Wirgin Vintage Camera Brand
Wirgin Brand Overview
|Founded:||1920 — Wiesbaden, German Reich|
|(modern day Germany)|
Wirgin Brand History
Wirgin was a German brand founded in 1920 by Jewish brothers Heinrich and Josef Wirgin in the city of Wiesbaden just outside Frankfurt. After selling a series of folding cameras, the company finally debuted its first 35mm camera in 1935: the Edinex which was also sold by fellow German camera brand Adox as the Adox Adrette. In 1938, violent persecution of Germany’s Jewish communities at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime forced the Wirgin brothers to flee the country for their own personal safety. The factory was hastily sold to Adox and the brothers made their way to the United States just before the Second World War erupted in Europe.
After World War II ended, Heinrich Wirgin returned to Wiesbaden and reestablished the company. In 1948, a promising young camera designer named Heinz Waaske joined Wirgin and soon rose to the position of chief designer. After improving on existing designs, Waaske focused his efforts on making the company’s first single lens reflex camera which debuted in 1954: the incredible Edixa Reflex. Wirgin had such great success with selling Waaske-designed 35mm SLRs, rangefinders, and viewfinder cameras that it purchased the Bavarian camera company Franka in the early 1960s. Soon afterward, the company branched out into the subminiature market with the Edixa 16 which stole market share from the Rollei 16 by utilizing Rollei‘s 16mm film cartridges and positioning itself as a cheaper alternative.
Despite the success of Wirgin’s subminiature cameras, Waaske recognized the image-quality limitations of such a small film format and began working on designs for a compact full-frame 35mm camera at home. After constructing a prototype using parts made at the Wirgin factory, Waaske presented it to his superiors only to be shut down and criticized for diverting company resources for his personal use. Heinz Waaske left Wirgin soon afterward and went to work for Rollei in 1965. Waaske presented his camera prototype to Rollei management and they immediately made plans to put it into production. Just one year later, the groundbreaking Rollei 35—then the smallest full-frame 35mm camera in the world—was introduced and became a global phenomenon.
In the face of financial disaster, Wirgin closed down the Franka factory in 1967 and shuttered its original Wiesbaden plant one year later, declaring bankruptcy. The company was then restructured as Edixa GmbH and carried on for a few years before ultimately failing in 1971. The Wirgin brand appeared on some Japanese-made cameras for a few more years before completely fading away.
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McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 585, 693-696.
“Wirgin,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wirgin
“Heinz Waaske,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinz_Waaske