- 1936 - VEF prototyping
- 1936 - Re-engineering the Ur-Minox
- 1937 - Leipzig Exhibition
- 1938 - The final production prototype
- 1938 - VEF production
- 1938 - Production Problems
- 1939 - Official sale starts!
- 1940 - Under Russian Occupation
- 1941 - Under German Occupation
- 1942 - End of production!
- 1942 - Inofficial assembly
- Latvia - Black market assembly
- England - Secret war effort
1936 - VEF Prototyping
On the 06. October 1936, VEF, Walter Zapp and
Richard Juergens signed the agreement that would eventually distribute
the Minox camera through out the world. VEF immediately filed patent
protection and the first applications were submitted in December 1936.
However, the serial production of the Minox was a huge task. They only
had 1 prototype, the Ur-Minox. This camera may have convinced the
director of VEF but it was far from perfect. Even if it would have been
perfect, the prototype was assembled by hand using hand made parts. To
produce several hundred or even thousand cameras, all parts needed to be
economically on masse in house. These parts all required precicion-engineering, specialised machinery and labour.
VEF never made cameras, a huge hurdle as the production line had to be
assembled from scratch, machines trialed, people trained, etc.
Developing the serial prodction process must have been the biggest
In the first phase, a team of more than 60 individuals tried to adapt
the Ur-Minox design for large scale production. Therefore a lot of key
changes were made to the orginal design. Either they were made to
improve the camera or better adapt it for serial production. They
- The lens design and manufacture
- The shutter system
- The view finder
- The film transport
- The negative size from 6 x 9mm to 8 x 11 mm.
The alterations ment that the VEF Minox camera became slightly larger than his Ur-Minox which disappointed Walter Zapp a little.
One finish source
mentioned that VEF was able to produce a small asignment of cameras by 1937,
(likely still very early prototypes) and exhibited them during
the world famous trade fair "Leipziger Fruehjahrs Messe"
(28.02.1937-08.03.1937) in Germany. I was not able to
confirm this yet. It seems so early that I wonder if VEF may only had the Ur-Minox to show at
continued all throughout 1937 and only in April 1938 was VEF confident
enough to start serial production. On the 08. April it was anounced
throughout Latvia that the sale was almost imminent. The pictures
and advertisements already show a camera which has all the features of
the later production camera. It is prototype No.0113. It is thus likely
that no more than 120 prototypes may have existed.
Prototype No.0113 (Turning Point)
Due to the nature
of prototyping, there is no fixed number of finished cameras. It is
believed that the Ur-Minox but none of the VEF prototypes survived
intact. Masaharu Sahito mentiones another prototype. As it is listed in
his book with technical features, it could actually have survived (see
(No.0025) and (No.0113) are listed with 5 digits but I assume that was
a mistake. I am also sure No.0113 is still lost but due to the good
photographic evidence he included it in his list.
Minox 8x11 Masaharu Sahito 2002
1938 - VEF Production
Serial production of the VEF Miox was announcement in April 1938 in all latvian newspapers.
Despite the huge publicity, the production must have run into serious problems.
The first factory-produced VEF Minox was only assembled 6 month later in October 1938
and handed to the latvian President in November 1938.
- 08.04.1938 - First Press Release
- 01.05.1938 - Anticipated introduction to the market
However from October 1938 till Februray 1939 the serial production of
the Minox was far from running smoothly and was still pain stakingly slow. Initially VEF was able to only assemble 2 cameras a
day. It took another 5 month to officially anounce the sale of the VEF
Minox in Latvia. A considerbable delay of 9-10 month.
And even then, the newspaper reports the imminent sale of "a few" Minox
cameras, so they were unable to build up big stocks yet. Production soon improved
and by mid-1939 VEF was able to manufacture 180 Minox cameras per
month (source?). The Latvijas
Kareivis newspaper reports a higher output. According to the article
published on the 8th August 1939 the production output was 300-400
cameras a month. Cameras were exported to the neighbouring countries. VEF set up headquaters in
England and Switzerland. The depandance in Norway, Finland and USA were also in
preparation. In late 1939, the Sowjet Union pressurised the Latvian
government to allow sowjet troops to be stationed within the contry for
- 02.11.1938 - First factory-produced "Minox" handed to the latvian President
Soon the sowjets started to take over positions in
politics and industry. The beginning of the end. Non-complient latvians
including several VEF employees are said to have been send to russian
forced labour camps for "re-education".
- 25.02.1939 - Official Announcement: Start of Minox sales
- 16.04.1939 - First advertisements appear in newspapers
- Summer 1939 - Ca. 1000-2000 cameras may have been made before the russians arrive
- No.01001 - 02000/03000 ("Made in Latvia")
- Summer 1940 - Ca. 3000-4000 cameras were made before Latvia officially joined the USSR
- No.2001/3001 - 5000/7000 ("Made in Latvia")
Under Russian occupation
In the summer of 1940 Latvia "joined" the sowjet union as one of its
newest republics. From now on everything was labelled "Made in USSR".
Minox cameras and parts already engraved Made in :Latvia were
After that time all old parts were used up and true Made in USSR cameras appear on the market
- Summer 1940 - "Made in USSR"
- The first batch include: No.06332, No.06354, No.06476 & No.06482
- The second batch include: No.07551 - No.08007
- True Made in USSR - No.09359 - 10386
are several batches of cameras which are not labelled Made in USSR. Why
I dont know (yet). They contain metric and imperial versions. Duing the
russian occupation, it appears that the export of cameras continued but
the production of imperial export cameras was almost stopped.
So, we can say that at
least all True Made in USSR engraved cameras were made during the
russian occupation. These total ca. 1100 cameras (No.9300-10400).
- The surviving cameras indicate that ca. 2900-4100 cameras were made
- The production of 5000 cameras was envisioned (State Plan for 1941; ref. Morris Moses Minox book)
- VEF records indicate less than 2000 cameras (for 1941 only ???; ref Morris Moses Minox book)
The occupaion became increasingky worse and in early 1941 several leading VEF staff members were deported to Siberia and Walter Zapp fled on one of the last trains to Germany.
Under German occupation
Not soon after the
german army turned against russia and moved into Latvia in the Spring of 1941. They were at first celebrated
as liberators, as Latvians hoped that they had now regained their independence. Many latvians
even fought alongside the german army. In the first few month the
germans were quiet but meticolous as they are got organised and with the beginning of
1942 took full control of latvia, occupied the country and
suppressed the people.
Minox cameras were -officially- only made from July till November 1941, in this brief period of percieved freedom.
- Summer 1941 - November 1941
- Last USSR camera ca. 10400
- Re-engraved ca. 11200 - 12600
The germans are always
precice, accurate and record everything! So it did not take me long
until I found the german statistics. In total 1720 cameras were made. They also show that the production already came to a halt in December 1941 :
- Jul - 243
- Aug - 440
- Sep - 284
- Oct - 411
- Nov - 342
- Dec - 0
the 21. January 1942 VEF became a part of the german conglomerate AEG
and was renamed AEG Ostlandwerke. In addition the german army
officially shut down all Minox production with an executive order
on the 04.03.1942 (Heeres-Verordnungsblatt 1942 Vol.24 Part 3 Page 150 Point 185
So what was the final -official- german occupation
production of the Minox-device at the company VEF Riga will be shut
down and discontinued for the duration of the war.
Cameras in final
stages of assembly will be used to meet current German Army orders.
Orders of individual cameras by relatives of german soldiers,
individual army units or persons are canceled with immediate effect.
Requests for the manufacture or delivery of Minox cameras will not be
accepted. The current and outstanding orders or request are considered
cancelled, a seperate notification of cancellation will not be given.
Minox film can still be ordered from the VEF sale office in Riga."
All this while Walter Zapp
was in Germany but he returned to Latvia at the end of 1941 beginning
of 1942 when the Minox production was about to be shut down. He must
have been unable to convince the new directors to continue with the
production and he soon left Riga again and went back to his new exile
in Germany. Before leaving, he was able to get his Ur-Minox back which
he had to leave behind in early 1941.
In germany he tried to convince several camera manufacturers to restart
the Minox production but ultimately remained unsuccessful.
- ca. 11200 + 1720 = 12920?
What happened after the german army ordered the shut down of all minox
Minox cameras became rare. The local classifieds are full of ads
searching for a Minox to purchase, such as the one below in the
Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland 18.01.1942 (Minox camera wanted to buy urgently. Offers under L.1927).
german occupation got increasingly worse, in addition WW2 was in full
swing. AEG maximised the profits at VEF and used forced labour within
the factories. VEF even maintained their own forced labour camp, most
inmates were local jews. An internal AEG document unemotionally records
that 3/4 of the current workforce earned less that the local minimum
wage. A neutral statement hiding an ugly truth.
During that time, Minox cameras were assembled in secret by VEF workers
and showed up on the black market. With the shut down, hundreds of
Minox cameras were left in an almost finished state. It was easy to
finish them and as they were small, smuggle them out of the building
and use the Reichsmark to support their family.
- 1942 - black market assembly; ca. 2-3 a day? (710-1070 a year?)
- 1942: 13000 - 13710/14070?
- 1943: 13710/14070 - 14410/15140?
- some14800 bodies never assembled
- Minox assembly completely stops at 15200
The german occupation came to an end in the Spring of 1944 when the
sowjet army entered Latvia. German companies such as AEG were ordered
earlier to evacuate any essential equipment out of latvia. AEG
documents show that they evacuated VEF goods with an insurance value of
9,2mio Reichsmark. This consisted of 1,2mio was assigned for machines,
8mio for parts, models, technical drawings and documents. To legimise
this transfer AEG send a last minute money wire to the trustees of VEF
in Latvia. It remains speculation if this was an accounting trick as
the trustees of VEF in Latvia were in turn AEG directors.
In March 1944 a german
convoy was registered by the US Airforce. This convoy also included 93
VEF specialists including Francis Ferts (partcipated in the Minostigmat design) and
Oskar Grindgergs (Walter Zapps assigned designer). October 1944, the
transfer was complete. In 1946, the newspaper Janas News
(07.08.1946) recounts that the only items that could be found after the
germans left were 1x metal lathe, 1x 10meter power cable, and 1x steam
boiler. At the time several latvian VEF workers emigrated to Germany in 1944 and some Germany to restore Minox production after 1945.
- End of 1943 - Start of the evacuation