Wilart Instrument Company, Inc., 13 Rose Street, New Rochelle, New York          1919 - 1924




The Wilart Instrument Company manufactured professional 35mm motion picture cameras, as well as more basic models intended for newsreel work or cinematic instruction.


According to Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History Version 2.1 by Q. David Bowers, "In 1918 William Nelson managed the Camo Corporation, which was involved in motion picture apparatus and maintained premises at 13 Rose Street. At the same location he was a partner with Arthur Berglund and Alexander Magnus in the Wilart Instrument Company."

As noted in The Iron Age, Volume 104, No. 2, July 10, 1919," The Wilart Instrument Co., New Rochelle, N.Y., has been incorporated with a capital stock of $50,000 by E.W. Nelson, A. Magnuson and A. Berglund to manufacture instruments, tools, etc."

E. William Nelson of Wilart is listed as a member in the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 1920, and per Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960 by H. Mario Raimondo-Souto, Nelson designed Wilart's "The Institute Standard" for the New York Institute of Photography. 

Both Erik William Nelson and Gustav Arthur Berglund held numerous motion picture related patents, with Nelson being an engineer for the company. Other than this, nothing else has been found so far regarding the Wilart Instrument Company or its founders.


This is pure speculation on my part, but the WILART name may have originated from the first three letters of the second and first names of two of the firm's principals:  E. William Nelson and Arthur Berglund.


The Wilart Instrument Company is probably best known for their Wilart Professional Camera, believed to have been introduced in 1919. This is the camera's name as seen in advertising, reviews and references. I've added Model "A" to the name, which is an implied designation to distinguish it from Wilart's Model B.

The Model "A" Professional Camera was characterized by its composition alloy construction, top-mounted engine-turned aluminum magazines and its Pathe-style movement on which the camera's design is based:



 Wilart Model "A" illustrations from The Cinema Handbook, A.C. Lescarboura, 1921  


Mechanically, Wilart's Model "A" was a copy of the Pathe Professional, being called by many "The American Pathe" back in its day.  It's been questioned as to whether Wilart licensed the Pathe's movement or just outright copied it.  Some contend that it would have been nearly impossible for Wilart to build such an obvious copy without Pathe's permission. So far, nothing has come to light to confirm that any licensing took place. And, by the time the Wilart Model "A" was introduced, the Pathe Professional's technology was already 14 or 15 years old, at least. The Pathe's popularity had already peaked after WWI and Bell & Howell's 2709 would dominate the motion picture industry until the Mitchell Standard surpassed it by the late 1920's.



                             Pathe Professional 35mm


According to Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960 by H. Mario Raimondo-Souto, Wilart "was a small American firm born in the early days of the movies. They built several cameras for amateurs and semi-professionals, but were practically never used in the film studios."


The Wilart Model "A" shown here is an earlier version of the model, having its parallax-correcting view finder integrated within the body's casing, rather than a detachable view finder as seen on later versions.  This earlier version also has no light gates (or light traps) built into the film magazines.  As described in the The Cinema Handbook by A.C. Lescarboura, 1921, the light gate " was normally closed and is open only when the magazine is in place and the camera door is closed and locked by means of the milled disc on the back of the camera which drives a bolt into a socket. Therefore, when the door is unlocked the magazine light gates are automatically closed again. The light gate, when open, allows an absolutely the free passage of film without any chance of friction on rubbing surfaces."

Patent No. 1,437,989 was granted to Erik W. Nelson on December 5, 1922 for the design of a "Magazine Light Trap for Motion Picture Cameras":


                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Some four years prior to the introduction of this model, Herbert O. Carlton and Erik W. Nelson were granted Patent No. 1,119,924 on December 8, 1914 for a "Shutter for Motion-Picture Machines". This covered the design for a manually actuated shutter exposure control (or a manual dissolve):


                     Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                       Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                     Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Seven and a half years later, Erik W. Nelson was granted Patent No. 1,417,098 on May 23, 1922 for a "Shutter Mechanism for Motion-Picture Machines". This patent built upon Patent No. 1,119,924 by making the "dissolve" feature automatic as well as manual:


                     Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Elements of Patent No. 1,119,924 may be found in the early example of Wilart's Model "A" Professional Camera seen here.  However, being equipped with a manual dissolve only, the automatic dissolve feature under Patent No. 1,417,098 would be found on later versions of the Model "A" as noted in the advertisement below from Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920.  This ad's date, together with Patent No. 1,417,098 having been applied for on August 4, 1919, indicates the automatic dissolve was incorporated into cameras well before the patent was granted.


This camera is equipped with a Goerz Hypar f3.5, 2 in. focus lens, typical of the standard focal length being used on other professional cameras of the time. This Model "A" is Serial No. 156, which is found stamped on the camera's rear door and on one of the magazines, indicating that magazine to be original to the camera:



            Both ends of the film magazine are stamped with the serial number


Several examples of the Model "A" have been seen, with their serial numbers reflected in photos, videos or documentation:  an early version, Serial No. 121 with an integrated view finder; an early version, Serial No. 157 with an integrated view finder (George Eastman Museum) and a later version with Serial No. 199 having the detachable view finder. The George Eastman Museum has another Wilart 35mm, Serial No. 200 that's believed to be a later version of the Model "A", although the museum has no image for it presently. Other examples have been seen with no serial number information to associate them with. But what can be gleaned from these known and numbered examples, is that by Serial No. 199, the later version of the Model "A" was now being produced.


The early version of the Model "A" was replaced with cameras having detachable view finders and magazine light gates by late 1920. The camera's shutter control was also relocated from the back, to the camera's left side, replaced in its space by a knob.  This knob served the dual function of opening or closing the light gates (light traps) and locking or unlocking the rear door. At some point, the film magazine port protrusions changed from rounded ends to square ends. The focus adjustment, also referred to as a "range correcting device" in illustrations, was moved outward of the camera's body and located beneath the detachable view finder.

An advertisement reflecting some of these changes appeared by August 28, 1920, suggesting that this first version may have been made for about two years or less. In 1920, the Wilart Camera Distribution Corporation existed, as evidenced by this same ad from Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920.  It's presently unknown as to whether Wilart Camera Distribution Corporation was actually owned by Wilart Instrument Company, Inc., or whether it was a standalone entity formed solely to handle marketing and distribution for the camera. No other references have been found for this corporation, and it's interesting in that Wilart Instrument Company appeared to have been selling the cameras themselves, in the years both prior to and subsequent to this ad:



                          From Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920


This ad hyped the Wilart's all metal design, stating that "50 cameras will be ready for delivery about Sept. 10th".  The ad may also have possibly marked the introduction of the Model "A"'s later version, as it depicts the camera equipped with the detachable view finder and magazines with light gates (two dark locking cams seen where the magazines meet at the top). The ad, which also stated that "It is now being used by some of the best professional Cameramen and Producers throughout the country", may have been in reference to the Model "A"'s earlier version which had already been in production for some time.

Per the Motion Picture Daily, Volume 11, No. 3 for December 17, 1921, the Wilart Professional Camera (Model "A") would now be sold direct to the user at the net price of $750, by the Wilart Instrument Company, Inc., New Rochelle, New York:


      From Motion Picture Daily, Volume 11, No. 3 for December 17, 1921


The Iron Trade Review, Volume 69, September 8, 1921, had the following entry under "Construction and Enterprise":  "New Rochelle, N.Y.- The Wilart Instrument Co., 13 Rose street, plans a 2-story factory building, 70 x 250 feet, to cost $60,000."

The Wilart Instrument Company became Wilart Cinema Industries, as reflected in a public notice of name changes published in The New York Times, June 10, 1922.  And by September 7, 1922, an entry in The Manufacturer's Record Exponent of America for that date stated:

"Md., Baltimore -Wilart Cinema Industries of New Rochelle, has plans by E.G. Blanke, 532 N. Calvert St., for construction of $200,000 cinema plant on Reistertown Rd., nr. Park Circle: 300x144 ft.; California mission style architecture; stucco and glazed tile exterior; 2 story, basement and roof garden; fireproof construction; reinforced concrete vaults for storage of films."

The Pathe Professional and the Wilart Professional were profiled under the "Professional Cameras" chapter of Motion Picture Photography for the Amateur by Herbert C. McKay, 1924, suggesting that both cameras were still being marketed by that point.

Based on advertising, industry reviews and references to the company's continuing activities in the cinema field, the Model "A"'s later version was built for about four years. Further research may help to narrow the production timeline and provide more insight into Wilart's final years.


By one account, the Wilart Company disappeared in1926 and their cameras as a whole are rarely seen today.  In comparison to the number of Pathe Professionals that survive, the Wilart Model "A" had a relatively short production run and relatively few examples have been seen in the last forty years. Wilart's Actograph, a 17.5mm camera introduced for the amateur market, is almost non-existent.  Examples of Wilart's Institute Standard (also referred to in a review in Photo-Era Magazine, December, 1923  as the "Wilart News" or "Wilart news-camera"), which evolved from the Actograph's design and was built for the New York Institute of Photography in the 1920's, do surface from time to time.  I'm unaware of any existing Wilart Model B's, the model possibly being discontinued shortly after the camera made its appearance in The Cinema Handbook, 1921.  And finally, an unidentified Wilart model, having a coaxial magazine arrangement like that of the Debrie Parvo, may possibly be a one-off camera, or again, a model that was quickly discontinued. For more information on this unidentified Wilart model, Wilart's Institute Standard or the Pathe Professional, look for them under the "Cinematography" section of this website. 


Despite the Model "A"' not being relegated to Hollywood production as some have indicated, Wilarts were advertised as professional equipment and were no doubt built as such. With all-metal construction, a parallax-correcting view finder, Veeder-style footage counter and light-tight magazines, the Wilart Model "A" Professional Camera embodied everything the Pathe Professional stood for, and more.


On a final note, the Model "A" featured here, Serial No. 156 is one digit off from one of the Wilarts in the George Eastman Museum, Serial No. 157.  Also, Serial No. 199 mentioned above and residing in private hands is also one digit off from the other Wilart in the George Eastman Museum, Serial No. 200.

Really, think about it. How many surviving Wilart cameras of all models can there be, and what are the odds of finding not one, but two consecutively numbered sets of surviving cameras of the same model...I find this nothing short of amazing.  


If you want to see the Wilart Professional Camera in action, and learn more about it, here's a very informative video made by Michael Madden of of the very camera featured on this web page:











       "Wilart Inst. Co., New Rochelle, N.Y." stamping on the film gate















The Wilart Model "A" mounted on a Mitchell Model FH friction head and Mitchell tripod, both from a later era. The head no longer retains its original black crinkle finish, typically seen on most Mitchell cameras and accessories.