ORWO is a 116 year old company and brand. Founded in Wolfen, in 1909; as an off-shoot of the AGFA film company.
ORWO was established in East Germany in 1964 as a brand for photographic film and magnetic tape, mainly produced at the former ORWO Filmfabrik Wolfen. The Wolfen factory was founded by AGFA (Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation) in 1910 and developed the first modern colour film, which incorporated colour couplers, Agfacolor Neu, in 1936, which simplified processing compared to its contemporary Kodachrome from 1935.
On 20 April 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the Wolfen plant was taken over by US forces, and important patents and other documents regarding the Agfacolor process were confiscated and handed over to Western competitors, such as Kodak and Ilford. As the plant was located in what was to become the Soviet zone of occupied Germany, the US forces then handed it over to the Soviet military administration, which dismantled large parts of the plant and moved it, with key German staff, to the Soviet Union, where it formed the basis for the Soviet colour film industry.
AGFA was split into two companies each with one of the two plants: Agfa AG, Leverkusen in West Germany, and VEB Film und Chemiefaserwerk Agfa Wolfen in East Germany, which later adopted the brand ORWO. Following German reunification in 1990 the holding company was privatised as ORWO AG with Folienwerk Wolfen GmbH an early spin off. Film production ceased at Wolfen in 1994. The Industry and Film museum Wolfen now occupies part of the original factory. In 1996, ORWO films were put back on the market. However, they were no longer produced locally. A number of separate successor companies emerged from the remnants of the former industrial bemoth.
One of the successor companies, ORWO FilmoTec GmbH was formed in 1998 to continue to manufacture a range of Black and white camera and technical films for motion picture use under the ORWO brand. Film coating was contracted out to InovisCoat. In 2020, twenty employees work in the areas of research, development, production, configuration, and distribution of ORWO black and white films.
Its corporate mission is leadership in specialized professional film markets throughout the world, through the provision of products of technical excellence in performance and quality. Products are particularly aimed towards the technical needs of the world's archiving, motion picture, and holographic industries. FilmoTec is with Kodak now one of only two companies still producing black and white films for motion picture use.
In partnership with ORWO North America, ORWO film currently supplies all US Library of Congress black and white industrial films, in addition to high-profile archival clients like the Smithsonian and MOMA. For example, black-and-white movies that have been selected by the US Library of Congress for archival copy preservation in the last five years have been most likely reprocessed onto ORWO film.
In 2020 ORWO FilmoTec was brought came under common ownership with film coating company InovisCoat, based in Monheim am Rhein, Germany to offer products for the film industry under the traditional brand “ORWO”, both companies sharing AGFA heritage. In particular the new ownership structure with FilmoTec and InovisCoat together with a number of other companies unites the ORWO brand, its Intellectual Property, Recipes and Research & Development with Film Manufacturing capabilities for the first time since ORWO AGs liquidation in 1994.
InovisCoat was founded by former employees of the consumer film division of Agfa-Gevaert, with its film coating plant based at Leverkusen, Germany which was spun off into a new company Agfa-Photo in 2004. The company (Agfa-Photo GmbH) folded a year later in 2005, although a separate holding company still retains the license rights to the Agfa-Photo brand. InovisCoat brought together technical expertise in film emulsions and coating with acquisition of one of the former Leverkusen wide coating machines for film production, and a smaller narrow coating machine for testing, relocated to new premises in Monnheim on Rhein, the new smaller scale facility capable of multi-layer film coating for both photographic and other applications. It undertakes the manufacture of coated films for a number of companies including Polaroid B.V. and more recently ORWO FilmoTec.
The ORWO vision is to bring back high quality analogue films for photography and cinema, and for use in archiving of data, paper and audio visual. It is now investing in R&D to bring further innovations into this important cultural space. The new company motto is...