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History of AGFA

AGFA imageMore than a century of experience in the graphic and healthcare industries, Agfa goes back to the nineteenth century and is a long and illustrous record of innovation and technological leadership. A Belgian 'photo products' business and a German colour dye manufacturer joined forces and grew into an internationally renowned company in the graphic and healthcare industries.

1867 - 1904: The Early Years

Both Agfa and Gevaert were established in the nineteenth century. Business boomed and soon the original premises became too small.

Looking at the high-tech products and solutions delivered by Agfa today, it is hard to believe that it all began way back in the 19th century. But it did. In 1867, a color dye factory was established at the Rummelsburger See near Berlin. In 1873, it was registered as the 'Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation', AGFA.

1894: The birth of 'L. Gevaert & Cie'

In 1890, the 22-year-old Lieven Gevaert established his own workshop in Antwerp (Belgium), which was mainly used for manufacturing calcium paper for photography. Barely four years later, the businessman Armand Seghers helped to establish the limited stock company 'L. Gevaert & Cie'. The starting capital amounted to just 20,000 Belgian francs (500 Euro).

1895: The first subsidiary abroad

L. Gevaert & Cie barely had time to celebrate its first anniversary before announcing the establishment of its first subsidiary abroad. The take-over of the Parisian company 'Blue Star Papers' introduced a new gelatine paper. This new subsidiary further enhanced the success of Gevaert's paper line.

1904: The Gevaert business flourishes at the beginning of the new century

Business was booming and the buildings were becoming too small. The factory moved from Antwerp to Mortsel. These premises are still in use today, although the buildings have been substantially extended and modernized. The company's success was shared with the employees, since they were allowed to participate in the company profits. This initiative established Lieven Gevaert as one of the pioneers of employee participation.

1905 - 1959: The Years of Expansion

Agfa continued to improve color photography, while Gevaert launched an innovative assortment of X-ray films on the market.

1920: The conversion to a new name: 'Gevaert Photo Producten N.V.'

The success of Gevaert could not be stopped. In 1920, the group was renamed 'Gevaert Photo Producten N.V.'. While the starting capital in the early years of Gevaert was still moderate, it had now grown to 15 million Belgian francs (375,000 Euro).

1936: Color photography is ready for the mass market

In 1916 Agfa began developing materials for color photography. One of the pioneers was Dr. Rudolf Fischer from Berlin. Agfa was the only company that continued to improve color photography throughout the 1920's until, in the 1930's, their efforts finally paid off. In 1936 Agfa introduced 'Agfacolor-Neu', a real sensation throughout the whole photographic world. For the first time a single film, single exposure and single developing process sufficed for general color photography. The film had no less than 278 patents! Two years later, Agfa would bring its color paper and a 16mm color-amateur cine film to the market. Agfa was way ahead of most of the competition.

1947: X-rays after World War II

Being also a manufacturer of various types of X-ray films, Gevaert launched a new assortment on the market. These products had higher sensitivity, better contrast, brightness, and wider exposure margins. Once again the medical world enthused over the Gevaert X-ray products.

1952: Films for scientific and technical purposes

Gevaert always put a lot of energy into research, resulting in new technologies and new products. In 1952 it came on the market with a number of innovative, highly successful products. One of them was SCIENTIA, a range of plates and films for scientists, researchers, technicians, etc. This range was used in astronomy, nuclear physics, infrared photography, micrography, etc.

1959: The first fully automatic 35mm camera

Modern amateur photography also means simple, user-friendly handling. Agfa continued to improve its cameras, and focused on very easy to operate equipment. Functionality was another important factor when Agfa came on the market with the first fully automatic 35mm camera. It was an instant success and during the next three years, Agfa sold a million of these Agfa Optima cameras.

1960 - 1981: The Golden 60s and 70s

1964 was not only the year of the 125th anniversary of photography, but also the year of the historic merger between Agfa and Gevaert.

1964: A historical marriage

Not only was it the 125th anniversary of photography, but 1964 was also the year of the big merger between Gevaert and Agfa. In early 1964, Agfa AG, a 100% subsidiary of Bayer merged with Gevaert Photo Producten N.V. In doing so, two new operating companies were established on July 1st, and the two partners each held a 50% stake: Gevaert-Agfa N.V. in Mortsel (Belgium) and Agfa-Gevaert AG in Leverkusen (Germany).

1971: Agfa-Gevaert develops the first European xerographic copier

Agfa introduced a copier at the Hannover Messe in Germany: the 'Gevafax X-10' is the first European copier, based on xerographic technology, enabling economic photocopying onto plain paper.

1980-81: The silver crisis

International speculation on the silver market caused a significant rise in the price of silver, which was now seven times more expensive than in the year before! As silver was one of the most important base materials for the photographic industry, these high prices put Agfa-Gevaert in a difficult financial situation. Bayer delivered additional funds and consequently obtained 100% ownership of the Agfa-Gevaert Group.

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