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The logo of the Fotomat kiosk chain.
A former Fotomat kiosk, repainted and now selling cigarettes.

Fotomat was an American-based retail chain of photo development drive-through kiosks located in shopping center parking lots. Fotomat Corporation was founded by Preston Fleet in San Diego, California, in the 1960s, with the first kiosk opening in Point Loma, California, in 1965. It became a public company in 1971 and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1977.[1] At its peak around 1980 there were over 4,000 Fotomats throughout the United States, primarily in suburban areas. Fotomats were distinctive for their pyramid-shaped gold-colored roofs and signs with red lettering, usually positioned in a large parking area such as a supermarket or strip mall, as the Fotomat huts required a minimal amount of land and were able to accommodate cars driving up to drop off or pick up film.[2] They sold Kodak-brand film and other photography-related products, and offered one-day photo finishing. Fotomat often hired female employees to work in the small buildings and called them "Fotomates." The Fotomate uniform was a royal blue and yellow smock top. Male employees were called "Fotomacs" and their uniform was a light blue polo shirt. The name was chosen to remind consumers of the Automat chain of automated cafeterias.

A derelict example of a Fotomat kiosk.
35mm Fotomat Brand Film - 1980's

Fotomat had both company-owned stores and franchises. This led to lawsuits between Fotomat and its franchisees over territories.[3][4]

In the early 1980s, Fotomat Corporation was acquired by Konishiroku Photo Industry Ltd., also known as Konica Photo Imaging in 1986. Eventually, it was sold to Viewpoint Corporation in 2002.[5][6]

The company's main product, overnight film development, was rendered noncompetitive by the late 1980s development of the minilab, which provided one-hour photo development and could be installed on-site without a large capital investment. Once overnight service became obsolete,[clarification needed] Fotomat's product became online digital imaging, delivered via, where users could edit and store their images. This site ceased operations September 1, 2009. The site refers users to the Kodak Gallery service.[7]

Fotomat has made some sparse appearances in American popular culture, namely the well-known hut with the yellow roof. In the opening of the TV Series Crazy Like a Fox, a car smashes through a Fotomat, destroying it.[8]

Today, the trademark is owned by DG, an advertising technology company and successor to Viewpoint Corporation.

Video rental service[edit]

In addition to photo developing, Fotomat was one of the first companies to offer movies for rent on videocassette—a new concept then—starting in December 1979. Customers would browse through a small catalog, call a number and order the movie or movies of their choice. The following day, the customer would pick up the cassette at the Fotomat kiosk of their choice. The rental cost was $12 per title (the equivalent of $39.36 in 2016) and the customer could keep it for five days. The price was later reduced to $9.95 for a five-day rental. The service was called "Fotomat Drive-Thru Movies."[9][10]

Initially, only Paramount Pictures entered into an agreement with the chain to offer their movies for rent. Among the 131 titles available were The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Grease, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Meatballs, French Postcards, American Hot Wax, The War of the Worlds, Hurricane, Pretty Baby, The Psychic, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Fraternity Row, Black Sunday, Marathon Man, Death Wish, Murder on the Orient Express, Barbarella and Airplane!.[11] Fotomat also offered lesser-known titles from smaller distributors such as Brandon Chase's Group I Releasing and VCI from Tulsa, Oklahoma (one of the first independent video labels at the dawn of the format), but these releases would not be prominently credited to these sources as the Paramount titles. Fotomat also carried certain exclusive releases, such as I Go Pogo:[12] The Movie. These titles were distributed directly by Fotomat and were of a uniform design with a black, die-cut cardboard case and a black label that included a white title (as well as Paramount's stylized logo for their films), but otherwise no artwork or color. In addition, a Fotomat logo accompanied by a four-tone sound would play before the start of each movie. The logo included an artistic representation of the company's famous yellow mansard roof.[13][14]

On March 4, 1980, Walt Disney Home Entertainment began offering their first ever videos for rental through Fotomat. The first titles released were Pete's Dragon, The Black Hole, The Love Bug, Escape to Witch Mountain, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, Kids Is Kids, On Vacation With Mickey Mouse and Friends and The Adventures of Chip and Dale.[15]

By 1982, local video stores had begun to offer customers cheaper video rentals without the overnight wait time and Fotomat discontinued the service.


  1. ^ NY Times Preston Fleet, 60, Creator of Fotomat And Omnimax, Dies, Published: February 04, 1995
  2. ^ LA Times Obituaries : Preston Fleet, 60; Fotomat Founder February 03, 1995
  3. ^ Eichman v. Fotomat Corp. (1983)147 Cal. App. 3d 1170 [197 Cal. Rptr. 612
  4. ^ 641 F. 2d 581 - Ogilvie v. Fotomat Corporation Griesedieck Enterprises No Inc.
  5. ^ BUSINESS, Fotomat Corp, By Deanne Brandon, April 23, 1985
  6. ^ LA Times Roeder to Leave as Chairman of Fotomat, March 05, 1985
  7. ^ 7/18/10, Between drug stores and Shutterfly there was FOTOMAT
  8. ^ Crazy Like A Fox, Turn of the Century Fox, Season 1, Episode 2, Aired 1/6/85
  9. ^, Entertainment Merchants Association Industry History, A History of Home Video and Video Game Retailing, 1975-1979
  10. ^ Billboard Blank VHS Boom,Oct 27, 1979
  11. ^ Hurricane (1979), Distributors: Paramount Pictures (1979) (USA) (theatrical) and Fotomat (Drive-Thru Movies) Video (1980) (USA) (VHS)
  12. ^ I Go Pogo (1980): The initial release was via Fotomat in mid-September 1980 on VHS and Betamax videotapes, in a plain generic Fotomat box with a plain label. The beta tape retailed for $54.95.
  13. ^ Fotomat Home Video Logo Theme from VHS rental
  14. ^ Fotomat: Beta & VHS tapes - January 1980, add
  15. ^ 1980: Disney releases its very first video tapes to the home VHS market. The 13 titles are licensed for rental to Fotomat

External links[edit]