In 1929, German chemical manufacturer I.G. Farben founded a subsidiary in the United States, named American I.G. Among its other chemistry-related activities, American I.G. took charge of the American operations of Agfa, which had just acquired an American photographic equipment company called Ansco and was now going by the name Agfa Ansco.
Within 10 years, with anti-German sentiment growing, American I.G. attempted to disguise its German ownership by changing its name to General Aniline & Film, GAF for short. As it turned out, following the U.S.'s entry into World War II in late 1941, the GAF company was placed under the ownership of the U.S. government anyway. During the war, GAF made cameras and film for the U.S. military, as well as blue and khaki uniform dyes.
In 1946, GAF returned to private ownership, now American, and continued its chemical and photography businesses, challenging Kodak fairly successfully with products such as slide projectors and Super 8 cameras and projectors.
Diversifying during the 1960s, GAF made two key acquisitions. One was the Ruberoid company, a manufacturer of roofing and other home finishing materials. The other was Sawyer's, a company whose principal product was the View-Master, a device used to view 3-D photographs. GAF added its logo to the View-Master viewers and picture disks and became a household name among children. (In 1968, the company's name was officially changed from General Aniline & Film to GAF Corporation.)
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for some of its key products like home movie cameras, GAF decided to get out of the photographic business entirely. The Agfa trademark in the U.S. wound up back with the German Agfa company, and the Ansco name ended up in the hands of a Hong Kong manufacturer. View-Master was spun off as a separate company, ending up as a part of Mattel in 1999, following several changes of ownership. Current View-Master viewers still have GAF's square logo molded into the plastic, albeit with "3D" printed on it instead of "GAF."
Today, GAF, now known as GAF Materials Corporation, is one of the largest manufacturers of shingles and other roofing materials in the United States. It dates itself as "since 1886," using Ruberoid's heritage.
- View-Master history at 3dstereo.com
- Various photographic history pages