Charles Verschoor

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Charles A. Verschoor (1888–1943) was a businessman from the state of Michigan in the USA. While his career also encompassed radio sets and auto parts, his role in launching the the Argus A camera (and Argus as a camera maker) earns his place in photographic history.

Background

Of Dutch ancestry, Charles Vershoor began his working career in the automobile industry; but in the 1920s he turned his attentions to radio manufacture. His "Cavac" company in Ann Arbor (named for his initials, Charles A. Vershoor) produced radio sets until a 1931 fire destroyed the company's manufacturing shop on Wildt St. in Ann Arbor.

A more successful venture was the International Radio Corporation, founded 1931 in a former furniture factory at Fourth and William Streets in Ann Arbor. Some of its "Kadette" radios were sold in bakelite cases, which familiarized the company with plastic-molding technology.

The Argus cameras

While IRC's radio business was successful, sales were highly seasonal, dropping off in the summer months.

While on a trip to Germany, Verschoor had been impressed with the early Leica cameras. 1934 also saw the introduction of the standard daylight-loading 135 cassette for 35mm film, created at Kodak's German division along with their Retina series of cameras.

However, the cost of precision German 35mm camera models was quite high. Verschoor saw a business opportunity: IRC could use its familiarity with bakelite molding to introduce a much simpler and more affordable 35mm camera—a product that would keep its workers busy during the slow months for radio sales.

The result was 1936's Argus A, whose $12.50 price was under one-eighth the cost of most Leica models.

The Argus A was a tremendous sales success, and designers quickly went to work on a rangefinder version, the Argus C. IRC phased out of its radio business and concentrated entirely on cameras, eventually emerging as Argus Camera. However Verschoor clashed with IRC's stockholders, who felt he was reckless about costs; and in 1939 he was forced from the presidency of the firm. (He appears to have retained a board seat for a few years longer.)

After Argus

In October 1939 he then launched his own Verschoor Corporation, located in a strip of small machinist and manufacturing shops at the north end of Ann Arbor's Main Street. This company's business plan is not entirely clear, but one product was a series of negatives intended to expose decorative borders and textures onto a user's darkroom enlargements. One Verschoor biographical entry also mentions an aspiration to sell amateur telescopes; as well as a renewed involvement in the auto-parts trade. But these plans were halted with Verschoor's death in September, 1943.

Many have jumped to a conclusion that Charles Verschoor was involved in the company making Vokar cameras—which would be plausible given the timing and proximity between the firms. However little documentary evidence for this survives. The Vokar folder was designed before the Verschoor Corporation existed; Vokar's maufacturer Electronic Products Manufacturing Corp. was founded by a different ex-IRC electronics designer named Robert Wuerfel; and the 1943 probate records for Verschoor's will do not list any stock in EPM. As two old IRC "radio men," undoubtedly Wuerfel and Verschoor were acquainted with each other (and may have shared an employee, Bill Carr); but the striking Vokar rangefinder of 1946 probably owes nothing to Verschoor.

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