Russian Emigre Revolutionizes World's
Photo Enlarging Process
A Russian emigre who brought an inventive mind and careful craftsmanship to
the United States is one of Greenfield's most unusual businessmen.
Dissatisfied with the slow photographic enlargement process in universal use
up to the early 1930's, a local manufacturer Paul S. Pirmov invented what is
believed to be the first rapid projection printer for the mass production of
That machine and an improved automatic model of it, the latter also designed
by Pirmov, is produced by his American Photographic Appliance Corporation, a
small company with facilities here and in Shelburne. The fastest model of the
equipment turns out photo enlargements at the rate of about 1,600 per hour.
Pirmov's mass production printer was probably the first invented and the first
to be manufactured. There are only two other manufacturers of such equipment,
both United States firms and both manufacturing printers of their own invention.
They are the Eastman Kodak company, the great film producing firm, and Pako
Leader in Field
American Photographic, though a small company, is larger than Pako Corporation
and its production of printers is probably as great as Eastman's, and perhaps
With a rating such as that the firm probably deserves the title of "most
distinctive" among this area's industries.
Its owner has a background which ranks equally high in interest. Pirmov is
a White Russian who fled to this country in 1920 to escape Bolsheviks. Born
in the Russian republic of Georgia in 1893, he attended prep school in that
region's capital city, Tiflis, and he later graduated from the Institute of
Technology at St. Petersburg, the present city of Leningrad, where he studied
mechanical engineering and automotive mechanics.
Following the Communist Party's rise to power he was in 1918 ordered to take
charge of a state auto repair plant at Schouya, a city 125 miles east of Moscow.
He worked for the state for two years and in 1920 he applied for a transfer
south to the Russian Crimea. There in the city of Tokmak in August of that year
he was threatened with capture and punishment by the government. To escape that,
he and his wife and baby daughter hid in the woods for two days and then traveled
50 miles afoot to board a ship at a Black Sea port.
The ship returned the family to Tiflis. The Georgian republic at that time
was still independent from Soviet Russia. The Pirmovs left a month after their
return, spent two months in Italy and then came to the United States.
Car Rental Pioneer
They established residence at Cambridge where Pirmov in 1921 opened an auto
repair shop. He started renting cars to repair customers two years later and
also acquired a Hupmobile auto dealership. The rental business increased to
such an extent that he dropped the repair and sales work and from 1926 on, he
conducted a rent-a-car establishment. The latter company was not liquidated
until 1936. The inventor became a U. S. citizen in 1929.
Pirmov's enthusiasm for amateur photography led to his development of the rapid
projection printer. As he describes it he was stopping at the city of Tours
while vacationing in France in 1932 and had accumulated more than a thousand
of his own films. He brought three or four hundred of the films to a local shop
to be developed and printed and he then became strongly aware of the excessive
time required for the work. He investigated and found that the equipment in
use was no farther advanced than that which had been employed 20 years previous.
Upon his return to the United States he devised the mass production printer
which he believes was the first such equipment ever invented, and he organized
a company for its manufacture. He relates that the American market for the machine
was poor because amateur photography had not yet achieved its great popularity
So he moved the company to France where it was known as the Societe d'Etude
et d' Application Photographique, (Company for Photographic Study and Application.)
He operated the company in France during 1933 and 1934 and in 1935 moved it
back to the United States, establishing the factory in Cambridge.
Assembly Plant in Barn
Two years later, seeking a more favorable business location, he bought a farm
on Colrain Brook Road in Shelburne, moved the factory from Cambridge and set
up an assembly plant in the barn on the farm property. A short while later the
Pirmov family moved to the remodeled farmhouse, which is still their residence.
Soon after establishing the assembly plant, Pirmov rented a machine shop and
space in the Noyes Foundry Company factory at 106 Hope Street. A year later
he gave up that first shop, purchased the equipment of another machine shop
in the same building and moved to the shop itself.
The company's plant facilities have remained unchanged from that time. Its
machine shop in the rented space of the Greenfield factory employs two men who
are able to operate a large number of machines simultaneously, and the assembly
plant, employing five, remains in the 2,500 square foot space of the Shelburne
barn. Though it now produces more printers than it did in its early years, the
company employees now number five less than they did at the beginning, the difference
attributed to improved machinery.
Improving on his first model of the printer, Pirmov later developed the completely
automatic machine, and to the latter he has since added an electronic eye and
Uses Electronic Eye
He has patented the mechanisms of both the first and the automatic models and
is currently seeking a patent for the particular method which he has devised
for use of the electronic eye.
The principal difference between the early and late models is in the method
of feeding the photographic paper. In the first model, individual sheets of
paper were fed by hand, allowing the production of 400 to 500 enlargements per
hour. Selling for $400, a small number of these older machines are still manufactured.
The later model feeds paper automatically from a roll in the machine and the
top production rate is about 1,600 per hour. The automatic machine, making up
the greater part of the company's present production, weighs about 100 pounds
and sells for $1,500.
Comparing his printer to those of Eastman Kodak and Pako, Pirmov declares it
can match or better the others in speed and is more versatile than either.
The company sells its machines both here and abroad. About 25 per cent of the
manufacture is sold direct to purchasers who will use the equipment, and the
remainder is sold through distributors. There are some 45 distributors who sell
the machine in the United States and Canada and among these are all of the approximate
30 Eastman Kodak retail stores. Foreign distribution is handled by a company
knows as Cinephot. Among recent foreign sales, the company has sent printers
to India, Pakistan and Japan.