Playing a role in history is something only a few brands can claim. One such brand is Hasselblad. Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Hasselblad has been making medium-format cameras since World War II. The cameras are perhaps best known for their role in the Apollo space program. Not bad for a company that actually started out as a trading company.
In 1841, Hasselblad founder’s son Arvid Victor Hasselblad had an interest in cameras, so he started the photographic division of the company. His hopes weren’t that high. He reportedly stated, “I certainly don’t think that we will earn much money on this, but at least it will allow us to take pictures for free.” A few years later, in 1877, Hasselblad constructed the company’s headquarters, which stayed in use until 2002.
Hasselblad also met with George Eastman, who founded Eastman Kodak, and soon became the sole Swedish distributor of Eastman’s products. By 1908, the photography portion of the business was so successful that it was spun off into its own corporation that included shops and photo labs. Arvid’s grandson took over, and his son, Victor, was sent to study optics in Germany.
During WWII, Viktor helped the Swedish military develop an aerial camera—the HK7. By 1941, Viktor was employing 20 people and the Swedish Air Force wanted another camera that could be mounted to an aircraft. Viktor created the SKa4.
After the war, Viktor transitioned to making civilian cameras. Using employees with a background in watchmaking, Viktor began producing what would be called the Series One cameras. These cameras were fragile, but Viktor addressed that with the Series Two. Hasselblad continued improving its cameras, until the 1950s when the company landed on their 500 C design, which would be the basis for all their cameras for the next 60 years.
Even then, it wasn’t until 1960 that the camera division became profitable. In 1962, NASA picked up the Hasselblad camera for use in their space missions. It was a Hasselblad camera that captured the images of man’s first step on the moon.
Hasselblad was eventually sold to Kodak, but the company continues making a limited number of cameras today—around 10,000 cameras each year.