Thomas Henry Blair

American inventor, photographer, manufacturer, executive

In the 1890s, the various firms associated with Thomas Henry Blair were the major competitor to George Eastman's photographic company for the popular amateur market in the United States , and a primary supplier of flexible celluloid filmstrips to the new cinema industry. Leaving farming to become a travelling ferrotype (or tintype) worker, Blair emigrated from Nova Scotia, Canada, to southwestern Massachusetts in 1873. In 1877 he incorporated in Connecticut as the Blair Tourograph Company to produce a portable system for wet collodion photography. He moved to Boston in 1881, and an investment by a Pawtucket, Rhode Island textile magnate, Darius L. Goff, capitalised the firm and allowed the production of the Kamaret roll camera in 1891, a daylight loading camera in 1892, as well as a complete line of photographic dry plates, supplies and accessories, as Blair consciously imitated the vertical integration of the Eastman firm by opening agencies in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and elsewhere. The decade also saw a series of long patent fights between the Blair and Eastman companies.

Blair began the commercial production of celluloid roll film in Boston in 1891, on a frosted celluloid support particularly suited for viewing by transmitted light, purchased from the Celluloid Company of New Jersey, and in November 1891 W.K-L. Dickson began purchasing Blair film for the Edison laboratory after experiencing difficulties with both the quality and reliability of Eastman stock; until September 1896 almost all film used by Edison was purchased from Blair, including all film for Kinetoscope productions. For parts of 1892 and 1893, Blair was the sole supplier of flexible celluloid film, as Eastman experienced serious production problems. The Panic of 1893, the loss of important patent suits to Eastman, and arguments among the financiers of the company (now including the photographic manufacturers E. & H.T. Anthony) led to Blair's removal from management in the U.S. and he moved to England and established the European Blair Camera Company, with offices in Holborn and manufacturing facilities in Foot's Cray, Kent. This replicated the American breadth of photographic products and supplied celluloid film to Birt Acres, Robert Paul, G.A. Smith, Lumière, Charles Urban and other pioneer filmmakers. In 1896, when film with a clear base suitable for projection was needed, the American Blair company had difficulty producing the new stock, and the field was left to Eastman, who ultimately purchased the entire Blair operation and folded it into the new Eastman Kodak Company. Blair died at Northboro, Massachusetts on 4 April 1919.

Deac Rossell