Burke & James History

Prof . H Lynn Jones

Vice President of Burke & James 1975 - 1978


Looking for historical facts relative to the B&J company, I was very lucky to find the name of the former Vice President of the B&J company as well as the Burleigh Brooks Optics Inc., Prof. H. Lynn Jones. After contacting him, he offered me to help in any way he can. Thanks to Mr. Lynn Jones well be able to learn more about the interesting American Optical Industry and especially about the famous Burke & James camera manufacturing.

Lynn Jones graduated in 1960 from the Art Center School, now known as the Art Center College of Design (Pasadena), after 9 years in the USN and among other things graduated from the USN Medical Photography School (1954), and the Florida School in Jacksonville (1950).

Mr. Lynn Jones joined the B&J company in 1975 and passed away on October 28, 2012. He was 81.

He wrote:

Hi Jo,

"Burke &James designed and manufactured View Cameras, fingerprint cameras, portrait cameras, graphic arts equipment, lenses, darkroom sinks and tons of other stuff. It was also the importer/distributor of lenses and view cameras such as Toyo plus other stuff as well.

The owner from shortly after WW I, and my lifelong friend was George Drucker until he retired in the late '60s. The company was bought by Ilex Optical Co. at that time and was later bought by the owner of Burleigh Brooks Optics. I left the company in early 1978 and the two companies were shut down in about 1981 or 82. It probably failed due to embezzlement. by trusted employees.

George purchased Goerz Optical, all lenses, all tooling, and rights to reproduce in about 1927 or 28 from Zeiss which had very unsuccessfully purchased it for a year or so. B&J manufactured Goerz, Carl Meyer, and other large format lenses, graphic arts lenses, and enlarging lenses as well. Before that purchase, B&J already made many kinds of lenses and was the first to commercially coat lenses, based on the research of a lady working on a physics degree (probably USC).
Burke & James had a wonderfully rich history dating back to the 1890's.

Chicago River

Regarding the B&J press camera, it was all metal, of excellent quality, 360 degree rotating back, and very sturdy. I wanted to re-start the manufacturing of the camera when I joined the company in 1975 since it was really good (I owned one for some years prior to joining the company). It turned out that the manufacturing processes and the tooling were so difficult to accomplish that the owner, George Drucker, threw the tooling out into the Chicago River at 3:00 AM by Lake street near where the factory was located. When I asked him why this in about 1976, more than a dozen years after his retirement he said that he got so angry about the camera that he decided that neither he nor any subsequent owners could ever make it again. "


The Watson Sign.

Looking at some B&J cameras you'll find the name "Watson" on the viewfinder and /or "Watson" on the drop bed. Studying the B&J assortment, I wondered if the name Watson was a manufacturer name or just a Label. So I wrote to Lynn Jones the former Vice President of the Burke & James Company. He most kindly replied on his own humorously way;

George Drucker

George Drucker, my life long friend, had a sense of humor. For example, the name of his finger print camera was called the Watson/Holmes, nobody seemed to notice that it was stolen from Sherlock Holmes. Lots of people liked the name so he put the Watson name on several things. All of his film loading stuff was named "Alden", George's middle name. He named some of his high quality lenses, Karl Meyer. He was looking for a nice Germanic name and as it turned out, his wives gynecologist was named Karl Meyer. He thought this was a really nice technical name, so every time you see a Karl Meyer lens, you'll smile, knowingly.

When I was vice president of B&J, we eventually named the air spray can, Watson also, however the working name in development was called the "Watson Blow Job".
We always thought that not using this name lacked a great deal of creativity.



And now something complete different

Portrait of State's Attorney Edmund Burke of Sangamon City standing underneath a portion of the elevated train tracks on Congress Parkway between North Michigan and Wabash Avenues in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. This man has absolutely nothing to do with the Burke & James Camera Co. But its nice to show how difficult it must have been at that time to take pictures without making mistakes. The negative was exposed more than once and there are faint images visible that are unrelated to the exposure, which captured Burke.


American Press Cameras

            Watson 2/14 x 3 1/4      Brief Camera manual