In 1889, Heinrich Ernemann formed together with Wilhelm Franz Matthias the Dresdner photographische Apparate-Fabrik Ernemann & Matthias. Matthias left the company in 1891 and Ernemann continued the business activities alone. From 1899 the company was called Heinrich Ernemann, Aktiengesellschaft für Camerafabrikation in Dresden. In the beginning it produced only the wooden parts of a camera. The other parts were supplied by other manufactures. Later it switched to the production of complete cameras.
The factory was located in the Striesen district of Dresden and the buildings were expanded in phases. The original building dates from 1898 and contains the mosaic Lichtgöttin (goddess of light). It was designed by the Art Nouveau painter Hans Unger. It was the famous trademark from 1903 to 1920. The factory was expanded further after the First World War with a central tower. The buildings still exist and the tower is known as the Ernemann Tower. Today, it houses the Technischen Sammlungen (technical collections) of the city of Dresden.
When his son Alexander Ernemann joined the company in 1904, they focused more on the production of cinema equipment for amateurs. The Imperator became the most successful cinema projector before the First World War.
The company processed orders for the German army during the First World War. It produced cameras for aerial photography and binoculars. The supply of regular cameras was limited during the war. Inexpensive cameras such as the Liliput or Mignon, which could be sent to the front with field post, were particularly popular by soldiers.
After the war, Germany was forced to make heavy reparations to the victors of the war as required by the Versailles Treaty. The government simply printed more currency to pay debts. An economic crisis with hyperinflation paralised the country in 1923. The banks could not meet the increasing demand for paper money due to the devaluation of money. In order to be able to pay wages and salaries, Ernemann resorted to self-help and the company supplied vouchers to their employees for groceries and later 10 million mark notes, according to the current daily rate. However, stores refused to accept this "replacement money". In this year of crisis the Ernostar was introduced, a fast lens for the Ermanox camera. It was the fastest lens at that time (f/2) and allowed shooting in challenging lighting conditions.
Ernemann and stereo photography
Ernemann's product portfolio included stereo cameras for glass plates and roll film and various stereoscopes. It adopted the glass formats 45x107 and 6x13 that were introduced by Jules Richard in France and contributed with its products to the popularity of stereo photography in the early 20th century. Different folding stereo cameras can be found in the Bob and Heag series. The stereoscope portfolio consisted of hand-held devices for different glass formats, a chain-type viewer, a slide-tray cabinet viewer and the unique Universal Stereoscope.
- Ernemann Cameras, P. Göllner, 1995