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The Passing of the Guard - a Tribute to the Entrepreneurs of Holography

by Staff

November-December, 2005
The holographic industry has seen many changes over the last three decades. This was evident with the announcement that James River Products, Inc. had ceased manufacturing hologram production equipment. Change also became clear when several foil companies that were pioneers in the first commercial uses of holograms either ceased to exist or merged with other larger conglomerates. These developments prompt a reflection on the ‘changing of the guard’ in holography as the early entrepreneurs that drove the hologram industry have been progressively replaced by a younger generation.

Machine designer Drury Baughan can be linked to the earliest days of production embossed holography. In 1962, he founded Old Dominion Foils where he researched the reproduction of holographic surface relief patterns on DuPont’s Tyvek material. Nothing came of this, but DuPont subsequently recommended Old Dominion Foils to American Bank Note Holographics (ABNH) for the production of its first holograms. Baughan’s success led ABNH to buy Old Dominion Foils in 1982 as its embossing plant.

Very much his own man, Baughan decided to leave ABNH when it moved production to New Jersey. He then founded James River Products to begin manufacturing narrow-web embossing machines. These machines, which became the workhorse of the hologram industry, were installed in many producers around the world. Baughan’s southern drawl became extremely familiar as he sold and installed embossing machines worldwide. Baughan passed away in 2002.

Commercial Uses of Holograms
The transition into hologram production from one-of-a-kind ‘show pieces’ to billions per year started in the 1981. Ed Weitzen, the CEO and founder of ABNH, acquired a license to the basic Emmet Leith and Juris Upatnieks hologram patents. His vision (against the advice of virtually everyone around him) was to use the hologram as a security device on banknotes and other security documents. To do this, ABNH needed a hologram production and application process. Weitzen turned to Terry Gallagher, vice president of ABNH at the time, to find a feasible way to reproduce and apply holograms in high volume.

Gallagher first called upon an artist that could actually create a hologram master. They began working with Eidetic Images, headed by Ken Haines, who not only knew how to make a hologram master, but also understood the physics behind it. At the time, Eidetics was making surface relief holograms in photoresist, having it nickel plated onto the resist, hot-pressing the image into vinyl, and metallizing the surface to obtain the finished hologram. According to Gallagher, the discovery that surface relief holograms could be made this way was the invention of Mike Foster of Spectratek. The process at that time was capable of producing about one hologram per hour. Nevertheless, the production process had been transformed from an optical laboratory process into a mechanical one. This was the breakthrough that the industry needed.

The hologram origination capability was brought in-house by the acquisition of Eidetic Images by ABNH on New Year’s Eve, 1981. Nickel replication was readily available through electroforming companies, leaving the production embossing process as the next hurdle.

While investigating a variety of possible production processes, Gallagher began discussions with Drury Baughan at Old Dominion Foils in Richmond, Virginia, who was embossing diffraction gratings into metallized polyester film, using a rotary process and nickel shims. This was a very similar process to the one ABNH was producing. It was obvious that there was little difference in the production process between diffraction gratings and holograms. The topology of the surface was almost identical. Initial tests confirmed this was the case and ABNH was well on its way to beginning a production process for holograms. Old Dominion Foils was acquired in mid 1982.

Although the process could be used to emboss polyester film suitable for holographic labels, these labels had limited application in the security market and were not suitable for banknotes. From this realization came the idea of combining hologram embossing and hot stamping. Even though the transferred layer of hot stamping foil was extremely thin, there was still sufficient thickness to accommodate the hologram surface relief. Working initially with DriPrint Foils and then with Bob Waitts of Crown Roll Leaf, suitable coatings were developed to consistently emboss the image into the hot stamping foil, which was key to the success and growth of holographic hot stamping foils as we know them today.

Bob Waitts and Crown had been one of a quartet of holographic foil producers in the northeast, all of them established by individuals with drive, ingenuity, and vision. DriPrint (now part of API Foils) was the first, giving rise to Harry Parker’s Transfer Print Foils (now part of ITW Foilmark), Marty Olsen’s Foilmark (also now part of ITW), and Joe Coburn’s Coburn Corporation (bought by the IGI Corporation). Bob Waitts passed away in 1998, but left his mark on the holography industry. Crown was instrumental in growing commercial holography through increasing the width of hologram embossing from 6 inches to 12 inches, and installing the industry’s first 50” wide hologram embossing machine.

Almost immediately after Gallagher and ABNH had developed the production process for holograms, John Lagunovitch, ABNH salesmen at the time, began talking with MasterCard about using a hologram on its cards to cut down on counterfeiting. As a result, ABNH received an order for 50,000,000 holograms in early 1983! Since only a few holograms had been made before this order, it called for a major scaling up of the process. From replication to incorporate many holograms onto one embossing plate to registration mark design to quality control procedures, hundreds of issues had to be addressed in order to turn the fledgling process into one capable of high-volume production. VISA followed MasterCard and the industry never looked back.

Moving Into Paper Applications
The first volume order for holograms on a paper application was an eagle hologram for the cover of the March 1984 issue of National Geographic magazine. Although such things as diffraction-grating registration marks and foil-feeding systems (built by Franklin Manufacturing) had been developed for the credit card market, the National Geographic cover presented new challenges because of its size.

Initially, ABNH contracted with an outside source to develop a registration system to work on a Kluge press, but the system never worked satisfactorily, causing near panic at National Geographic. Gallagher remembers a phone call from them stating, “Traditionally, our March issue of National Geographic comes out in March.” Gallagher and John Kimball (chief engineer with ABNH at the time) designed a replacement system in a hotel room in Dallas as deadlines loomed. They scoured the area for a machine shop to make the parts and bought most of the electronics at Radio Shack. In one week, they had six Kluges up and running in production, followed shortly thereafter by many more. Approximately 11 million covers were produced two-up in several plants throughout the country.

Applying holograms to paper also created foil release challenges. Crown Roll Leaf had the difficult task of ensuring that the foil did not release during the embossing of the hologram but did release properly when applied to the cover on the Kluge. These challenges were all worked out and despite many trials and tribulations, the last of the 11 million covers were delivered by March 1, 1984. National Geographic went on to produce two additional holographic covers in proceeding years that included an early human skull from excavations in Africa and a glass globe of the world being shattered by a bullet, which coincided with the New York Museum of Holography’s exhibition on pulse laser holography.

With the hard work and foresight of these pioneers and the vision of Ed Weitzen, the commercial usage of holography was well on its way. Weitzen passed away soon after he sold American Bank Note to US Bank Note, which was run by former competitor Mickey Weissman. After being found guilty of several fraudulent acts, including inflating the overall value of ABNH, Weissman left the industry.

‘To everything there is a season…’ and industries and technologies, like the seasons, ‘turn, turn, turn.’ In the course of a few years, we have seen the passing of the season of many of the key figures in the early development of embossed hologram technology and its markets. These people were independent-minded, sometimes cantankerous, often generous, and always visionary entrepreneurs. Many of the companies they founded have been taken over by large conglomerates or investment organizations. Only James River Products, provider of equipment to so many hologram producers, was the exception – closing down instead of being sold. Embossed holography would not be where it is today without their contributions. And although large organizations continue to bring other valuable attributes to the table (stability, finance, global reach, etc.) it is hoped that the vision and drive of those early pioneers will live on through others in the future.

Excerpts for this article were taken from the July 2005 issue of Holography News, published by Reconnaissance International. For more information on Reconnaissance International and Holography News, visit www.holographynews.info. InsideFinishing also would like to thank Terry Gallagher of Total Register (860-210-0465) for his assistance and contribution to this article.