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Local Men and Ideas Responsible For Argus' Success

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Local Men And Ideas Responsible For Argus' Success

Camera Firm Now Employs 1,300 Persons

Projectors, Military Lens Instruments Add To Production

(Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of articles dealing with the history and operation of Ann Arbor industries.)

By Ralph Lutz

Argus Cameras, Inc., was founded in depression years when the path to success was stony. Bankruptcies were the order of the day.

But the local businessmen who guided the destinies of this firm were as tough as the times. They knew a good thing when they saw it. And,too they knew that the nation had survived and prospered through depressions in the past.

Today, Argus Cameras, Inc., occupies two brick buildings on Fourth St. and employs 1,300 persons. Physical additions to plant and equipment have been made at a steady rate for nearly a decade. 

A Maze Of Operations

Today, production proceeds at Argus with a maze of operations which appear to be unrelated. But appearances are deceiving, for each specific job has its place in creating the finished product.

In the old building, known as Plant No; 1, raw materials are turned into finished cameras. In a newer building, constructed across the street in 1942, raw glass is turned into finished lenses. Here, too, military lens instruments are made, as are projectors.

At Plant No. 1 operations begin in the receiving room where raw materials arrive. Here, also, occurs the first inspection, by a process known as quality control.

Inspection is an important detail of every operation. Each part is inspected after being made processed. And when the final product comes off the assembly line, it is inspected, part by part, all over again.

Electronics Employed

In the case of the cameras, an electronic device is used to test the accuracy of the shutter speed, the circuit regulating the firing of the flash gun and the focus of the camera.

At Plant No. 1 also are the press room and the machine shop. The punch presses stamp parts, while the machine shop manufactures parts from raw metal.

Upstairs at Plant No. 1 final assembly departments for the various makes of Argus cameras. Today, the Several camera models are shown as the C-3, C-4, A-4, 40 and 75.

Across the street, at Plant No. 2, different functions are performed in a different atmosphere. Here, the pounding of presses and the din of moving parts and people subside into the clean, quiet environment of the laboratory.

Everything Is Clean

The building is air-conditioned, the air is washed, and there is even a special “clean room," so called because every effort is made to keep it clean, even to the inclusion of dust traps. This is the room where all government instruments are assembled, adjusted and tested.

Upstairs in Plant No. 2 are the chemical and engineering laboratories. Some 70 technical employees work in them, testing every phase of Argus products, and competitors' products as well.

Downstairs is a tool room for repairing dies, and final assembly optical and projector rooms.

Lens Processing Is Intricate

One of the most intricate operations carried out in Plant No. 2, is the processing of lenses from the rough state.

Each blank of optical glass is mounted on a fixture known as a blocking tool. It is covered with hot pitch, then cooled in water to harden the pitch.

The glass is then ground with course diamond grit, again with fine diamond grit and, last, with a still finer grit. It is then polished.

Is Successful Firm

Argus Cameras, Inc., is a successful firm. A spokesman said that it will make 79,000 units this month. This refers to cameras and projectors and excludes gunsights and other optical equipment ordered by the government.

A financial report Shows that sales for the fiscal year ending July 31, 1953, amounted to $19,447,541—up from $13,607,568 in 1952.

But figures do not tell the inside story of what made Argus Cameras, Inc.

C. A. Verschoor Leads The Way

The real story is one of ideas, perseverance and capital. They worked together from the beginning, and each time the firm faltered, the big three were on the job.

In 1925, the late Charles A. Verschoor, a local inventor and businessman, gained control of the Arborphone Co., a battery radio set company at Summit and Wild Sts. By 1929, it had folded.

Argus Cameras, Inc., then had its beginnings, not as a camera factory, but as a radio manufacturing concern.

By 1931, Verschoor had organized the International Radio Corp. The money, $10,000, was obtained by Mayor William E. Brown, jr., then of Brown-Cress Co., John Fritz, then an officer of the former Ann Arbor Savings Bank; and other bankers, including William L. Walz, George Moe, Norman Ottmar, Roy Hiscock, Honier Heath and Oscar Eberbach.

The high-water mark of the radio business came in 1932, when Verschoor and his chief engineer, Robert Wuerfel, designed a radio that used tubes instead of a large transformer, and could operate on an AC-DC circuit. It was called the Kadette.

It put the local firm way in front of the field until 1935. That year the company sold the AC-DC patent to David Sarnoff, head of the Arbor Radio Corp. of America, for only $10,000. It lost ground from that day forth.

But perseverance and ideas kept, on. Verschoor traveled to Europe, where he got the idea that, a camera, much like the Leica, could be made and sold for $10.

The International Radio |Corp. was re-organized, the name Argus was hit upon -- Greek mythological god of 1,000 eyes -- and,in May, 1936,the first Argus camera left the assembly line.

They've been coming off the lines ever since. There were times when the firm appeared doomed, but each time ideas, perseverance and capital were on the job. And they were recruited from Ann Arbor.


Here, women are assembling the Argus C-3 camera. The line starts to the right. At the line starts to the right. At the left, the product is boxed and ready for shipment. This is in Plant No 1, where all camera models are assembled.


George V. Jordan, adjusts this gun scope with a plump on the wall out of camera range. The men and women down the line are in various phases of checking military instruments in the government optical assembly and adjustment department.


These machines polish lenses under experimental conditions. This row is using a dry polish. In other rows, the lenses are polished in an iron solution.


These batteries of polishing machines bring lenses to a high degree of accuracy in the Argus Cameras, Inc., Plant No. 2. The lenses are then coated to prevent glare.


Shutters, as well as lenses and other parts, must be checked for accuracy. That's the job of this electronic machine which is brought into play after the camera is assembled.