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Russian Emigre Revolutionizes World's Photo Enlarging Process

A Russian emigre who brought an inventive mind and careful craftsmanship to the United States is one of Greenfield's most unusual businessmen.

Dissatisfied with the slow photographic enlargement process in universal use up to the early 1930's, a local manufacturer Paul S. Pirmov invented what is believed to be the first rapid projection printer for the mass production of photographic enlargements.

That machine and an improved automatic model of it, the latter also designed by Pirmov, is produced by his American Photographic Appliance Corporation, a small company with facilities here and in Shelburne. The fastest model of the equipment turns out photo enlargements at the rate of about 1,600 per hour.

Pirmov's mass production printer was probably the first invented and the first to be manufactured. There are only two other manufacturers of such equipment, both United States firms and both manufacturing printers of their own invention. They are the Eastman Kodak company, the great film producing firm, and Pako Corporation.

Leader in Field

American Photographic, though a small company, is larger than Pako Corporation and its production of printers is probably as great as Eastman's, and perhaps greater.

With a rating such as that the firm probably deserves the title of "most distinctive" among this area's industries.

Its owner has a background which ranks equally high in interest. Pirmov is a White Russian who fled to this country in 1920 to escape Bolsheviks. Born in the Russian republic of Georgia in 1893, he attended prep school in that region's capital city, Tiflis, and he later graduated from the Institute of Technology at St. Petersburg, the present city of Leningrad, where he studied mechanical engineering and automotive mechanics.

Following the Communist Party's rise to power he was in 1918 ordered to take charge of a state auto repair plant at Schouya, a city 125 miles east of Moscow. He worked for the state for two years and in 1920 he applied for a transfer south to the Russian Crimea. There in the city of Tokmak in August of that year he was threatened with capture and punishment by the government. To escape that, he and his wife and baby daughter hid in the woods for two days and then traveled 50 miles afoot to board a ship at a Black Sea port.

The ship returned the family to Tiflis. The Georgian republic at that time was still independent from Soviet Russia. The Pirmovs left a month after their return, spent two months in Italy and then came to the United States.

Car Rental Pioneer

They established residence at Cambridge where Pirmov in 1921 opened an auto repair shop. He started renting cars to repair customers two years later and also acquired a Hupmobile auto dealership. The rental business increased to such an extent that he dropped the repair and sales work and from 1926 on, he conducted a rent-a-car establishment. The latter company was not liquidated until 1936. The inventor became a U. S. citizen in 1929.

Pirmov's enthusiasm for amateur photography led to his development of the rapid projection printer. As he describes it he was stopping at the city of Tours while vacationing in France in 1932 and had accumulated more than a thousand of his own films. He brought three or four hundred of the films to a local shop to be developed and printed and he then became strongly aware of the excessive time required for the work. He investigated and found that the equipment in use was no farther advanced than that which had been employed 20 years previous.

Upon his return to the United States he devised the mass production printer which he believes was the first such equipment ever invented, and he organized a company for its manufacture. He relates that the American market for the machine was poor because amateur photography had not yet achieved its great popularity here.

So he moved the company to France where it was known as the Societe d'Etude et d' Application Photographique, (Company for Photographic Study and Application.) He operated the company in France during 1933 and 1934 and in 1935 moved it back to the United States, establishing the factory in Cambridge.

Assembly Plant in Barn

Two years later, seeking a more favorable business location, he bought a farm on Colrain Brook Road in Shelburne, moved the factory from Cambridge and set up an assembly plant in the barn on the farm property. A short while later the Pirmov family moved to the remodeled farmhouse, which is still their residence.

Soon after establishing the assembly plant, Pirmov rented a machine shop and space in the Noyes Foundry Company factory at 106 Hope Street. A year later he gave up that first shop, purchased the equipment of another machine shop in the same building and moved to the shop itself.

The company's plant facilities have remained unchanged from that time. Its machine shop in the rented space of the Greenfield factory employs two men who are able to operate a large number of machines simultaneously, and the assembly plant, employing five, remains in the 2,500 square foot space of the Shelburne barn. Though it now produces more printers than it did in its early years, the company employees now number five less than they did at the beginning, the difference attributed to improved machinery.

Improving on his first model of the printer, Pirmov later developed the completely automatic machine, and to the latter he has since added an electronic eye and electric timer.

Uses Electronic Eye

He has patented the mechanisms of both the first and the automatic models and is currently seeking a patent for the particular method which he has devised for use of the electronic eye.

The principal difference between the early and late models is in the method of feeding the photographic paper. In the first model, individual sheets of paper were fed by hand, allowing the production of 400 to 500 enlargements per hour. Selling for $400, a small number of these older machines are still manufactured.

The later model feeds paper automatically from a roll in the machine and the top production rate is about 1,600 per hour. The automatic machine, making up the greater part of the company's present production, weighs about 100 pounds and sells for $1,500.

Comparing his printer to those of Eastman Kodak and Pako, Pirmov declares it can match or better the others in speed and is more versatile than either.

The company sells its machines both here and abroad. About 25 per cent of the manufacture is sold direct to purchasers who will use the equipment, and the remainder is sold through distributors. There are some 45 distributors who sell the machine in the United States and Canada and among these are all of the approximate 30 Eastman Kodak retail stores. Foreign distribution is handled by a company knows as Cinephot. Among recent foreign sales, the company has sent printers to India, Pakistan and Japan.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This 1953 newspaper article from the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette in Greenfield, Massachusetts, describes the Russian émigré Paul S. Primov as "one of Greenfield, Massachusetts's most unusual businessmen." Dissatisfied with the slow photographic enlargement process in use up to the early 1930's, he invented what is believed to be the first production rapid projection printer for the mass production of photographic enlargements. After operating factories in Cambridge, Massachusetts and France in the early 30's, Primov established The American Photographic Appliance Corporation (APAC) with facilities in Greenfield and Shelburne, Massachusetts. APAC rivaled competitors Eastman Kodak and Pako Corporation.


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"Russian Émigré Revolutionizes World's Photo Enlarging Process" article from Greenfield Recorder-Gazette newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Recorder-Gazette
date   Jun 9, 1953
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   2.75"
height   10.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L06.016

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See Also...

American Photographic Appliance Corporation's Presto Printer (Photo-Enlarger)

Nathan Tufts

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