150 years of experience
The history of Agfa goes back to the nineteenth century and is a long and illustrous record of innovation and technological leadership. A Belgian ‘photo products’ business and a German color dye manufacturer joined forces and grew into an internationally renowned company in the graphic and healthcare industries.
1867 – 1904: The Early Years
1867: AGFA, it all began with color
Looking at the high-tech products and solutions delivered by Agfa today, it is hard to believe that it all began way back in the 19th century. But it did. In 1867, a color dye factory was established at the Rummelsburger See near Berlin. In 1873, it was registered as the ‘Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation’, AGFA.
1894: The birth of ‘L. Gevaert & Cie’
In 1890, the 22-year-old Lieven Gevaert established his own workshop in Antwerp (Belgium), which was mainly used for manufacturing calcium paper for photography. Barely four years later, the businessman Armand Seghers helped to establish the limited stock company ‘L. Gevaert & Cie’. The starting capital amounted to just 20,000 Belgian francs (500 Euro).
1895: The first subsidiary abroad
L. Gevaert & Cie barely had time to celebrate its first anniversary before announcing the establishment of its first subsidiary abroad. The take-over of the Parisian company ‘Blue Star Papers’ introduced a new gelatine paper. This new subsidiary further enhanced the success of Gevaert’s paper line.
1904: The Gevaert business flourishes at the beginning of the new century
Business was booming and the buildings were becoming too small. The factory moved from Antwerp to Mortsel. These premises are still in use today, although the buildings have been substantially extended and modernized. The company’s success was shared with the employees, since they were allowed to participate in the company profits. This initiative established Lieven Gevaert as one of the pioneers of employee participation.
1905 – 1959: The Years of Expansion
1920: The conversion to a new name: ‘Gevaert Photo Producten N.V.’
The success of Gevaert could not be stopped. In 1920, the group was renamed ‘Gevaert Photo Producten N.V.’. While the starting capital in the early years of Gevaert was still moderate, it had now grown to 15 million Belgian francs (375,000 Euro).
1936: Color photography is ready for the mass market
In 1916 Agfa began developing materials for color photography. One of the pioneers was Dr. Rudolf Fischer from Berlin. Agfa was the only company that continued to improve color photography throughout the 1920’s until, in the 1930’s, their efforts finally paid off. In 1936 Agfa introduced ‘Agfacolor-Neu’, a real sensation throughout the whole photographic world. For the first time a single film, single exposure and single developing process sufficed for general color photography. The film had no less than 278 patents! Two years later, Agfa would bring its color paper and a 16mm color-amateur cine film to the market. Agfa was way ahead of most of the competition.
1947: X-rays after World War II
Being also a manufacturer of various types of X-ray films, Gevaert launched a new assortment on the market. These products had higher sensitivity, better contrast, brightness, and wider exposure margins. Once again the medical world enthused over the Gevaert X-ray products.
1952: Films for scientific and technical purposes
Gevaert always put a lot of energy into research, resulting in new technologies and new products. In 1952 it came on the market with a number of innovative, highly successful products. One of them was SCIENTIA, a range of plates and films for scientists, researchers, technicians, etc. This range was used in astronomy, nuclear physics, infrared photography, micrography, etc.
1959: The first fully automatic 35mm camera
Modern amateur photography also means simple, user-friendly handling. Agfa continued to improve its cameras, and focused on very easy to operate equipment. Functionality was another important factor when Agfa came on the market with the first fully automatic 35mm camera. It was an instant success and during the next three years, Agfa sold a million of these Agfa Optima cameras.
1960 – 1981: The Golden 60s and 70s
1964: A historical marriage
Not only was it the 125th anniversary of photography, but 1964 was also the year of the big merger between Gevaert and Agfa. In early 1964, Agfa AG, a 100% subsidiary of Bayer merged with Gevaert Photo Producten N.V. In doing so, two new operating companies were established on July 1st, and the two partners each held a 50% stake: Gevaert-Agfa N.V. in Mortsel (Belgium) and Agfa-Gevaert AG in Leverkusen (Germany).
1971: Agfa-Gevaert develops the first European xerographic copier
Agfa introduced a copier at the Hannover Messe in Germany: the ‘Gevafax X-10’ is the first European copier, based on xerographic technology, enabling economic photocopying onto plain paper.
1980 – 1981: The silver crisis
International speculation on the silver market caused a significant rise in the price of silver, which was now seven times more expensive than in the year before! As silver was one of the most important base materials for the photographic industry, these high prices put Agfa-Gevaert in a difficult financial situation. Bayer delivered additional funds and consequently obtained 100% ownership of the Agfa-Gevaert Group.
1982 – 1998: From Analog to Digital
1982: Agfa thinks digital
When new technologies were introduced to the world, the driving force behind many of them was often Agfa. It is the same story with digital technology. As long ago as 1982, Agfa-Gevaert had already taken a majority share in the Compugraphic Corporation (USA), which provided state-of-the-art typesetting capabilities at an affordable price. When Agfa acquired the company a few years later, it became the worldwide leader in computer controlled photographic setting machines.
1997: Agfa becomes the no 1 in prepress
After the acquisition of Hoechst’s printing plate and proofing business in 1996 and DuPont’s Graphic Arts division in 1997, Agfa became the undisputed number 1 in the graphic prepress industry. More than 40% of all printed matter in the world is now produced using Agfa products and systems.
1999: Agfa strengthens its position in the healthcare segment
The acquisition of Sterling Diagnostic Imaging was an integral part of Agfa’s strategic goal to be the leading imaging company through superior products, strong technologies and a worldwide recognized brand name. It allowed Agfa to gain a leading market position in conventional medical imaging in the United States.
1999 – now: A New Era
1999: Agfa goes public
On June 1, 1999, Agfa reached another milestone in its history. Agfa shares were introduced to the stock markets of Brussels and Frankfurt.
2000 – 2004: The digital (r)evolution continues
In 2000, Agfa took a majority stake in the Belgian software company Quadrat, which operates in information systems for the radiology department (RIS). One year later, Agfa took a minority interest in MediVision, a developer and manufacturer of digital imaging systems for ophthalmology applications. Also in 2001, Talk Technology, North America’s leading supplier of voice-enabled clinical workflow and reporting solutions for healthcare, became part of Agfa.
In 2002, Agfa acquired Mitra, one of the most important global suppliers of imaging and information management systems for healthcare. In 2005, Agfa became the largest player in Europe in the fast growing market of healthcare IT solutions through the acquisitions of Symphonie On Line and GWI. These companies are leading providers of information systems for hospitals and the electronic patient record, respectively in France and in Germany. Also in 2005, Agfa acquired Heartlab Inc., a leading American designer and supplier of image and information networks for cardiology, and Med2Rad, the leading developer and supplier of information systems for radiology in Italy.
As the only company in the graphic arts industry that offers a complete solution, including automated prepress systems, digital workflow systems, film and plates, Agfa also invested in a new plate production factory in China. Furthermore, the company strengthened its market and technology leadership in the graphic markets by acquiring a number of companies, including Autologic, a US manufacturer of prepress systems for the newspaper market and ProImage, an Israeli developer of browser based solutions for digital workflows in printing companies.
In November 2004, Agfa divested all its photographic activities to the new, independent company AgfaPhoto.
2007 – 2016: Technological leadership
In the graphic industry, Agfa focuses its R&D efforts on innovative environment-friendly digital printing solutions and on inkjet. In 2010, the acquisition of Gandi Innovations allowed Agfa to extend its inkjet portfolio.
For the healthcare sector, Agfa continues to improve and extend its imaging IT solutions and healthcare information solutions, as well as its range of imaging systems. In 2009, Agfa added Direct Radiography to its imaging portfolio. Towards the end of the period, Agfa became a frontrunner in enterprise-wide imaging through the launch of its leading Enterprise Imaging platform, which creates a true imaging record for every patient. In 2016, Agfa acquired the TIP Group, an Austrian specialist in hospital Business Intelligence. Furthermore, the company entered the promising Integrated Care market through a strategic alliance with the US based My Personal Health Record Express Inc.
In order to compensate for the decline in its traditional film markets, Agfa is focusing on the development of innovative products for promising growth markets, such as synthetic paper, durable materials for the production of ID cards and conductive organic materials.
2017 – now: Quest for growth
In 2017, management launches a transformation program to stop the top line erosion and to return to growth in the medium term.
January 1, 2019, the company adopts a new structure. As from that moment, the activities are grouped in 4 divisions: Offset Solutions, Digital Print & Chemicals, Radiology Solutions and HealthCare IT.
In May 2020, the Agfa-Gevaert Group successfully completes the sale of part of the HealthCare IT division’s activities to the Dedalus Group. The Imaging IT activities are largely unaffected by the sale and continue to be a key business of the Agfa-Gevaert Group. Meanwhile, the Group is making good progress with the thorough revision of its operating model, leading to significant cost improvements and improved working capital management.
In January, 2021, the Board of Directors expresses the intention to organize the Offset Solutions activities into a stand-alone legal entity structure and organization within the Agfa-Gevaert Group.