Walter Zapp (04.09.1905 Riga, Latvia - 17.07. 2003 Binningen, Switzerland) is the inventor of the Minox camera. His family belonged to the ethnic minority of baltic germans in Latvia. The family later moved to Tallin, Estonia where Walter invented and assembled the  very first Minox. He later successfully signed a deal with the company VEF in Riga, Latvia to manufacture and sell it worldwide.

Minox timeline:

Before the Minox


1922 Lemberg - Entry ticket to the photographic world
Walter Zapp worked in 1922 for photographic studio of Walter Lemberg. There he used extremely large cameras to take a picture.They were bulky, required a lot of adjustments and were not what Walter considered very practical. His first inspirations for a more user friendly camera were born. At Lemberg, he met Waldemar Nylander. Through him he met his younger brother Nikolai and the two became good friends. He worked there until 1924.

1925 Rambach - First design experience
He started to work for Rambach, a photographic apparatus dealer in Reval in 1925. He also started to design and invent and filed his first patent in 1925, a paper-cutting machine for photographs. He left Rambach in 1926

Between 1926 and 1928 times were difficult and Walter took odd jobs including some in advertising.

1928 Akel - First camera design experience
In 1928 he managed to enter the photographic industry again and started at Akel, a photo-finishing business. There he was very inventive and participated in the design of  a semi-automatic camera.  During that time Nikolai introduced him to the businessman Richard Juergens. According toFor Richard Juergens he started to design photographic enlargers. In the summer of 1928, Walter Zapp proposed to him the idea to design a camera.
In 1929 he send is own camera ideas and sketches to Leica's chief designer Oskar Barnack.

1928 Meeting Richard Juergens.
The story goes that Nikolai Nylander introduced Richard Juergens to Walter Zapp. 
Richard required a specially adapted photographic enlarger and Walter Zapp was the man for the job. Walter Zapp did not think much of Richard Juergens at first. He thought he did not understand or wanted to understand technical aspects and appeared to be only a common ameuter photographer who wanted to take pictures. Richard according to Walter Zapp also asked what he, Walter, thought about this crazy trend of miniature cameras and when people would stop chasing it. Richard did not believe at all in the smaller negative format. Walter disagreed and said that this trend was not about to end any time soon. He did take Richards job and made the specified enlarger for him. He also propsed to him the idea to design a camera but Richard was not interested. It would take 4 more years for this to change.

1932 Partnership with Juergens
Several years later on the
16 of August 1932 did Richard and Walter revisited the original idea and agreed on a partnership to design a camera. Juergens would financially support Walter and then both would share equally any financial gains. Still Richard was thinking of a more normal sized camera but Walter secretly continued on his subminiature camera design. For almost two years Walter worked on the project and used up almost all Richards funds. Only in 1934 did he come clean and propsed the Minox design

1934 Minox proposal

To convince Richard to change direction and support Walters idea of a (sub)miniature camera he used an analogy. He told a story referring to the current and outdated large format photography as  a big and slowly sinking ocean liner. The only rescue were the small lifeboats, again a reference to the trend of miniature cameras. With that he showed Richard the wooden Minox model and propsed to him the idea of the Minox design. Richard agreed and from that moment on all efforts were made to realise this revolutionary camera design.

The wooden model

The technical drawings for the Ur-Minox

1936 A Minox is born!


The parts were not made by Walter Zapp but he made the final alterations to them and bit by bit assembled the very first Minox. In the summer of 1936, the Minox was born and ready to be tested

The specifications are:

Walter Zapp and his friend Nikolai Nylander spend hours discussing potential names. While playing around with worlds like Mina, Minou, Minna, Nikolai threw in the Minox.

They searched for a partner to preduce the camera in Estonia but soon had to look elswhere as Estonia was very small. They tried contacting companies like the german AGFA but finally a meeting with
english representative of VEF (Janis Vitols?) proved fruitful. The representative set up a meeting with Teodor Vitols, the general director of VEF in Latvia and they all travelled to Riga.

1936 Pitching to VEF

Traveling to Latvia. On 07. September 1936, the team meets the VEF executives in Riga. Nylander who was a great photographer and  famous in his own right must have put together a very convincing display of test shots for Walter.

Photographs taken with the Ur-Minox for VEF? (Walter Zapp, name? dog of?, Jutta Juergens)

They were so good, that Teodor Vitols was not convinced that this camera actually produced these pictures. He was convinced that these pictures which Walter Zapp and his team showed him were doctored. So he demaned that Walter Zapp made new pictures there and then of one of the VEF employees. Walter was not prepared at all for this. Luckily VEF had a complete photographic studio in house and with their equipment they managed to print their first VEF test picture
3/4 hours later.

Upon viewing the photo, Teodor shook Walters hand and said: Congratulations! .. and the first preliminary deal was signed

One month later on the 6th of October 1936, Walter Zapp and Richard Juergens agreed on the final terms of the contract

Immediately Walter Zapp moved to Riga to help in the redesign of his camera and the create the asseccoires which were part of the contract between him and VEF.