Walter Zapp (4 September 1905 – 17 July 2003) was a Baltic German inventor. His greatest creation was the Minox subminiature camera. Zapp was born in Riga, Governorate of Livonia (now Latvia). In 1932, living in Estonia, he began developing the then subminiature camera by first creating wooden models, which led to the first prototype in 1936. It was introduced to the market in 1938. Minox cameras were made by VEF (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika) in Latvia. VEF made 17,000 Minox cameras.
During the Spring 1941 Resettlement of Baltic Germans, Walter Zapp moved to Germany. From 1941 to 1945, he worked on the development of electron microscopy at AEG in Berlin. After World War II, in 1945, he founded the Minox GmbH in Wetzlar, Germany. The company still exists. In 2001, when he went to Latvia for the last time, he said that he had gone to celebrate his 100th birthday in Latvia. He died at age of 98, in Binningen near Basel, Switzerland.
The innovative design and technical solutions of Zapp’s camera were patented around the world. VEF received 66 patents in 18 countries for Zapp’s inventions. Later in the 60’s, Zapp was named as the inventor in several patents granted to Minox GmbH for improvements and modifications of a subminiature camera. On the beginning of 90’s, Zapp patented his last invention, the Minox T8 pocket telescope.
Minox is a manufacturer of cameras, known especially for its subminiature camera. Walter Zapp originally envisioned the Minox to be a camera for everyone requiring only little photographic knowledge. Yet in part due to its high manufacturing costs the Minox became more well known as a must-have luxury item.
From the start the Minox also gained wide notoriety as a spy camera. Minox branched out into 35 mm film format and 110 film format cameras in 1974 and 1976, respectively. Minox continues to operate today, producing or branding optical and photographic equipment. Minox was acquired by Leica in 1996, but a management buyout in 25 August 2001 left Minox an independent company again.