Czech inventors

Karel Schinzel


Karel SchinzelKarel Schinzel Dr. Karel Schinzel was a pioneer in colour photography. He was born 20 December 1886 at Edrovice, now part of the town of Rýmařov in northern Moravia, as the first son of Karel and Therezie Schinzel. In 1896 the family moved to Opava. He finished the bussiness school in 1902, just at the time he began to discover the world of photography. What interested him more than photography as an art was the chemical process of developing the pictures. Karel soon found himself a job as an accountant with the chemical and drug manufacturer Hell & Co., Apotheke in Troppau. By this time Karel had begun to experiment with colour photography. At the age of 17 he was studying journals on chemistry and photography in English, French and German. On 8 April 1905 he applied in Vienna for a patent on a procedure for developing three-layer colour photographs that he called "Katachromie". Part of his discovery would be used later by Godowsky and Mannes to produce the film known as Kodachrome (1935), and by Willmans in developing the Agfacolor system (1935-36). His employers helped the young scientist by sending him to their Vienna branch, where Karel attended lectures on chemistry at the University of Technology. At the same time he attended evening courses at the Realschule in Schattenfeld. In 1912 he gained the title of engineer.

He was called to serve in the military, with which he spent three years, continuing at the same time to work as a chemist and photographer. After the war he worked for a year as a research chemist for Wetzler & Co. He worked on a doctoral dissertation which, surprisingly enough, concerned the manufacture of explosives, a topic quite different from that of colour photography. He received his doctorate in the technical sciences in 1919 at the age of 32 at the University of Technology in Vienna. In 1922 he submitted to a committee of experts a revolutionary proposal for improving his earlier patent. The committee turned it down as utterly utopian. Only a few years later Kodak came out with a new film called Kodachrome based on Schinzel's research.

Schinzel returned to Opava, where he set up a new laboratory at his parents’ house. With a determination all his own Schinzel continued in his endless series of chemical experiments, but received no recognition, either academic or financial, for his efforts. Schinzel the obscure scientist became ever more withdrawn, refusing to communicate with the outside world. In 1935-1936 he finally began to publish the results of his work in professional journals and wrote a history of his research. A series of articles in the magazine Das Lichtbild caught the attention of the Kodak company officials in America and at Agfa in Germany. Eastman Kodak came to realize the significance of Schinzel’s research, and in December 1936 he was invited to Kodak’s main factory in Rochester, New York, and later to London. After much preliminary negotiation and assurances, the American corporation bought Schinzel’s inventions and the rights to 27 patents for a minimal sum.

In March 1938 a tired Schinzel returned to Vienna, where he rested by immersing himself in specialized literature. His difficult financial situation forced him to do research work for smaller firms. He continued his research there until 1945, working in his own laboratories and a new flat in Baden. At the age of 58 he married the much younger Hermina Marie Würst, but the large age difference and his absolute obsession with his scientific projects drove them apart, and she left him after two and a half years. And at the end of the war came another blow: the liberating army looted and sacked his laboratory in Baden. He lost his scientific library - books, journals, research records, copies of his patents and his personal papers. His laboratory equipment was completely destroyed. From a few fragments salvaged from his notes he put together a work on colour photography for publication in book form. In early November he suddenly lost his sight and on 23 November 1951 he died of a stroke at the age of 65.

During his lifetime Karel Schinzel took out 250 patents in America, England, Germany and Austria on colour photography, sound film and reproduction techniques.