AGFA: What happened?

Leon Spinks says ...

Founded in 1867 as the Berlin branch of the Friedr. Bayer et comp. company which was a pioneering manufacturer of synthetic dyes better know today as just Bayer. The branch started to use the Agfa brand name for their photographic products in 1897 and was merged into I. G. Farben in 1926 along with the rest of Bayer and re-established as in independent operation in 1952, although fully owned by Bayer. Started manufacturing audio tape later that decade, merged with Belgian company Gevaert in 1964 to found Agfa - Gevaert, thereby creating one of the worlds biggest manufacturer of photographic products, and moved their headquarters from Germany to Mortsel in Belgium.

A-G was one of the leaders in the development of audio tape especially in the late 60's and early 70's when they produced what was arguably the best professional open reel tape on the market and managed to seriously erode the market share of BASF, Ampex and 3M without a lot of publicity, but the company was also noticeable in particular for the stance they took on tape erosion.

In the early 80's it became apparent that large amounts of professional grade tapes manufactured in the preceding decades were becoming unplayable due to a number of factors mostly chemical instability in the ferrite layer (Agfa et al) or the tape itself had a tendency to hydrate (Ampex etc.), BASF had been aware of this problem for some time prior to this after doing research on tape lifetimes and had taken appropriate action but most other companies were caught unawares and some, noticeably Ampex, choose to ignore the issue altogether and even continued manufacturing the affected formulations.

Agfa on the other hand started an R&D program that not only set out to ensure that new tapes had extended lifetimes but more importantly they developed chemical compounds that allowed you to play back tapes that otherwise were unplayable due to flaking, this meant that a number of classic albums were transferred to high quality masters in the 1980's that would otherwise only exist as duplication copies or even record transcripts.

The company decided in the late 1980's to change direction from media supply to media technologies and sold the magnetic recording division to BASF in 1990. The more interesting tape formulations and/or updated variations thereof are still available from RMGI.

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