders, the Gearmaster tripod head, the Ambol Cine-Focus - a coupled rangefinder - and several other accessories.

Weston Bolexmeter Exposure Meter
Weston Bolexmeter

In 1940, in cooperation with the Weston Electric Instrument Corporation of Newark, NJ, the American Bolex Company offered the Weston Bolexmeter - the first exposure meter to be designed specifically for use with the shutter speeds of the H-16. This was only produced for a short time, however, as many American companies began to focus their production efforts toward defense work during WWII.

Despite the expanding war in Europe in 1940, the American Bolex Company was still able to import limited numbers of Bolex cameras into the United States by neutral merchant ships from Spain and Portugal. [2] This appears to have continued at least into 1942. The company continued to advertise the H-16, H-8 and L-8 cameras during the war in magazines such as Popular Photography, Home Movies and others; prices were lowered, but availability was scarce. Like many photographic manufacturers and suppliers, American Bolex advertisements during this period were mainly intended to remind people of their company; to suggest the purchase of War Bonds instead, but to remember their name and products after the war was over.

In February of 1944, the American Bolex Company moved four blocks to the west, into a new building located at 521 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The company seems to have expanded its operation to include a service department with Paillard trained technicians. New product catalogs were printed in 1946 with an expanded range of Paillard and Ambol accessories. This was followed by an annual catalog for the years of 1947 and 1948.

Norwood Director

In 1948, the Brockway family and the American Bolex company obtained the rights to produce the Norwood Director exposure meter. By Summer of 1948, Paillard of Switzerland established Paillard Products Inc as a direct factory branch in New York City. By the end of the year, this new company had become the sole distributor for Bolex and Hermes products in the United States. With the loss of the Bolex franchise, the Brockway family continued the manufacture of Norwood Exposure meters under the name "Director Products Corporation"; this appears to have later been changed to "Brockway Director Corporation".

After this point, details seem to be unclear. It appears that Robert Brockway, son of Ezra S. Brockway, established the Brockway Camera corporation in the mid 1950s. The company continued to manufacture and develop the Norwood Director until it sold the patents to the Sekonic corporation in 1957. For more information and history about the Norwood Director, visit this site.

Paillard Hermes Typewriter and Bolex H-16
Paillard Typewriters and Bolex Camera ads

The American Bolex company did much to increase the availability and awareness of Bolex motion picture cameras in the United States. It did so during a difficult time of economic depression and a world war. Although they were expensive cameras - especially when compared to the numerous American manufactured home movie cameras of the time - the high quality and precision of these fine Swiss instruments proved to be a worthy investment for tens of thousands of amateur and professional filmmakers in the United States. As their advertising slogan once stated: "It's cheaper to buy a Bolex at the start - so insist upon seeing a Bolex before you buy!"

If you have further information on the American Bolex Company or the Brockway family, or if you'd like to correct any facts in this article, please contact me.

1 "Bolex Mail Order Bulletin," (New York: American Bolex Company, 1942), 2.

2 "The World's Finest Movie Cameras," (New York: American Bolex Company, 1946), 1.