Papers of Frank Back, optical engineer and founder and president of Zoomar Inc., an optical engineering company specializing in lens design for television, motion picture and single-lens reflex cameras. Materials include biographical documents, reprints and typescript drafts of Back's professional writings, patent applications, correspondence, miscellaneous Zoomar records and memorabilia, and documents related to Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen.


Frank Gerhard Back was born in Vienna, Austria, on August 25, 1902. Upon completion of his secondary schooling in 1920, Back matriculated at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Vienna, where he received his masters in engineering in 1925 and a doctorate in science in 1931. He worked as a self-employed consulting engineer in Vienna until September of 1938 when he moved to France. Back remained in France for less than a year and during the summer of 1939, he immigrated to the United States.

After working as an engineer for several companies in New York City, Back started his own company called Research and Development Laboratory in 1944. A year later, Back started a second company, Zoomar Inc., and served as its president and head engineer until his retirement in the late 1970s.

Throughout his life, Back invented several optical devices and improvements of existing optical technologies. He held numerous patents in the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, France, Britain, and Italy. At Zoomar he developed and patented an optically-compensated zoom lens for television cameras in 1948 and one for single lens reflex (SLR) 35mm cameras in 1959. From the late 1940s to the 1970s, Back and Zoomar Inc. continually advanced optical technologies and introduced optical innovations for television and motion pictures, as well as astronomical, medical, commercial, and even military applications.

Back was also recognized for his expedition to the Philippines in 1955 to observe and photograph the solar eclipse on June 20th. He intended to provide conclusive evidence for Einstein's theory of relativity by calculating the optical distortation, if any, of starlight caused by the sun's gravity. Prior to his trip, Back conferred briefly with Albert Einstein on the type of data needed in order to prove the theory of relativity. He published a narrative report of his trip and his findings later that year in a book entitled Has the Earth A Ring Around It?

Over the course of his career, Dr. Back received numerous honors and awards from professional organizations in his field including the Royal Photographic Society, the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and the Society of American Military Engineers. In addition, Back lectured frequently at professional conferences and published regularly in professional journals in the United States and abroad.

Frank Back died in San Diego, California, on July 6, 1983.

Scope and Content of Collection

The Frank Back Papers contain materials related to the professional career of the Austrian-born optical engineer and founder and president of Zoomar Inc. who contributed to the advancement of optical technologies in television, motion pictures, medicine, commerical, and military applications from 1945 to the late 1970s in the United States. While the collection contains little documentation of Back's development of optically-compensated zoom lenses, materials related to his professional career include reprints and typescript drafts of his published writings;patent applications; writings by others on optical engineering; miscellaneous Zoomar records; and memorabilia describing or advertising Zoomar products. Also included are biographical materials from Back's early life and education in Austria and his immigration to the United States via France in 1939; correspondence; biographical materials of Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen; and photographs of Back, Zoomar facilities and products, and Back's meeting with Albert Einstein in 1955. The papers are arranged in nine series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) WRITINGS BY BACK, 3) WRITINGS BY OTHERS, 4) CORRESPONDENCE, 5) ZOOMAR MATERIALS, 6) PHOTOGRAPHS, 7) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, 8) HERBERT LOWEN MATERIALS, and 9) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.


The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, consists mainly of official records, governmental or institutional certificates, documenting significant moments in Back's life such as his birth, secondary and university education, membership to various professional societies, and his immigration to the United States from Austria in 1939.


The WRITINGS BY BACK series is arranged in two subseries: A) Articles and Papers and B) Patents.

A) The Articles and Papers subseries, arranged chronologically, contains mostly typescript drafts and reprints of articles that Back published in professional journals in the United States and abroad from 1930 to 1980. Also included are several undated documents Back wrote to describe or promote Zoomar products.

B) The Patents subseries, arranged chronologically, contains documents relating to four of Back's numerous patents. Materials include typescript drafts of patent applications and United States Patent Office certificate for Back's "Photographic Camera and Projection Device."


The WRITINGS BY OTHERS series, arranged alphabetically, contains articles on optical engineering collected by Back. Materials include reprints from professional and scholarly journals, many with Back's annotations.


The CORRESPONDENCE series, arranged alphabetically, contains a mixture of English and German personal and professional correspondence from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Notably, the series contains a photograph of a letter to Back from Albert Einstein.


The ZOOMAR MATERIALS series is organized into two subseries: A) Business Documents and B) Product Information.

A) The Business Documents subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains memorabilia and materials documenting important moments in the life of Zoomar Inc. Materials document both the inception and dissolution of Zoomar and include Back's Agreement of Partnership for the Television Zoomar Corporations with Jack Pegler and Westbrook Pegler II in 1959 and a certificate of Back's sale of his share of Zoomar stock to Optical Industries in 1979. Other materials include an award from the City of Glen Cove, New York, newspaper clippings related to Zoomar Inc., and administrative materials such as inter-office correspondence and employment agreements.

B) The Product Information subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains product pamphlets on individuals lenses, as well as some blueprints of product designs and graphs of data on product capabilities and specifications.


The PHOTOGRAPHS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Images of Back, B) Zoomar, and C) Miscellaneous.

A) The Images of Back subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains photographs which show Back either alone or with others. Included are photographs of Back at conferences and a biographical scrapbook created by Back. Notably, this subseries contains a large number of images of Back with Albert Einstein at Einstein's residence in Princeton, New Jersey.

B) The Zoomar subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains photographs of the interiors and exteriors of factories in Glen Cove, New York, and in Germany, as well as some photographs of Zoomar products.

C) The Miscellaneous subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains a mixture of photographs of presumed family members, unidentified individuals or places, and a scrapbook of photographs and newspaper clippings related to Back's expedition to the Philippines.


The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, Includes research and employment materials not related to Zoomar, such as blueprints for an "episcop project" and "epiprojector" that Back developed after retiring from Zoomar, miscellaneous calculations and data, advertisements for products manufactured by Back while he was in Austria, and a box of microdot optic lenses. Also included are income tax returns for Back, newspaper clippings about Albert Einstein, unsent postcards, and two biographical documents related to Elizabeth Lowen, Back's sister.


The HERBERT LOWEN MATERIALS series is arranged alphabetically and contains biographical materials of Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen, including documentation of birth, education, immigration to the United States, correspondence, and a copy of Lowen's death certificate.


The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied.


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Box Folder Oversize
1 1 Awards, medals and pins.
2 1 FB-352-01 Awards - Voigtlander Medal letter and photograph, 1960.
2 2 Birth certificate, 1904.
[Back was born in 1902, but his birth certificate was not issued until 1904.]
Certificates of membership.
2 3 Photographic Society of America and Optical Society of America, 1937 - 1967.
2 4 FB-352-02 Photographic Society of America, Society of Motion Picture Engineers, The Royal Photographic Society, Society of American Military Engineers, Society of Photographic Scientists and Engineers, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and Who's Who in California, 1944 - 1961.
2 5 Certificate of Legitimation, 1936.
[Document indicates Back as cameraman for the Unifilm Company.]
2 6 Curriculum vitae, 1980.
2 7 FB-352-03 Doctoral diploma from Technische Hochschule zu Wien, 1931.
2 8 Realschule - Annual certificates, semester certificates and 1920 class photo with image of Back at age eighteen, 1912 - 1920.
2 9 Technische Hochschule zu Wien - Course certificates, semester certificates and other documents relating to his university degrees, 1920 - 1931.
2 10 Identity card for Commercial Travellers, Austria, 1933.
2 11 Letters of recommendation about Back, 1924 - 1943.
2 12 Newspaper clippings about Back, 1949 - 1979.
2 13 Passports - United States, 1950 - 1976.
2 14 Travel documents - Itemized lists, certificate of domicile, and travel certificates, 1938 - 1939.


Articles and Papers

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2 15 Die Physikalisch-Technischen Grundlagen der Mageninnen Photographie - Reprint, 1930.
2 16 Back, Frank and Otto Ehrentheil. Ein Neuer Kehlkopf-Photographie-Apparat - Reprint, 1932.
2 17 Back, Frank et. al. Wiener Laryngo=Rhinologische Gesellschaft - Reprint, 1934.
2 18 Back, Frank and F. Ehrenhaft. Non-Intermittent Motion Picture Projector - Reprint, 1940.
2 19 Positive Vari-Focal View-Finder for Motion Picture Cameras - Reprint, 1945.
2 20 Nonintermittent Motion Picture Projector with Variable Magnification - Reprint, 1946.
2 21 Zoom Lens for Motion Picture Cameras with Single-Barrel Linear Movement - Reprint, 1946.
2 22 Zoomar Lens - Reprint, 1947.
2 23 Physical Properties and the Practical Application of the Zoomar Lens - Reprint, 1947.
2 24 Zoomar Lens for 35mm Film - Reprint, 1948.
2 25 Approach to Better Studio Lighting - Reprint, 1949.
2 26 TV Studio Illumination - Pamphlet, 1949.
Date and authorship information found on curriculum vitae. See Box 2, Folder 5.
2 27-28 FB-352-04 Optical Lens Development - Reprint and typescript, 1950.
2 29 Basic Optical Requirements for a Good TV Broadcast - Typescript drafts, 1950.
2 30 Lens Tester for Photographic Lenses - Reprint and typescript, 1950.
2 31 Modern Requirements of Photographic Lenses - Reprint, 1952.
2 32 How to Use the Video Analyzer - Reprint, 1953.
2 33 New Approach to the Evaluation of the Performance of Photographic Lenses - Reprint, 1953.
2 34 Large Range Variable Magnification Telescope - Reprint, 1953.
2 35 Basic Theory of Varifocal Lenses with Linear Movement and Optical Compensation - Reprint, 1954.
2 36 Varifocal Camera Lenses - Reprint, 1954.
2 37 Performance Testing of Photographic Lenses - Reprint, 1955.
2 38 Answer to N. J. Rumsey's "Note on a Suggested Method for Evaluating Image Sharpness" - Reprint, 1955.
2 39 Has the Earth a Ring Around It?, 1955.
See also Solar Eclipse Expedition Scrapbook, Box 5, Folder 7.
2 40 Developments in Catadioptric Telephoto Systems - Reprint, 1957.
2 41 Expert Previews Tomorrow's Lenses - Reprint, 1957.
2 42 Back, Frank and Herbert Lowen. Generalized Theory of Zoomar Systems - Reprint, 1958.
2 43 Zoom Lense for Closed-Circuit Television - Reprint, 1958.
2 44 New Concepts in the Evaluation of Television Lenses - Reprint and photocopy of a paper presented at two different conferences, 1962.
2 45 EinfluB eines zum Zwecke der Linienfrequenz-Anderung Eingebauten Zoom-Objektivs auf die MeBgenauigkeit im... - Reprint, 1969.
2 46 Off-Axis MTF Measurements on Wide-Angle Lenses - Reprint of a paper presented at the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers Seminar in Tokyo, Japan, 1970.
2 47 Optical Design for the Visible Versus Infrared - Reprint and typescript of a lecture given at the Summer Conference on Infrared Technology, University of Michigan, 1975.
2 48 Design and Testing for Germanium Optics - Photocopy, 1976.
2 49-50 FB-352-05 Zoom Lens, History and Present - Typescript with handwritten corrections, 1980.
2 51 Lensless Lens Developed for TV - Typescript.
2 52 Novel Measuring Method for Optical Transfer Functions - Zoomar pamphlet.
2 53 Tool Room Girl - Typescript poem.
2 54 Untitled typescript related to television camera optical systems.
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2 55 Process for the Photographic Recording of Sound - Typescript of patent application, 1938.
2 56 Verfahren zur Photographischen Schallaufzeichnung, Insbesondere fur die Zwecke des Tonfilmes - Typescipt of patent application with figures, 1938.
3 1 Photographic Camera and Projection Device - Typescripts of patent application with figures and patent certificate from US Patent Office, 1965.
3 2 Varifocal Lens System and Actuating Mechanism - Reprint, 1971.


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3 3 Deutsch, Felix. Ein Registrier-Endes Druckmanometer zur Messung des PreBdrukes, 1933.
Eggert, John.
3 4 Die Photographie als Wissenschaft und Technik, 1957.
3 5 Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, 1958.
3 6 The Present Status of Photographic Development in Theory and Practice, 1958.
3 7 Radioaktive Konferenz in Zurich, 1958.
3 8 Zur Spektralen Empfindlichkeit Photgraphischer Schichten, 1959.
3 9 With A. Buchler. Wietere Versuche Uber Den Wiegert-Effekt. II, 1956.
3 10 With and Heinrich Hopft. Uber Den Angriff von Polystyrul Durch Insektenlarven, 1959.
3 11 Eriksen, Erling and Albert Braastad. Plural-Row Cinematographic Camera, 1929.
3 12 Fischer, Henning. Uber die Konvertierung Photographischer Schichten Inbesondere bei Anuesenheit Eines..., 1957.
3 13 James, D. and W. A. Peters. Photographic Camera - Reprint of United States patent, 1915.
3 14 Kingslake, Rudolf. Lense Design by Desk Calculator, 1976.
3 15 Lause, H. Zur Bestimmung des Falschlichtes bei Femrohren Durch Photoelectrisches Photometrieren, 1966.
3 16 Luchsinger, R. and K. Pfister. Ergebnisse von Kehlkopfaufnahmen mit Einer Zeitdehnerapparatur, 1959.
Lyttleton, R. A.
3 17 The Neptune Story, 1959.
3 18 The End of the Iron-Core Age, 1973.
3 19 With S. Fred Singer. Dynamical Considerations Relating to the West Ford Experiment, 1964.
Pavlopoulus, T. G.
3 20 Breakdown of Lorentz Invariance, 1967.
3 21 The Special Theory of Relativity and the Problem of Universal Constants, 1969.
3 22 Reichenbach, Heinz. The Mach-Zehnder Interference Refractor, undated.
3 23 Rixen, C. J. Photographic Camera, 1933.
Wartburg, Rene von.
3 24 Die Verwendung von Elektronenblitzlampen als Neue Lichtquellen in der..., 1957.
3 25 Nuere Untersuchungen Uber Den Rezuprozitatsfehler (Schwarzschild-Effect), 1956.


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3 26 A-Z - Miscellaneous, 1945 - 1983.
3 27 Back, Irma (wife), 1939.
3 28 Bihlmaier, Oskar, 1973.
3 29 Einstein, Albert - Photograph of Einstein's letter to Back with English translation, 1955.
3 30 Helix Gage Works - Letter of resignation, 1943.
3 31 Shereff Brothers Counselors at Law (Louis H. and Harry Shereff), 1958 - 1979.
3 32 Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers - Correspondents: Edward J. Blasko, Stephen C. Chamberlain, Jack F. Christensen, and Lynne Robinson, 1980 - 1981.
3 33 Whitaker, J. G., 1938 - 1940.
3 34 Wisdom: The Magazine of Knowledge for Lifetime Learning and Education (Leon Gutterman, President), 1966 - 1975.
3 35 Unidentified correspondents, 1929 - 1981.


Business Documents

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3 36 Agreement of Partnership - Television Zoomar Corporation, signed by Frank Back, Jack Pegler, and Westbrook Pegler II, 1959.
3 37 Agreement of Sale of Zoomar Stock to Optical Industries, 1979.
3 38 Agreement - Stockholders of Zoomar Marketing Corp., 1958.
3 39 Award from City of Glen Cove, NY, 1962.
3 40 Capital stock certificates - Television Zoomar Export Corp., Zoomar Marketing Corp., and Television Zoomar Trading Ltd., 1957 - 1958.
3 41 Inter-office correspondence, 1974 - 1977.
3 42 Newspaper clippings, 1962.
3 43 FB-282-07 Posters of letters to Jack Pegler and of other documents relating to Zoomar products, 1949 - 1955.
3 44 Sterflinger, Ludwig - Employment agreements, 1954 - 1972.

Product Information

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3 45 FB-353-02 Production information - Miscellaneous, 1971.
3 46-47 FB-282-08 Drawings and graphs - Blueprints and photoreproductions, 1966 - 1977.
3 48 Exklusiv! FM-Objektivtest "Normal" Weitwinkel 35mm, 1970.
3 49 InfraRed Lenses - Product pamphlet and IRAP 100 graphs, undated.
3 50 Logo plate for color TV system, undated.
3 51 Mark XB-2 - Product pamphlet, undated.
3 52 New Orbiter for Pyroelectric Cameras-Mark II - Product pamphlet, undated.
4 1 T-Meter and Opticometer - Product pamphlet, undated.
4 2 Television Zoomar manual - Product manual, 1951.
4 3 Zoomar Lenses for Vidicon TV Cameras - Product pamphlet, undated.
4 4 Zoomar MTF Meter - Product pamphlets, undated.
4 5 Zoomar Products and Capabilities - Product pamphlet for optical tracking systems, undated.


Images of Back

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4 6 Attending conferences, undated.
4 7-8 FB-352-08 Back with Albert Einstein - Includes some images of Einstein alone and Einstein with others, ca. 1955.
4 9 Lecturing, undated.
4 10 FB-353-01 Personal scrapbook with photographs, newspaper clippings, and an envelope of duplicate photographs, 1952 - 1970.
4 11-12 FB-352-07 Portraits, undated.
4 13-14 FB-352-09 With optical instruments or cameras, undated.
4 15-16 FB-352-10 With others, undated.
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4 17 FB-354-01 Factory in Germany - Two scrapbooks with photographs of interior and exterior of factory plus duplicate photgraphs, undated.
4 18 Factory in Glen Cove, NY, undated.
4 19 AB-027-C Photo poster - Large mounted collage of product photographs and images of Back.
4 20 Products, undated.


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4 21 Back, Maritsch (aunt), 1899, undated.
5 1 Family members - Unidentified, undated.
5 2 Greece - Images of ruins, buildings, and radar/optical equipment, undated.
5 3 House - Unidentified, 1957, undated.
5 4 Lowen, Herbert, undated.
5 5 Images of buildings, landscapes, and astronomical phenomena, undated.
5 6 FB-352-11 Images of astronaut on the moon and aerial image of San Diego, CA.
5 7 FB-355-01 Solar eclipse expedition scrapbook - Materials related to Back's expedition to observe and photograph the solar eclipse of June 20, 1955. The scrapbook contains images of Back only and Back with Einstein, newspaper clippings, and typescript of Has the Earth a Ring Around It?, ca. 1955.
5 8 Unidentified people, undated.
5 9-10 FB-352-12 Work benches and tools, undated.


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5 11 Advertisments for products manufactured by Back, ca. 1932 - 1938.
5 12 FB-352-06 Calculations and data, ca. 1975.
5 13 Employment Agreement with Bol Ltd., 1943.
Epiprojector and Episcop Projector.
5 14 Typescript describing episcopic projectors and handwritten agreement of disclosure, 1980 - 1983.
5 15 MC-154-03 Blueprints and drawings, 1980 - 1983.
5 16 Income tax returns, 1941 - 1942.
5 17 Inspection report from the Inspection Board of U. K. and Canada, 1942.
5 18 Letterhead and envelope.
5 19 List of passengers for a trip from Havre to New York, 1929.
6 1 Microdot Optics, undated.
Box contains twenty-nine seemingly identical small microdot lenses or lens systems with "W. Germany" scratched into larger barrel of lens. There are six variants: two are not inscribed with "W. Germany" and instead have scored lines around the circumference of the larger lens barrel, three have either the numbers 3, 21, or 23 written in pencil on the larger lens barrel, and one has masking tape attached with illegible handwriting.
7 1 Newspaper clippings about Albert Einstein, 1963.
7 2 New York Telephone Company - Bond certificate [photocopy], 1973.
7 3 Lowen, Elizabeth (sister) - Education document and letter of recommendation, 1923 - 1938.
7 4 Postcards unsent - Images of Vienna, astonomical phenomena, telescopes, paintings and the Middle East.


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7 5 Award to H. Lowen from Zoomar Inc., 1973.
7 6 Birth certificate, 1902.
7 7 Certificate of baptism, 1902.
7 8 Certificate of confirmation, 1918.
7 9 Certificate of death and contract of purchase for cemetery plot, 1975.
7 10 Certificate of Literacy, 1945.
7 11 Certificate from Vienna police, 1937.
7 12 Correspondence - Typed letters to and from Herbert Lowen, 1942 - 1968.
7 13 Heinrich Hertz-Realgymnasium - Transcript, 1913 - 1921.
7 14 Universitat zu Wien - Course certificates, test certificates and a copy of his law diploma, 1927 - 1937.
7 15 Employment documents, 1932 - 1943.
7 16 Goldschmidt, Hans - Last will and testament, certificate of death, and cemetery deed, 1943 - 1944.
7 17 Housing documents - Notice of maximum rent, mortgage documents, and deeds relating to various residence in New York State, 1943 - 1946.
7 18 Identity cards and passports, 1928 - 1961.
7 19 Letters of recommendation, 1926 - 1930.
7 20 Lowenstein, Ernst (Lowen's father) - Contract between Ernst and Herbert Lowenstein and certificate of death, 1923 - 1942.
7 21 Newspaper clipping from a German or Austrian newspaper, undated.
7 22 Notice of inheritence, 1955.
7 22 Receipts from notary publics, US Department of Justice, US Draft Board, and US District Court, 1942 - 1958.
7 24 Vaccination records, 1902 - 1961.


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7 25 Originals of preservation photocopies.

Finding aid generated: 2012-07-10