TECHNICOLOR work was started in 1914 by Dr. Herbert Thomas Kalmus, Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock, and Mr. W. Burton Wescott. Dr. Kalmus and Dr. Comstock graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of' Technology with the class of 1904. Mr. Wescott was not a college graduate and was rather a junior member of the firm. He left in 1921, the present Wescott being his brother Ernest. Nearly everyone who has ever been connected with Technicolor is a Tech man and the corporate name is partly a bow to the Institute. After graduation, Dr. (then Mr.) Kalmus went to California, made his first West Coast appearance as head of a boys' school in San Francisco. But the boys thought that his Boston accent was comic and he did not remain long on the Coast. Then Dr. Kalmus and Dr. Comstock went to Europe for their degrees. Dr. Kalmus took his from Zurich. Dr. Comstock took his from Basel and went to Cambridge, England, for another year. After returning to this country, both held teaching jobs at Tech. But in addition to giving instruction in chemistry and physics, they also had a sideline enterprise – the firm of Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott. This company functioned as an industrial research and development counsel, working on any industrial problem that had a scientific turn. Thus when a group of independent abrasive manufacturers discovered that the Carborundum Co. – the big abrasive manufacturer – had a process with which it was difficult to compete, they got Dr. Kalmus to go to work on their problem. He discovered for them a similar process which, like Carborundum's produced silicon carbide; it was just as cheap as Carborundum's method and did not interfere with Carborundum's patents. Another client was the American Protein Corp., for which the consulting company worked on the extraction of albumin from animal blood. Sometimes Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott took cash for its services, sometimes stock in the companies it worked for. And since many of the researches were extremely successful – the present Exolon Co. of Blasdell, New York (abrasives), is the
result of its silicon-carbide process – the young company soon had an excellent reputation.
To it in 1912 came William Coolidge, Boston corporation lawyer who took a
hand in the formation of the United Shoe Machinery Co., the United States Coal & Oil Co. (later Island Creek Coal Co.), and many another large company created during the trust-forming era. An inventor had brought Mr. Coolidge a machine called the Vanoscope. The Vanoscope was designed to take the flicker out of motion pictures. Mr. Coolidge asked Kalmus et al. if the Vanoscope was any good and they replied with accuracy that it was not. But the inventor kept working on the invention and by and by Mr. Coolidge returned with it in an improved form. He was much interested in the Vanoscope, talked of putting a million dollars into it. This time the partners made a very exhaustive study of the device, and again they reported that it was not practical. However, by now the Kalmus-Comstock-Wescott group were themselves interested in motion pictures. They were not, however, concerned with taking the flicker out of the movies. They wanted to put color in. So they told Mr. Coolidge that movies would always flicker, but that if he wanted to sink a million dollars in the picture business, financing them in developing color movies was a more reasonable speculation. So Mr. Coolidge told them to go ahead, and Technicolor was the result. But even after
the incorporation of Technicolor in 1915, with Dr. Kalmus as President and Dr. Comstock as Vice President, the Kalmus, Comstock & Wescott firm continued to carry on, Technicolor merely becoming one of its several clients. The Technicolor process is a story in itself (told in an Appendix on page 168). From a corporate standpoint it is significant chiefly because of the length of time it took to achieve even imperfect color. The company operated for six years before producing its first commercial picture (at that time it was, from necessity, its own producing agent). So for six years there was a lot of money going out and virtually no money coming in. During this period the company was held together largely by the business ability of Dr. Kalmus, an ability that showed itself not only in the way of making his money last but in keeping new money coming in. From an inventing standpoint, most of the basic early patents were taken out by Dr. Comstock (and the remainder by Mr. Wescott). But from a promoting and directing standpoint, Dr. Kalmus is unquestionably the man who put Technicolor over.
The first crisis was not long coming. Mr. Coolidge's money-or at least such money as he was willing to put into Technicolor, which ran into $300,000 or $400,000 before he got a nickel back-was exhausted. So new capital was enlisted, particularly in the persons of the late William Travers Jerome, the late William Hamlin Childs, A. W. Erickson, Eversley Childs, and, much later, A. W. Hawkes and John McHugh. Mr. Jerome was of course the famed district attorney who prosecuted Harry Kendall Thaw for the killing of Stanford White. He was Technicolor's Board Chairman for many years and to some extent succeeded Mr. Coolidge as Technicolor's backer. Mr. Erickson is the Erickson of McCann-Erickson, Manhattan advertising agency (Canadian National Railways, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Beech-Nut, United Aircraft, et al.). At the time he became interested in Technicolor, however, Mr. Erickson had his own agency, the merger with McCann not coming until 1930. Mr. Erickson is also the Board Chairman of Congoleum-Nairn, which for years has been one of Advertising Agent Erickson's good accounts. Mr. Hawkes is the President of Congoleum-Nairn and Mr. Childs is the Board Chairman of Bon Ami, another Erickson customer. So both presumably got into Technicolor through their association with Mr. Erickson. Mr. McHugh is onetime Executive Committee Chairman of Chase National Bank, and now holds the same position with the Discount Corp. of New York.
These men, along with Dr. Kalmus, are the dominating factors in Technicolor's stock control. Mr. Erickson and Dr. Kalmus together could almost certainly command a majority of the stock in the highly unlikely event of anything in the nature of a proxy battle. And the group just mentioned holds roughly 50 per cent of Technicolor's outstanding 656,000 shares. The other 50 per cent is held chiefly by the public, which got much excited about Technicolor in 1929. Lately another large interest in Technicolor has been developing in the persons of John Hay Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. Their entrance into Technicolor would however bring us down almost to the present time and so we shall hold them in the wings for a moment. At this point it is sufficient to say that if and when the Whitneys exercise various options they will have about 15 per cent interest in Technicolor.