Minolta cameras were born from a partnership between German optical engineers and Japanese manufacturing experts. The business was initially established by Kazuo Tashima in 1928 as the Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shoten, roughly translated as the Japan-Germany Camera Company. In 1931, the company adopted its current name, an acronym for “Mechansim, Instruments, Optics, and Lenses by Tashima.”
Minolta produced its first camera, called the Nifcalette, in 1929. The Nifcalette was a folding roll-film camera using a lens and diaphragm shutter made in Germany. By 1933, the company was producing cameras entirely in its Japanese facilities. Minolta was quick to promote many new photographic developments in Japan, manufacturing the country’s first twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera in 1937 and the first Japanese-made color film in 1940.
During the 1950s, Minolta became the first Japanese camera maker to send a group of marketers to the U.S. in order to promote its cameras. By 1956, it had established a full-fledged American subsidiary in Philadelphia.
When John Glenn manned the first NASA spacecraft to orbit the earth in 1962, he was accompanied by a modified Minolta Hi-Matic camera. Glenn’s version was altered to be used upside down, and had a large protruding handle and folding viewfinder.
Minolta began collaborating with the venerable German camera company Leica in the early 1970s, eventually manufacturing a line of lighter, cheaper cameras sold under the Leica name but produced at Minolta’s factories in Japan. Minolta would later release the C35EF model as the world’s first 35mm camera with built-in flash; shortly after, its C35AF became the first with compact autofocus.
Possibly the most distinctive Minolta design is the Pocket Autopak, a series of cameras that premiered in the late 1970s. The flat, rectangular Autopak contains a bright, high-quality viewfinder and self-contained flash, making it a popular point-and-shoot camera for average family photographers.