Jack Galter

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Jack Galter (1904–1993)[1] was an entrepreneur, manufacturer, and real-estate developer in Chicago, USA. His place in the history of photography is earned through his prolific manufacturing of simple bakelite cameras, sold by Spartus, Monarck, Galter, and a dizzying array of other different brands.

Early life

Jack Galter was the child of Russian Jewish émigrés to the US. From the ages of 16 to 29, Galter was a successful jazz drummer, a profession which even included a stint in Benny Goodman's orchestra.

At the age of 21, Galter married Sarah Miriam Schiff, later known as "Dollie" Galter[2]. Jazz drumming had not made Jack wealthy (although his charisma had brought him into contact with prominent politicians and mobsters), and soon Galter was turning his attention to business opportunities.

Camera manufacturing

Sometime in the 1930s, Jack Galter got involved in manufacturing electric razors and clocks[3], as Spartus—a name which persisted into the 21st century as a clock brand (although under a series of different corporate owners). By 1938 Galter began filing a series of camera-related patents. One was issued as US design patent 114,324 (design patents only cover the appearance of a product): This was a simple bakelite camera for 127 film which became the template for countless Chicago "minicams" in the following decades. In fact, the styling of this model was cloned 70 years later in the Lomographic Sprocket Rocket.

The history of Jack Galter's patents gives some insight into his activities as a manufacturer[4]. Starting with a 1934 design patent for a key-holder[5], Galter launched a flurry of design and invention patents—for cigarette lighters, irons, bike lights, sunglasses, and a metal smoking pipe. His first camera invention patent was issued in 1940, and the "teardrop" camera style illustrated in would appear later as the Falcon Rocket[6]. Galter filed two more camera patent applications in April of 1940 (for a shutter design and a film winding mechanism—the latter was subsequently divided into two patents)[7]. The latter patents illustrate a pseudo TLR of the type sold by Monarck and Utility. In 1940 he also became the assignee for a patent on a camera flash synchronizing mechanism credited to Gordon Pollock of Los Angeles[8].

By 1940 Galter was producing cameras under the brand Monarck (or Monarch) from an address at 711–715 West Lake St., Chicago—soon to be the epicenter of a a bewildering constellation of camera brands. At some point around 1941, Galter acquired the molds (and Falcon trademark) of the Utility Manufacturing Co. of New York City, and continued production of several of their models (such as the Falcon Press Flash) in Chicago. At this point, the story of Spartus and its related or satellite brands becomes quite confused, due to Galter's freewheeling practice of taking several similar camera designs, and labeling them with a seemingly limitless number of model and "company" names. (The camera-wiki.org article The Chicago Cluster covers this in more detail.) But there is little question that Galter's brands produced an impressive number of simple snapshot cameras, whose styling appeals to collectors to this day.

Later years

By the early 1950s, Jack Galter began acquiring and developing real estate, eventually amassing significant Chicago-area property holdings[1]. In 1951 Galter sold Spartus to Harold Rubin (the former Spartus sales manager), who renamed the company Herold Products [9]. This company continued to use the Spartus name on its line of cameras, clocks, and razors; however its address had moved a few miles west in Chicago, to 2110 W. Walnut[10].

Beginning in 1943, Jack and Dollie Galter began making philanthropic donations to various Chicago-area causes, which ultimately totaled over $100 million[2]. Many of these donations were for medical causes. Today there is a Galter Pavilion at Northwestern Memorial Hospital[11]; and Swedish Covenant Hospital has a Galter Life Center as well as a Jack and Dollie Galter Medical Pavilion[12].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Jack Galter Obituary from the Chicago Tribune.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Dollie Galter remembrance from The Daily Northwestern.
  3. According to one Dollie Galter obituary, in the Chicago Tribune, the manufacturing business was founded by Jack Galter's father.
  4. "Jack Galter" patents via Google patents search
  5. US Design Patent 92,800 from Google patents search
  6. Patent 2196604 (PDF) from FreePatentsOnline.com
  7. US Patent 2,206,532, US Patent 2,213,492, and US Patent 2,220,599 (PDFs) from FreePatentsOnline.com. (Interestingly, a 1947 patent on a camera winding mechanism, number 2,419,715, was issued to "William R. Galter" and co-signed by the same attorney.)
  8. US Patent 2,198,975 (PDF) from FreePatentsOnline.com.
  9. McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Page 388.
  10. A typical Spartus ad from the Dec 9, 1957 LIFE magazine (via Google Books) shows the three product lines and the Walnut St. address.
  11. Galter Pavilion location at Nortwestern Memorial Hospital.
  12. Swedish Covenant Hospital campus map (PDF) (archived) from Swedish Covenant Hospital