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Rollei History

The Rollei start-up

Left: From 1920 to 1923, Rollei was located at the Vierwegstr. 32 in Braunschweig

In 1920, Reinhold Heidecke and Paul Franke founded  "Franke und Heidecke Werkstatt für Feinmechanik und Optik" (F & H Workshop for fine mechanics and optics) in Braunschweig, Germany. Short version of the company name: "Franke & Heidecke".

The very first cameras: Heidoskop & Rolleidoscop

The company rapidly became very successful with their very first product, a stereo camera named "Heidoscop", later followed by the "Rolleidoskop".

Birth of a legend: "Rolleiflex"

In 1928, the first medium format roll film camera was presented: the Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex camera. This camera was the cornerstone that lifted the company to it's present international fame and glory. In the course of following years, the company constantly improved the line of Rolleiflex and Rolleicord Twin Lens Reflex cameras.

Development of a 6x6 SLR camera, all precision mechanics

In 1955, Rollei started the development of their first single lens 6x6 reflex camera. By 1957, the development was finished, but the camera was not marketed due to two facts: 1. The Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras were more successful than ever, and 2. Dr. Reinhold Heidecke and Victor Hasselblad agreed in 1957 to not compete in the other companies field. Meaning, Rollei would not build SLR medium format cameras, and Hasselblad would not sell twin lens reflex cameras. This was not a good decision, and Rollei unintentionally left the 6x6 SLR market open to Hasselblad and Japanese competitors.

Left: Aerial view of the Rollei factory on the Salzdahlumerstr. #196 in Brunswick. Up to date, the factory still resides at this Address.

In 1960 Dr. Heidecke passed away.

The name of the company was changed to "Rollei Werke Franke & Heidecke" in 1962, and the development of a medium format SLR was slowly revived. In 1964, Dr. Heinrich Peesel, the company's new general manager, was decided to have the new camera ready for the important 1966 Photokina fair in Cologne. The Rollei developers team headed by engineers Richard Weiss and Claus Prochnow worked on the project.

First single lens 6x6 camera: the SL66

They conceived a camera based on the construction elements of a studio camera, with the focusing rail on the left side. This was done so photographers accustomed to Rollei Twin Lens Reflex cameras would feel comfortable to find all operating elements in the same places: focusing on the left side, film advance and shutter release on the right side. Weiss and Prochnow had the camera ready, in time for the 1966  Photokina photographic fair in Cologne. Hence the name of the camera, SL66 for 1966 and 6x6, the size of the negatives.

At the time, development of the camera had cost Rollei about 3.5 million German Marks, which, at today's value, would be more than $ 10 million. A very large amount of money for a small company like Rollei this is, and shows how dedicated Rollei was to this new 'super Rolleiflex'.

The SL 66 consists of almost 1,000 single parts, all metal with the exception of only about 10 plastic parts (apart from the leatherette covers).

The legendary Rollei 35

At the same time, Rollei introduced the legendary "Rollei 35" camera, which was successfully sold in millions of pieces around the world and which still holds a cult status.

Singapore Expansion

In the 1970s, Rollei expanded into Singapore and started a very successful parallel production of 35mm cameras and lenses, 35mm slide projectors and amateur flash equipment in Singapore. Millions of projectors and cameras were produced in Singapore in following years. The total number of employees at the time was 1,964 in Germany & 5,696 in Singapore, all together 7,660 combined.

A unique camera with new features: SLX to 6000 system

After the introduction of the successful SL66, Rollei had started developing a sister model with different features. The engineers and the marketing department agreed, that there would be a larger demand for an electronically controlled, motorized medium format cameras with a leaf shutter lens construction.

In 1970 already, Rollei engineers had developed a linear driven motor to operate the lens shutter and diaphragm lenses, eventually resulting in the fastest and most accurate medium format shutter and aperture system with shutter times as short as 1/1000 second.

The revolutionary SLX was presented in 1973, and in later years, this camera system evolved into the Rollei 6000 system, which is still in production today.

Disaster strikes

The setup for production in Singapore eventually turned out to be too grand and because the world market could not absorb all the products produced, in order to sell their prices fell sharply and the dwindling revenues resulted in the disastrous bankruptcy of Rollei in 1981. With the help of private investors, the company resumed its development and production with a far smaller range of items with a new name: "Rollei Fototechnik" in 1982.

The new Rollei Fototechnik

Following the resurrection, Rollei Fototechnik concentrated on the development and production of expensive, high tech professional cameras in Germany. The product range was mainly focused on 6x6 cameras: TLR, SL66 and SLX cameras, and a small line of exclusive SL3000 series for 35mm film.

Rollei Fototechnik also introduced a line of binoculars and refined two lines of dissolve and 6x6 slide projectors. The SLX camera line was continuously improved and resulted in the latest high tech medium format Rollei 6008 AF, the worlds first full size 6x6 auto focus camera.

Samsung interlude

After having been taken over by Schneider Kreuznach in 1987, Rollei Fototechnik changes hands to become property of Samsung, South Korea in the 1990s.

Samsung sold the company back to the management after a short period of co-operation.

The plunge into digital consumer land

In 2002, Rollei Fototechnik was taken over by a group of Scandinavian investors with the purpose of injecting a considerable amount of funds and technology to direct Rollei Fototechnik more towards the consumer market. New digital consumer cameras are being released, instead of focusing on expensive niche products.

Employee take over

In 2005 2006 the professional Rolleicameras are now under direct management of Franke & Heidecke ( again ) . Some top employees of the ailing Rollei Fototechnic in Braunschweig took the inititive to run the company under a new management , scaled down but young of heart they are heading for a new future , wth the Hy6 hybrid film/digital camera as the new flagship.

  1920 The precision engineering and optical workshop - Franke und Heidecke is founded in Brunswick by Paul and Reinhold Heidecke
  1921 The first product is ready: the Heidosmat stereo camera.
  1927 A new stereo camera is presented: the Rolleidoskop.
The Rolleiflex, the first twin-lens reflex camera for roll film is launched.
Opening of the new factory in Brunswick.
Introduction of the Rolleicord, a simplified version of the Rolleiflex. 
  1945 Half of the factory buildings and machinery lay in ruins after WW II.
  1950 Paul Franke dies at age 62. His son Horst is appointed CEO of the company.
  1960 Reinhold Heidecke dies at age 79.
  1962 The company operates under the new name "Rollei Werke Franke & Heidecke".
Launch of the Rollei 16, the first Rollei camera not to be designed for roll film.
  1964 Dr. Peesel is appointed CEO. He manages to increase sales and shield the company against the growing influence of Japanese imports.
Rolleiflex SL 66 (Rollei's first single - lens roll film reflex camera). The Rollei 35 is presented at Photokina fair in Cologne. Over the next three decades, around 3 million of these cameras are sold. The Heidecke family sells its company share to the Franke family.
Production of computer flash units begins. Peesel starts to expand: 2 new factories are planned, one in Uelzen (Germany), and a large one in Singapore.
Rollei enters the slide projector market with its P 35. This projector was produced in almost 3 million pieces.
Premiere of the first 35 mm single-lens reflex camera from Rollei - the Rolleiflex SL 35.
The Rollei P 66A, the first automatic 6x6 slide projector, comes onto the market.
World premiere of the Rolleiflex SLX, the first electronic camera system for the medium-format and the predecessor to the present Rolleiflex 6000 system.
The dissolve projector P 3800 is launched, the original version of the Rolleivision twin MSC 300 projectors.
  in the 70s Dr. Peesel is followed by CEOs Peter Peperzak, then by  Heinz Wehling.
With its SL 2000F, Rollei launches the first 35mm single - lens reflex camera with interchangeable magazine, double viewfinder system and integrated motor drive.
  1981 Rollei faces bankruptcy due to falling revenues and over production in Singapore. The CEO at the time is Hans Heinz Porst, a mayor German photo retailer.
  1982 A British company, United Scientific Holding, buys the bankrupt Rollei company and resumes production under a new name "Rollei Fototechnik GmbH".
Introduction of the Rolleivision 66 AV, a dissolve projector for the 6 x 6 format. In the same year, RolleiMetric is launched, a digital 3D industrial measuring system, which is now market leader.
The twin-lens system celebrates its come back with the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX with TTL exposure and flash metering. Rollei is bought by Schneider Kreuznach.
Introduction of the Rolleiflex 6008 the top medium-format camera on the market.
The entry into digital photography comes with the Rollei Digital Scan Pack. In the same year, Rollei brings out the Prego AF, the first modern Rollei compact.
  1992 Rollei is bought by SAMSUNG company of S. Korea.
The new generation of dissolve projectors, Rolleivision twin MSC 300, is introduced.
The digital imaging system is extended with the high-speed Digital ChipPack back.
Launch of the Rolleiflex 6008 integral, a most advanced professional camera for medium format.
Further extension of the digital segment with the DSP-104 digital back.
Rollei presents the bellows camera system X-Act at Photokina. With the Nano-compact cameras, Rollei introduces APS (Advanced Photo System) cameras into its product range. Rollei is bought by the company management.
Rollei celebrates its 80th anniversary.
Spring sees Rollei launch of five new compact cameras, autumn of AFM 35, a new series of dissolve projectors and two new digital cameras.
The year of the launches! Rollei launches 6 new compact cameras, the Rollei 530 flex digital reflex camera, the Rolleiflex 6008 AF (first medium-format camera in 6 x 6 format with auto focus) and a new digital compact camera (Rollei d330 motion). Furthermore, Rollei presents at the Photokina the Rollei 35 RF (rangefinder camera) and the Rolleiflex 4.0 FW (new wide-angle camera).

Rollei is taken over by a Scandinavian investors group. They provide the knowledge and funds to expand Rollei into the consumer digital camera market.

2005 Rollei continues as a design and trading company in Berlin. The professional range is still produced in Braunschweig by Franke & Heidekce, again under their own name and owned by it's about 90 remaining employees.
2006 / 2007 Rollei Berlin closes it's office, Franke & Heidecke in Braunschweig continue with three TLR cameras, 3 slide projectors, and the new Rolleiflex Hy6, This latest development will most likely lead to an expansion of the factory .