Walter Zapp, 97; Tiny Camera He Invented Was a Spy-Film Staple

From Associated Press

Walter Zapp, inventor of the Minox mini camera featured in spy movies, has died, the camera’s manufacturer confirmed Monday. He was 97.

Zapp died July 17 at home in Binningen, in northern Switzerland, said Thorsten Korteneier, spokesman for Minox GmbH in Wetzlar, Germany.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Jul. 31, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 31, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Walter Zapp -- The obituary in Tuesday’s California section of Walter Zapp, the inventor of the Minox mini camera, misspelled the name of the company official who announced Zapp’s death. His name is Thorsten Kortemeier, not Korteneier. He is managing director of Minox GmbH in Wetzlar, Germany, and not the company’s spokesman.

Zapp’s invention, which fits in the palm of a hand and weighs less than a cigarette lighter, has been used in James Bond movies and other films, although he didn’t devise the camera with espionage in mind.

More than 1 million of the tiny cameras have been sold, Korteneier said. But Zapp gained no great riches from his work, having sold the patent after World War II for a lump sum and a life annuity.


Zapp was born in 1905 in Riga, Latvia. Describing himself as a weakling, he said he began wondering if cameras could be made smaller while lugging around heavy wooden cameras as a 17-year-old apprentice art photographer in Tallinn, Estonia.

Fourteen years later, in 1936, Zapp succeeded in producing a prototype that could be hidden in a closed hand.

He began manufacturing them in Riga, but fled to Germany in 1941 when the Baltic states were enmeshed in the conflict between the Soviet Union and Germany during World War II. He brought along one of his cameras and the design, and after the war he founded Minox in Wetzlar with a friend.

Two of the company’s main investors were cigar factories, which took over and dismissed Zapp after two years. He moved to Switzerland.


After the optics company Leitz acquired Minox in 1989, Zapp -- in his 80s -- was brought back as a development engineer.

Zapp is survived by a son and a daughter.