Category Archives: Photography history

Air King A-410 Radio-Camera

1947DecRadioRetailingIn 1947, Santa undoubtedly received many requests for one of these little beauties. It was obviously an idea before its time, but Air King obviously anticipated the cell phone camera. With the available technology of the day, they produced this combination camera-radio, the model A410, shown here in the December 1947 issue of Radio Retailing.

The camera featured a 50 mm lens, and could take either black and white or color pictures on standard 828 film.

The four tube radio ran on one flashlight battery and a 67-1/2 volt B battery.

OSS Collecting Tourist Photos, 1942

1942Oct5Life1Seventy-five years ago today, the October 5, 1942, issue of Life magazine included this nondescript tourist photo as an example of something the government desperately needed.  Specifically, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, was requesting tourist photos from around the world for use in invasion planning.

1942Oct5Life2To illustrate the point, they provided this map of hypothetical Fitzhugh Island, the site of a powerful radio transmitter being used by the enemy.  To silence the radio station, an invasion was required.  The location of the radio station was clearly visible on the prewar map.  But many details necessary to mount the invasion were unknown.  In particular, it was not known whether the beach was suitable for landing the invading forces.

This is where prewar tourists got involved.  In a dusty photograph album somewhere in America, there probably existed photographs taken during a prewar vacation to Fitzhugh Island.  That photograph, shown above, needed to get into the hands of the OSS to confirm that the beach was suitable.

Many photographs would be useful for things like determining the composition of roads (and whether they would support a tank) and their width.  The photo shown below could be used to measure the width of the roadway, since the tourist’s height was known or could be readily estimated.  The image of the ship in the background also provided valuable clues as to the harbor’s suitability for invasion.


To get these photographs where they were needed, the OSS was asking for “all photgraphs (stills and movies) taken by tourists outside the U.S., in Europe, Asia, the Philippines, South Seas, Africa.  All types are useful, even family groups.”  To facilitate handling, the magazine asked those in possession of such photos to write for a questionaire (but to complete the questionaires before sending any photos).  The magazine provided the address of the OSS as P.O. Box 46, Station G, New York, N.Y.

After the hypothetical case of Fitzhugh Island, the magazine turned to an actual example of where such photos had been used. On February 27, 1942, British commandos under the command of  Lord Louis Mountbatten launched  Operation Biting, a successful raid against a Nazi RADAR at Bruneval, France, about twelve miles from Le Havre.

The BBC had previously broadcast a plea asking all people who had spent a holiday along the northern coast of France to send in any pictures they might have taken. Among the pictures that flooded in were the two shown below.


These  photos showed some critical details necessary for planning the raid.  The photo of fishermen on the left showed that there were cars on the beach, thus confirming that the sand would support mechanized equipment.  And the landscape on the right revealed a fence and the exact location of the road to the station.

Alien Surrender of Shortwave Radios, Cameras, Guns, 1942



Shown here, in the January 1942 issue of Radio Retailing magazine, are resident aliens in Los Angeles lining up at a police station to turn in their cameras, guns, and radios capable of receiving short wave.

The magazine noted that Attorney General Francis Biddle had issued an order that enemy aliens, that is, citizens of Japan, Germany, and Italy, turn these items in to the nearest police station.  An alternative would be to have receiver rendered incapable of receiving signals other than those in the standard broadcast band.  Therefore, the order “seems to open the way for radio servicemen to render a useful service of eliminating shortwave reception from aliens’ sets–and get paid for it.  In this way, the alien may keep his set for regular broadcast listening to U.S. stations, while the police authorities are spared the storage of hundereds of radio sets which they are poorly equipped to handle.  And the radio man collects $1 to $2 per radio set altered.

Typically, the modification consisted of removing the shortwave coils, and providing the set’s owner with an affidavit documenting the modification.

75 years ago today, the Chicago Tribune, January 6, 1942, carried an article regarding the status of the order.  It reported that local officials found the response so far to be unsatisfactory, since fewer than 2550 cameras, guns, and radios had been surrendered as of the previous night, despite an alien enemy population of more than 50,000 (28,000 Germans, 21,000 Italians, and 250 Japanese).

The Chicago police reported that the items surrendered included several antiques, including an 1878 breach loader. One man was reported to have “embarrassedly handing over a sawed off shotgun, possession of which had been taboo in Chicago ever since the prohibition gang war era. He said that he inherited the weapon from his father.”

One man, not bothering to wait for a receipt, simply drove up to the police station, hurried a radio from his car, and drove away. Another motorist tossed a $100 radio from his car and drove off.

The paper also reported a supplemental order from the Attorney General listing the following prohibited items:

Weapons or implements of war or component parts thereof; ammunition of all kinds; bombs; explosives or material used in the manufacture of explosives; signal devices; codes or ciphers: papers, documents, or books In which there may be invisible writing; photographs, sketches, pictures, drawings, maps, or graphical representation of any military or naval installations or equipment of any army, ammunitions, implements of. device or thing used or intended to be used in the combat equipment of the land or naval forces of the United States or of any military or naval post, camp, or station.


Polaroid Swinger Camera, 1965

PolaroidSwingerShown here in the Winter 1966 issue of Elementary Electronics is the Polaroid Swinger camera, which came out in 1965.

Priced at just under $20, the camera was enormously popular. The black and white images developed automatically outside the camera. After snapping the image, the film was removed, and the user had to wait about a minute while it developed. After it did, the film was pulled apart, revealing the image, which then had to be fixed by coating it with a varnish-like compound that came with the film.

The red shutter button could be squeezed, and the camera would indicate “yes” or “no” as to whether the exposure was set correctly.  It accomplished this feat by means of the ingenious mechanism shown below.  Turning the knob adjust the aperture, and by squeezing the knob, it compared the amount of light entering the camera to the light produced by an internal bulb.  When the setting was correct, the internal light caused the word “yes” to appear through the viewfinder.


Not surprisingly, the film is unobtanium today.  However, according to some reports, if you find a roll of the old film tucked away, it will probably still produce a surprisingly good image.


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