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A Man With Small Hands

In the spring of 1940, the Swedish government approached thirty-four year old Victor Hasselblad and asked him if he could produce a camera identical to the recovered German one. Legend has it that Victor responded “No, but I can make a better one”. That April, Victor established a camera workshop in a simple shed in an automobile workshop in central Gothenburg.

Close by was a junkyard, a resource that came in handy and supplied much needed raw materials. In the evenings, with the help of the extremely talented mechanic from the automobile workshop and his brother, Hasselblad began reverse engineering the German camera and designing what would be the first Hasselblad camera, the HK 7.

Within a few months the company had a proper factory with twenty workers and later in 1941 the small business, originally named Ross Incorporated, moved in to proper premises and began serial production of the handheld HK 7. The camera format was 7x9cm using 80mm film and had two interchangeable lenses, the first a Zeiss Biotessar and the second either a Meyer Tele-Megor or a Schneider Tele-Xenar. 

At the end of 1941 Victor received a new order from the Air Force for a new camera, this one to have a larger negative format and a fixed mounting in the aircraft. The military was extremely pleased with both the HK 7 and its successor, the SKa4, which had several unique features that would prove important for Hasselblad´s post-war production, including interchangeable film magazines. More cameras were to follow. 

In 1942 Karl Erik Hasselblad died and Victor purchased the majority of the shares in the family company, F.W. Hasselblad. Camera production for the Swedish military continued, with Hasselblad delivering a total of 342 cameras between 1941-45. All the while, Hasselblad viewed the production of military cameras as merely the first step towards the development of a civilian camera. He was quick to relate his plans to his co-workers, saying that he did not intend to make cameras solely for the military. Victor explained that he had his sights on the consumer market, and that he had in mind a new type of camera. A top-quality, portable camera. A camera that would fit in his hand, he said. And Victor Hasselblad had very small hands.

The young camera company set out to realize this dream, designing and redesigning camera prototypes all the while they produced the other cameras for the military. The war would have to end, however, before Victor could fully apply his research and development to his new camera. In the meantime, Victor busied the workers at his plant with the production of sensitive watch and clock works. Over 95,000 clock works were produced all in all. Good training for the detailed mechanical work that would be required for the cameras to come.