Born in Loxten, Westphalia, Germany on September 6, 1830, John Henry Dallmeyer was the son of prosperous landowner William Dallmeyer and his wife Catherine. Highly intelligent, the young Dallmeyer's intelligence and scientific prowess manifested themselves at a very early age. While still in his teens, Mr. Dallmeyer was sent to Osnabruck, where he served as an optician's apprentice for three years.
By mid-1851, Mr. Dallmeyer went to London, where within a month he became an employee of optician W. Hewitt's workshop, but after a short time, he joined the workshop of Andrew Ross, for whom Hewitt apprenticed. Ross was the manufacturer of lenses and telescopes, and after a few years, Mr. Dallmeyer became his employer's chief scientific advisor, responsible for performing tests on various types of optical equipment. Several of the telescopes he developed were used to observe the transits of Venus and solar eclipses. In recognition for his contributions to astronomy, Mr. Dallmeyer was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society. The relationship between employer and employee proved as personally satisfying as it was professionally successful when Mr. Dallmeyer married Andrew Ross' daughter Hannah. Together, they had two sons. His second wife was Elizabeth Mary Williams, with whom he had a son and two daughters.
After his father-in-law's death in 1859 and subsequent inheritance, Mr. Dallmeyer became financially independent enough to focus less upon telescope manufacturing and more on photographic lens experimentation. Mr. Dallmeyer's research was responsible for making significant enhancements in landscape and portrait lenses. By 1862, he became a leading manufacturer of lenses, providing photographers worldwide with the finest equipment available. One of Mr. Dallmeyer's most impressive innovations was the free triple achromatic lens, which was used for architectural landscapes and copies that was remarkably free from distortion.
Although his portrait lenses were initially constructed based upon the design techniques developed by Professor Joseph Petzal, Mr. Dallmeyer made an important change that allowed photographers to easily diffuse their focus if they so chose. A pioneer in celestial photography, he developed photoheliographs for Russia's Wilna Observatory in 1863 and for Harvard College's observatory the next year.
During the mid-nineteenth century, there were essentially three types of photographic lenses, the Petzval lens used for photographs, the meniscus for landscapes, and the wide-angle lens known as the Globe (or the Ross Doublet). Mr. Dallmeyer was working on developing an intermediate distortion-free type of lens (that would cover plus or minus 24 degrees at f/6 or f/8) in England, so too was his German contemporary Dr. H. A. Steinheil. In 1866, Mr. Dallmeyer was the first to patent the Rapid Rectilinear (Aplanat) lens so named because it was rapid when compared to the other low-aperture lens on the market. To achieve the desired effect, both Mr. Dallmeyer and Dr. Steinheil chose both a combination of light and dense flint glasses for their lens construction. Although the revolutionary Rapid Rectilinear lens could be used on both cameras and enlargers to create clear images, their manufacturing costs were quite high, and so were initially produced in limited numbers.
As a member of the Royal Microscopical Society, Mr. Dallmeyer also worked on improving the condenser for microscope object glasses. His optical lantern condenser, a combination of plano-convex and double-convex lenses, was well received by the photographic community. However, this lens pioneer was becoming increasingly frail, and so he relinquished control of his business to his second son Thomas Rudolphus Dallmeyer. The last years of John Henry Dallmeyer’s life were spent in traveling to exotic locales in hopes of restoring the health that had been seriously compromised by his tireless research. He died on a ship off New Zealand's coast on December 30, 1883 at the age of 56.
1888 Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XIII ( New York: Macmillan and Co.), pp. 400-402.
1989 A History of the Photographic Lens (San Diego: Academic Press), pp. 59-62.
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