F.W. Hasselblad & Co was founded in 1841 by Fritz Viktor Hasselblad – Victor Hasselblad’s great-grandfather – and initially sold various products such as fabrics, sewing accessories and domestic utensils. The company relocated to the newly built Hasselbladshuset building on Lille Bommen in Gothenburg in the 1870s. Over the following decade, it began importing photographic products, eventually becoming the Swedish retailer for Eastman Kodak Co.
It was only natural for Victor Hasselblad, whose formative years were spent in this environment of cameras and photographs, to develop an intense interest in photography. In 1937, he founded the company AB Victor Hasselblad and opened a shop named Victor Foto on Kungsportsplatsen square in Gothenburg. Victor ran the business in partnership with his wife Erna (née Nathhorst) and soon saw its focus evolve from developing, copying and enlarging photos to making cameras. In 1941 the company launched an aerial camera for military use and subsequently turned its attention to the civilian market after the end of the Second World War.
Victor Hasselblad travelled to New York in 1948 to present the Hasselblad Camera, the world’s first single-lens, medium format camera with a replaceable lens and a film magazine. The innovation was an instant hit, mainly due to interest from established photographers.
In the early 1960s, the Hasselblad Camera attracted even greater interest worldwide when the American organisation NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) chose to use it to document their voyages into space. The move came after the astronaut Walter Schirra had demonstrated a Hasselblad 500C model to NASA, marking the start of an official working relationship with the Hasselblad company. When, during a space walk in 1966, the astronaut Michael Collins exclaimed that he had “lost hold of [his] EVA Hasselblad”, the quote was telegraphed all over the world. “We couldn’t buy that kind of publicity,” remarked Victor Hasselblad when he subsequently met Collins.
Hasselblad went on to create a bespoke camera for the moon landing three years later, in 1969, and the working relationship with NASA continued until as recently as 2003.
The Hasselblad Foundation
After Victor Hasselblad died in 1978, Erna and Victor Hasselblad’s Foundation was founded in 1979 in accordance with the couple’s last will and testament. The Foundation promotes research and academic teaching in the natural sciences and photography. This is achieved by awarding grants and stipends to the natural sciences and photography, a prestigious international photography award and stipends and grants to research projects in photography.
The Foundation also conducts its own research into photography. The Hasselblad Center opened in 1989. The Hasselblad Foundation’s research library opened in 1999.