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Register of the Frank Back Papers MSS 568
MSS 568  
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Collection Details
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  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Biography
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information

  • Title: Frank Back Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 568
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 6.1 Linear feet (5 archives boxes, 2 card file boxes and 20 oversize folders)
    Date (inclusive): 1899 - 1983
    Abstract: Papers of Frank Back, optical engineer and founder and president of Zoomar Inc., an optical engineering company specializing in lens design for television, motion picture and single-lens reflex cameras. Materials include biographical documents, reprints and typescript drafts of Back's professional writings, patent applications, correspondence, miscellaneous Zoomar records and memorabilia, and documents related to Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen.
    Creator: Back, Frank G.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Frank Back Papers contain materials related to the professional career of the Austrian-born optical engineer and founder and president of Zoomar Inc. who contributed to the advancement of optical technologies in television, motion pictures, medicine, commerical, and military applications from 1945 to the late 1970s in the United States. While the collection contains little documentation of Back's development of optically-compensated zoom lenses, materials related to his professional career include reprints and typescript drafts of his published writings;patent applications; writings by others on optical engineering; miscellaneous Zoomar records; and memorabilia describing or advertising Zoomar products. Also included are biographical materials from Back's early life and education in Austria and his immigration to the United States via France in 1939; correspondence; biographical materials of Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen; and photographs of Back, Zoomar facilities and products, and Back's meeting with Albert Einstein in 1955. The papers are arranged in nine series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) WRITINGS BY BACK, 3) WRITINGS BY OTHERS, 4) CORRESPONDENCE, 5) ZOOMAR MATERIALS, 6) PHOTOGRAPHS, 7) MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS, 8) HERBERT LOWEN MATERIALS, and 9) ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, consists mainly of official records, governmental or institutional certificates, documenting significant moments in Back's life such as his birth, secondary and university education, membership to various professional societies, and his immigration to the United States from Austria in 1939.
    The WRITINGS BY BACK series is arranged in two subseries: A) Articles and Papers and B) Patents.
    A) The Articles and Papers subseries, arranged chronologically, contains mostly typescript drafts and reprints of articles that Back published in professional journals in the United States and abroad from 1930 to 1980. Also included are several undated documents Back wrote to describe or promote Zoomar products.
    B) The Patents subseries, arranged chronologically, contains documents relating to four of Back's numerous patents. Materials include typescript drafts of patent applications and United States Patent Office certificate for Back's "Photographic Camera and Projection Device."
    The WRITINGS BY OTHERS series, arranged alphabetically, contains articles on optical engineering collected by Back. Materials include reprints from professional and scholarly journals, many with Back's annotations.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series, arranged alphabetically, contains a mixture of English and German personal and professional correspondence from the 1930s to the early 1980s. Notably, the series contains a photograph of a letter to Back from Albert Einstein.
    The ZOOMAR MATERIALS series is organized into two subseries: A) Business Documents and B) Product Information.
    A) The Business Documents subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains memorabilia and materials documenting important moments in the life of Zoomar Inc. Materials document both the inception and dissolution of Zoomar and include Back's Agreement of Partnership for the Television Zoomar Corporations with Jack Pegler and Westbrook Pegler II in 1959 and a certificate of Back's sale of his share of Zoomar stock to Optical Industries in 1979. Other materials include an award from the City of Glen Cove, New York, newspaper clippings related to Zoomar Inc., and administrative materials such as inter-office correspondence and employment agreements.
    B) The Product Information subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains product pamphlets on individuals lenses, as well as some blueprints of product designs and graphs of data on product capabilities and specifications.
    The PHOTOGRAPHS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Images of Back, B) Zoomar, and C) Miscellaneous.
    A) The Images of Back subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains photographs which show Back either alone or with others. Included are photographs of Back at conferences and a biographical scrapbook created by Back. Notably, this subseries contains a large number of images of Back with Albert Einstein at Einstein's residence in Princeton, New Jersey.
    B) The Zoomar subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains photographs of the interiors and exteriors of factories in Glen Cove, New York, and in Germany, as well as some photographs of Zoomar products.
    C) The Miscellaneous subseries, arranged alphabetically, contains a mixture of photographs of presumed family members, unidentified individuals or places, and a scrapbook of photographs and newspaper clippings related to Back's expedition to the Philippines.
    The MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS series, arranged alphabetically, Includes research and employment materials not related to Zoomar, such as blueprints for an "episcop project" and "epiprojector" that Back developed after retiring from Zoomar, miscellaneous calculations and data, advertisements for products manufactured by Back while he was in Austria, and a box of microdot optic lenses. Also included are income tax returns for Back, newspaper clippings about Albert Einstein, unsent postcards, and two biographical documents related to Elizabeth Lowen, Back's sister.
    The HERBERT LOWEN MATERIALS series is arranged alphabetically and contains biographical materials of Back's brother-in-law, Herbert Lowen, including documentation of birth, education, immigration to the United States, correspondence, and a copy of Lowen's death certificate.
    The ORIGINALS OF PRESERVATION PHOTOCOPIES series contains the originals of brittle or high acid content documents that have been photocopied.


    Frank Gerhard Back was born in Vienna, Austria, on August 25, 1902. Upon completion of his secondary schooling in 1920, Back matriculated at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University) in Vienna, where he received his masters in engineering in 1925 and a doctorate in science in 1931. He worked as a self-employed consulting engineer in Vienna until September of 1938 when he moved to France. Back remained in France for less than a year and during the summer of 1939, he immigrated to the United States.
    After working as an engineer for several companies in New York City, Back started his own company called Research and Development Laboratory in 1944. A year later, Back started a second company, Zoomar Inc., and served as its president and head engineer until his retirement in the late 1970s.
    Throughout his life, Back invented several optical devices and improvements of existing optical technologies. He held numerous patents in the United States, Canada, Germany, Austria, France, Britain, and Italy. At Zoomar he developed and patented an optically-compensated zoom lens for television cameras in 1948 and one for single lens reflex (SLR) 35mm cameras in 1959. From the late 1940s to the 1970s, Back and Zoomar Inc. continually advanced optical technologies and introduced optical innovations for television and motion pictures, as well as astronomical, medical, commercial, and even military applications.
    Back was also recognized for his expedition to the Philippines in 1955 to observe and photograph the solar eclipse on June 20th. He intended to provide conclusive evidence for Einstein's theory of relativity by calculating the optical distortation, if any, of starlight caused by the sun's gravity. Prior to his trip, Back conferred briefly with Albert Einstein on the type of data needed in order to prove the theory of relativity. He published a narrative report of his trip and his findings later that year in a book entitled Has the Earth A Ring Around It?
    Over the course of his career, Dr. Back received numerous honors and awards from professional organizations in his field including the Royal Photographic Society, the Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and the Society of American Military Engineers. In addition, Back lectured frequently at professional conferences and published regularly in professional journals in the United States and abroad.
    Frank Back died in San Diego, California, on July 6, 1983.

    Preferred Citation

    Frank Back Papers, MSS 0568. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available



    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Lowen, Herbert
    Zoomar, Inc
    Lenses -- Design and construction
    Optical industry
    Optical instruments -- Design and construction
    Zoom lenses--Design and construction