Thomascolor, Hollywood, California                              1945-1947





Thomascolor 35mm multicolor projection lens, believed to have been manufactured by Thomascolor, Hollywood, California, somewhere between 1945 and 1947. 


One of at least eighty-six such color processes developed between 1899 and 1977, Thomascolor was an additive color motion picture film system, whereby a single image was individually run through red, green, blue and violet filters before coming together to create four distinct images within the space of one standard 35mm frame of black-and-white film. After developing the film negative in the normal manner, a positive print was made.  The four images clustered within each frame of the black-and-white positive were then projected through the same color filter array to produce a single image on the screen having the "color" film effect.  Magazine articles through October, 1945 still reference the use of four colors in describing the system, which by then was being planned for use in the 16mm amateur format.  The projection lens shown here, with only three color filters (red, green, blue) and three lenses, is believed to be an evolution of the original four-color arrangement.

Richard Thomas of Los Angeles, an optical engineer, conceived the process and was granted at least eight patents relating to color film systems:




Double Lens System



Method of and Apparatus for Multicolor Photography



Apparatus for Multicolor Photography



Multiple Image Optical System



Optical System for Photography and Projection



Multiple Photography



Method of and Apparatus for Producing Motion Pictures in Color



Apparatus for Producing Colored Pictures


The Thomascolor process was initially conceived for widescreen film, Thomas having outfitted one Fearless 65mm Superfilm Camera with his lens with enough components to complete six additional Fearless cameras. Thomas conducted tests in 1942, apparently shelving the 65mm format. Theatrical and film producer Michael Todd would end up acquiring these cameras some eight years later, modifying them to create the first cameras used in the 70mm Todd-AO widescreen format.


At various points, the company apparently operated under the names of Richard Thomas Enterprises, Inc., Thomascolor Corporation, Hollywood, California, and by September, 1947, Thomascolor, Inc. Patent information indicates Richard Thomas was a resident of Los Angeles and Westwood Village (a commercial district of Los Angeles) with two of his patents from 1941 and 1942 having been assigned to the Thomascolor Corporation, a Corporation of Nevada.  On January 25, 1951, the State of Delaware repealed the charter for the Thomascolor Corporation, for failure to pay taxes during the prior two years.

I have yet to determine more about the Thomascolor company, how long it lasted and whether any motion pictures ever materialized using this process in either 65mm or 35mm film.  In 1948, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated the practices of the company's certified public accountant, taking issue with a 1947 audit that grossly overvalued the company's patents and patent applications. The audit issues came about, just as Thomascolor was registering to issue securities, based on the strength of these financial statements.

A notation in Popular Photography, November, 1947, stated that "Application for approval of a 10-million-dollar common stock issue has been made by Thomascolor Corp., formed for the manufacture of equipment for making color pictures on black-and-white film. The process, invented by Richard Thomas of Los Angeles, was described in detail in the October, 1945 issue of Popular Photography."  Thomascolor reportedly issued 200 shares before the SEC rescinded their approval.

An article in The CPA Journal, July, 2016 by Dale L. Flesher, PhD, CPA and Gary J. Previts, PhD, CPA, states that "The company’s patented process had the potential to transform Hollywood’s production routines, but the organization was strapped for cash, and because Technicolor was already an entrenched process, competition was fierce."  Technicolor, founded in 1914 as the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation, would go on to become a highly successful company that is still in operation today.



This is the only Thomascolor projection lens I have ever encountered.  In fact, prior to acquiring it, I had never even heard of Thomascolor.  Again, just one of many great concepts that never caught on, disappearing into the pages of cinematic history.



For more information and greater detail on the Thomascolor process, please check out these web addresses:


Wikipedia's list of color film processes for motion pictures:


Article on Thomascolor from Popular Science, August, 1944: article on the beginnings of the Todd-AO process, which utilized Thomascolor 65mm prototype cameras:


Article on Thomascolor from Popular Photography, October, 1945: