The Quarterback

My father was a photographer. When I was growing up his bread and butter was school pictures. Part of his business was all sorts of freebies for the schools. Desk calendars printed with his company name were popular with the teachers and secretaries. He also made name plates for doors and desks. I spent many summers over a sort of engraving machine that made name plates from blank pieces of plastic.

Another thing that became popular was photo ID cards. To make things simpler, he began to use instant film which was popular at the time. It was expensive, but it mostly went to waste, with a single small head shot in the middle of the photo that had to be cut out and glued to the card. My father imagined a way to save some costs by putting multiple photos on a piece of instant film. He has a family friend build a prototype and he began to use it. He also had a lawyer friend file a patent on the idea.

This was probably in the very early 1970s. I remember it almost 50 years later because I have been in the process of scanning in old family photos. A few weeks ago I ran across photos of the prototype.

I was very young, but I remember my father licensed the patent to the maker of the instant film. They also made instant film cameras and I recall my father bragging to a friend that he was getting $5 for every camera they made that put multiple photos on a piece of instant film. It wasn’t long before these camera turned up at the !ocal drivers license bureau, and I’m assume at other similar places around the country and around the world.

I also remember some phone conversations later on, where my father complained that he had stopped receiving royalty checks, then him telling a friend that the Big Instant Film Company told him he would have to sue them. I remember him telling a friend that he made lots of money and wasn’t going to pursue it. I was just a kid and I remember it made me mad. I remember telling myself that one day I was going to make enough money to go after the Big Instant Film and Camera Company and make them pay my father whatever they owed him.

Over the years I mostly forgot about this little piece of family history. Except every few years when I went into the DMV for a new driver’s licence and saw their cameras. But the Instant Film and Camera Company went broke in what is even today considered a specular downfall. They did not see digital cameras coming and almost over night film and instant film companies disappeared. There wouldn’t be anyone left for me to sue, even if I wanted to.

I became an engineer and had some patents of my own. One day doing an on line search on my last name I realized I didn’t see my father’s camera patent out there. Maybe the patent never went through. I didn’t give it much thought. Perhaps there never was a patent. A few years ago I did another search and it did turn up. I suppose it took a while to backfill the old patents. There is was, US3772977A. Titled Camera with Multiple Exposure Feature.

I still can’t help but wonder about the Famous Instant Film and Camera Company and what they were thinking when they decided to stiff a small business man like that. I like to think it led straight to their downfall, a technology company mistreating the people who create their technology.