CAMERAS > Kamera Werstätten Guthe & Thorsch
KW is a german camera maker, founded in 1919 by two partners, Paul Guther - who had previous experience founding a camera factory - and Benno Thorsch, whose name, KW, means "Kamera Werkstatten Guthe & Thorsch". Located at Dresden, its first address was that of Zinzendorfstrasse, 48.
The first of the camera designs developed by this company was strikingly good and it was under production for almost 20 years, between 1919 and 1938: the Patent Etui, with a thickness of 35mm when closed. It became a high success, and in 1928 the company moved to Bärenstainerstrasse, 30, close to Zeiss-Ikon's Ica-Werk. KW employed 150 people, producing around 100 cameras per day.
In 1931, KW introduced the Pilot. The first version of this TLR used 127 film providing 3x4cm negatives, followed the next year by the Pilot Box, a kind of box camera with SLR format for 120 film and 6x9 negatives, and then in 1936 the great Pilot 6 for 120 film and negatives in 6x6cm size. This last model, initially designed with a fixed lens, was even upgraded to take interchangeable lenses, sold as the Pilot Super. KW also manufactured and sold other articles, such as the Praxidos enlarger.
Because of the WW2 Guthe, being a jew in Germany, emigrated to Switzerland. Benno Thorsch moved to the US in 1938 for the same reason. Thorsch had already met Charles A. Noble from Detroit during a visit of the latter to Germany (Noble was of German descent). Noble had been preacher in the US before finally establishing on Detroit, Michigan, after his son John was born in 1923. In the course of time, he ended up buying the decadent photo business his wife worked for and made it one of the biggest in the US. After emigrating to the US, Thorsch had suggested a kind of barter between them both, Charles' business in Detroit and Benno's factory in Dresden.
The contract was signed, and Charles moved to Germany with his family. Soon, he realized that the market will naturally evolve towards 35mm SLR cameras. Therefore, the new company Kamera-Werkstätten Charles A. Noble is known for its Praktiflex, a 35mm SLR camera designed by Benno Thorsch and Alois Hoheisel in conjunction as a response to Ihagee's Kine-Exakta. The factory would switch location again, this time moving to Bismarckstrasse, 56 and releasing the Praktiflex in 1939, renamed after the WW2 as Praktica. Between 1939 and the end of the War, KW made 11.000 Praktiflex.
KW was located in the East part of Germany, in the suburb of Niedersedlitz near Dresden, and the company would be nationalized in 1945. Charles A. Noble and his son John, then 23, were arrested and deported to a soviet prison, Buchenwald. Charles was released in 1952 and came back to the US, but in 1950 his son had been sentenced to 15 years in a work camp at Siberia, and will be released in 1955 thanks to personal intervention of US president Eisenhower.
In 1952 the Praktina was introduced, and the company was renamed to Kamera Werk Niedersedlitz. In 1956 the Praktisix was introduced, a 6x6 SLR predecessor of the Pentacon Six. By the mid 50s, it was merged with other East German companies - e.g. Zeiss - to form VEB Kamera- und Kinowerke, in charge of producing cameras such as the Contax F, based on the Contax S. In 1964 it became VEB Pentacon, and at the same time production of Praktica models continued.
After the German reunification in 1990, John H. Noble managed to recover Bismarkstrasse's factory, by then renamed as Kamera Werk Dresden, as well as the branding rights for KW. Even today, it continues manufacturing cameras such as the panoramic Noblex or industrial systems. John H. Noble died November 27, 2007.
The Praktica brand remained under Pentacon control, that maintained it on SLR cameras until 2000, and on compact or small digital cameras made in Asia.