Victor Hasselblad (1906–1978)

The Hasselblad company pioneered new technology in photography in the twentieth century. Its origins throw interesting light on the relationships between research and development, commerce, and manufacturing. F W Hasselblad AB, established in Gothenburg in 1841, was an importing and exporting company, dealing chiefly with other European countries. Its photographic department was established by Arvid Victor Hasselblad, the son of the founder, who, while on honeymoon in England, met George Eastman, the American pioneer of popular photography, and founder of the Kodak company. In 1908 a new company, Hasselblad Fotografiska AB was formed by Karl Erik Hasselblad, grandson of the founder, with the intention, subsequently realised of establishing a network of processing laboratories in Sweden.

Karl Erik’s son, Victor, had a passion for photography from his earliest years, that was combined with a deep interest in wild life. He studied photography at Dresden, and then in France and in the United States, where he stayed as a guest of George Eastman at Rochester, New York. He formed his own retailing company in Gothenburg in 1937. He had a considerable reputation for his skills, and in the spring of 1940 was asked by the Swedish air force if he could construct a camera that would match one that had been taken from a captured German reconnaissance aircraft. He established a workshop in Gothenburg, and produced 342 6 X 6 cm single lens reflex cameras for the air force before the end of the war. The cameras were modular, robust and versatile in use. His father died in 1942 after which Victor Hasselblad was able to purchase a majority holding in the family firm that was the basis of future expansion. The civilian version of the camera, the 1600F, was launched in New York in 1948. It became the equipment of choice for professional photographers throughout the world. The company produced a succession of improved versions, and pioneered the development of cameras for expeditions into space.

The retailing side of the business was sold to Kodak in 1966, and in 1976 the manufacturing side passed into the control of a Swedish investment company. After Victor Hasselblad’s death in 1978 much of his fortune passed to the Erna and Victor Hasselblad charitable foundation. The company remains in the forefront of technological development in photography, and in 1985 formed a new subsidiary, Hasselblad Electronic Imaging AB that is concerned with digital photography.