Norman W. Edmund, legendary founder of a company offering a profusion of optics to the public for 70 years (and counting), died January 16th in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 95.
Sidelined from serving in World War II by an early bout with tuberculosis, Norman Edmund got the idea to start selling optical parts that he acquired as war surplus. He formed the Edmund Salvage Co. and placed his first Sky & Telescope ad in the September 1945 issue. Taking up a full page, it began in bold type, "Unusual War Bargains in Lenses and Prisms." The listings included color filters, reticles, mirrors from tank periscopes, and a 1.8-inch f/11 achromatic objective for making your own small refractor.
That first ad also offered two sets of small surplus lenses and a 50-page booklet titled "Fun with Chipped Edge Lenses." Elsewhere in the same S&T issue, competitor Harry Ross proclaimed that his own products were "Not Salvage — Not Rejects — Not Junk!" Despite the dig, Edmund kept on selling the popular chipped-edge lenses (inexpensive seconds, aimed at experimenters) for decades to come.
Initially Edmund worked out of his home in Audubon, New Jersey. "I once heard that Norm kept his stock of lenses, etc., in boxes under his bed," recalls William E. Shawcross, former managing editor and later president of Sky Publishing Corp.
Then in 1948 Edmund opened a larger facility in nearby Barrington, New Jersey, and changed the name to Edmund Scientific Co. The firm soon attracted worldwide notice, and its product line grew to include a remarkable 3-inch f/10 Newtonian reflector for just $29.50. This scope came as kit and was "easily assembled; a nine-year-old can do it!" It had a cardboard tube, wooden legs, and interchangeable tripod heads for alt-azimuth or equatorial operation. (Full disclosure: This 3-inch was my first telescope. My brother and I pooled our allowances in 1956, and it opened the night sky to us.)
Longtime astronomy writer James Mullaney recalls, "I met Norman several times. The most memorable occasion was at a national convention of the Astronomical League in Haverford, Pennsylvania, I believe in the late 1950s. Buses took us to Barrington, and Norman was out behind the building grilling steaks for everyone with a chef's hat on!"
During the late 1950s and '60s the company expanded its line of traditional Newtonians, refractors, and mirror-grinding kits. When Norman Edmund's son, Robert, took the helm in the mid-1970s, the firm introduced the novel Astroscan, an all-red, low-power, 4-inch reflector for tabletop use.
Present-day Edmund Optics, where Robert continues as CEO, has a tribute to Norman on its website here.