Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An inventor/photography buff's legacy

Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and Vice President Henry Wallace in a 
1940s photograph from Hehn's collection. Click images to enlarge.
When Lester C. Hehn passed away last year at age 85, he lived in a house in the middle of the woods in Sarasota County near Englewood. He had accumulated a large collection of vintage photographs.

Before he retired to Florida, Lester Hehn led an interesting life in a small town on Long Island about a half hour from the city, where he invented and manufactured devices that made life in the darkroom easier.

Lester Hehn was a 1947 graduate of MIT and kept in touch with his old school with generous donations. He prospered with his own firm, Lester C. Hehn Engineering, located in Port Washington, N.Y.

He invented an enlarging meter that helped photographers determine the density of their negatives. He sold the devices to photographers all over the country for $39.95 and a money-back guarantee. Then he proceeded improve upon his invention and also create other devices darkroom technicians found useful. There was a write-up about one invention of his in the June 1961 issue of Popular Mechanics.

1903 Brownie poster is part of collection.
Lester Hehn satisfied his yen for all manner of things related to photography by collecting ephemera and vintage photographs. Included in his collection, for instance, is a vintage 1903 poster advertising a Kodak Brownie. There are, of course, boxes and boxes of vintage photographs. Example: a 1940s era photograph of Bob Hope, Dinah Shore and Vice President Henry Wallace. Hope and Wallace are wearing aprons. Not sure what the occasion is. We’ll revisit some more of the photographs in the collection later.

One interesting item in the collection is a three-ring binder that offers a history of Hehn’s devices and a little explanation about them.

The notebook also contains a letter of endorsement for one of Hehn’s devices. The letter is from Stephen W. Plimpton, a one-eyed Boston photographer who became prominent there in the 1960s.

In the back of the notebook are envelopes from various countries, including Paraguay, Argentina, Jamaica, El Salvador, Pakistan and Tahiti. To each are affixed postage stamps from the various countries, all postmarked in the 1960s.

We’ll discuss some of the other items in Lester Hehn’s collection later. Check back with us.

Oh, and Lester’s Hehn’s wooded property? Sarasota County recently was negotiating to purchase it to add to the county’s park land.

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