Throwback Thursday – from Flambeau to Futuramic ..

the history of flash photography


I love old magazines. Especially old photo magazines and pamphlets. “How to” and “about” pamphlets are interesting to me, even more so if the subject matter is photography. My favorites are from the 50s. Many times the content reminds me that not all that much has changed about the best way of taking good photos. Even digital technology hasn’t changed these best ways very much.

Sometime in college I obtained a lot of old photography publications. They ranged from mens magazines from the late 50s and early 60s to photo annuals and how-to pamphlets. The pamphlet from Flambeau to Futuramic .. the history of flash photography  is one of my favorites in my small collection. Besides telling the history of flash in hokey 50s jargon it also has great retro (to us now) illustrations.


This publication came from Honeywell, an early maker of the modern flash gun. Honeywell handle flash units were a standard throughout the sixties and can often be seen on the silver screen whenever a photographer was portrayed.

The earliest flash gun was a modified flambeau. The flambeau was a giant wick with a handle and could light up a large space. It was often used to photograph large groups of people. It was very flammable and often caused fires and damage if misused. From the flambeau, the blow gun evolved. It was a handle that contained magnesium powder. Kerosene or alcohol was poured in the pan and lit. The photographer would blow into a tube which propelled the powder through the flame making a brilliant plume-like flash. This also ended up with firetrucks.


There is more history of the evolution of flash photography, equipment-wise, in this tome which I will cover in future posts. It brings the reader up to date to the modern age of 1959.

It’s pretty amusing.

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