Bell & Howell  –  Vintage Camera Brand

Bell & Howell Brand Overview

Bell & Howell logo

Founded: 1907 — Chicago, IL, USA
   
Currently: Bell + Howell

Bell & Howell Brand History

Bell & Howell is an American brand founded in Chicago, Illinois by Donald Bell and Albert Howell, both projectionists. Although the company is primarily known for its motion picture cameras and projectors, the Bell & Howell name also appears on several models of 35mm still cameras.

Donald Bell and Albert Howell established their company in 1907 after meeting as coworkers at the Cary Machine Works in Chicago. Their earliest products include film perforators, projector accessories, and 35mm motion picture cameras. Following a business dispute in 1921, Donald Bell sold his share of the company to Howell and three other men who promptly took over. Despite having left, “Bell” continued to be part of the company’s name. During World War II, Bell & Howell manufactured 16mm gun cameras for the United States Navy. These motion picture cameras were connected to the machine guns on naval aircraft, would only record when the pilot pulled the trigger, and were used to confirm hits on enemy targets as well as serve as training aids.

In the late 1940s, the company attempted to branch out into the still camera market with the Foton but a pricing issue turned it into a commercial failure. Sometime in the early 1950s, they tried again by acquiring a local stereo camera manufacturer called the Three Dimension Company (TDC). Bell & Howell sold several models of stereo cameras under the TDC brand before casting it aside for the Electric Eye 127 of 1958.

From 1961 to 1976, the company changed strategies and formed a partnership with Canon in order to sell their still cameras in the United States under the Bell & Howell name. Most of the products that resulted from this cooperation were mundane cameras designed for the 126 film cartridge with the notable exception of a rebranded version of Canon’s famously quirky Dial 35. Bell & Howell also ceased production of movie camera equipment during this time period.

After several decades struggling in other markets as well as an unsuccessful licensing deal that saw its name attached to a series of low-quality digital cameras, Bell & Howell declared bankruptcy and was purchased by private equity firm Versa Capital Management. Under new management, Bell & Howell (now Bell + Howell) now licenses its name to a wide variety of products including air purifiers and mobile phone accessories as well as digital cameras and camcorders.

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of Bell & Howell cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

References:

Jack Fay Robinson, Bell & Howell Company: A 75 Year History (Chicago: Bell & Howell, 1982)

“Camera, Gun, Motion Picture, Bell & Howell N6A, 16MM, U.S. Navy,” Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?object=nasm_A19880092000

“Canon Camera Museum,” Canon Inc., http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/camera/film/series_other.html

“Bowe Bell & Howell Enters Bankruptcy, Plans Sale to Versa,” Bloomberg Business, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-04-19/bowe-bell-howell-seeks-bankruptcy-sells-itself-to-versa-to-pay-debts

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