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In Its Banner Ann Arbor Years, Argus Made Taking Photographs a Real Snap

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In its banner Ann Arbor years, Argus made taking photographs a real snap

D EDITOR'S NOTE - This is an-
other '** " weekly series of stories
on < that helped shape state
history, with parties'
on the Ann Arbor-^
The series will continue each Mon-
day throughout Michigan's sesqui-
centennial year. Readers may sug-
—•-*• i-

• the Sesquicentennial
Journal, The Ann Arb' "
P.O. 1147, Ann Arbor, 48lu



Watch the birdie." That
phrase was entombed per-
manently in the 1930. ?ir '
'40s, when American fa
snapped up the first American-
made, mass-produced, hand-held
cameras — the Model A and the C-3
ma?*" hv Argns, a homegrown Ann

Argus pul of Ann Arbor 10
years ago, 01 w n 45-year history

of innovation in electrical p,"d opti-
cal technology, iny's
three Old West Side buildings -
two of which date from the mid-
1800s - are still in use today.

In 1931, a group of 10 Ann Arbor
investors, including then-mayor
William Brown, pooled $10,000 to
start a company they called Inter-
' s: ' "i^io The firm obtained

im.»i, .1 midget" radios - the
first table-top )ortables - under
the brand nam( of Kadette.

irm dc tided to diversify,
and in 1936, foi nder Charles Vers-
choor went to'Germany to study
Leica's manufacturing methods.
The same year. International Ra-
dio introdu^ "" ' ' VThe5-
inch-by-2-iuii >iu;i<.^- I disap-
peared from the shelves quickly,
selling 30,000 the first we^k

International Radio K I its
Kadette patents to RCA auu adopt-
ed the Argus name. The Argus C-3,
in its heyday the biggest-selling
camera in the U.S., was manufac-
tured from 1939 to 1966.

World War II brought numerous
defense contracts to Argus. The
company produced telescopes, bin-
ocular lenses, tank gunsights and
pf -^s, employing 1,200 people
in u:..,,, ,ik war years.

But the firm ultimately was un-
able to keep pace with the already
burgeoning Japanese electronics
industry. Argus' Ann Arbor back-
ers sold their interest to Sylvania
in the 1950s. T owntown
buildings were pi^ ^_.d by the
University of Michigan. The com-
pany's camera division was trans-
ferred to South Carolina, and Ar-
gus moved its remaining offices
and optics division to South State

iff 9

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• •. - •f^i •

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In the early 1970s, Argus was
sold again, this time to Mansfield
Inc. The United Auto Workers or-
ganized the plant, and in 1973, the
union was certified to represent the
workers. The company refused to

accept the results of the certifica-
tion election, touching off a strike
that closed the plant for 13 months
in 1974-75. By the time the strike
ended, all but 35 of the firm's 140
jobs on South State had been elimi-
nated. The company fell into finan-
cial disarray and pulled its oper-
ation out of Ann Arbor to South

Argus' two 19th century build-
ings are still in use.

Argus 1, on William Street be-
tween Third and Fourth streets in
the Old West Side Historic District,
was built as a cabinet shop in 1866
and was home to the Michigan Fur-
niture Co. from 1879-1929. After the
Argus years, the U-M used the
building as an amphibian research
and cricket-breeding lab.

First Martin Corp. and O'Neal
Construction bought Argus 1 for
$500,000 in 1983. It now houses the
offices of Beckett and Raeder, a
land-planning firm. O'Neal Con-
struction is soon to move in, and

suic space is still available for of-
tice or light-industrial uses.

Argus 2, at 416 Fourth St., built
as a brewery, is now occupied by
Mathematical Reviews, a publica-
tion of the American Mathematical
Society that has close ties to the U-