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Perforated ORWO projection film used in USSR
Magnetic tape packaging
ORWOChrom UT21 - 135 film for colour slides
1980s ORWOChrom slide taken in UK
ORWO Chrome Audio cassette tape

ORWO was an East German manufacturer of photographic film and magnetic tape. The basis for ORWO was the Agfa Wolfen plant, where the first modern colour film, with incorporated colour couplers, Agfacolor, was developed in 1936.

On 20 April 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, the 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.

In 1953 the plant became the property of East Germany, and in a trade agreement settlement, the East German company, VEB Film- und Chemiefaserwerk Agfa Wolfen, was given the right to sell its products under the Agfa brand in Eastern Europe, while the newly re-established Agfa in West German Leverkusen had the right to the name in the rest of the world.

As the trade agreement seriously hampered the East German company's abilities to sell in the West, the ORWO trademark (for Original Wolfen) was introduced in 1964. ORWO branded 35mm colour slide film became available in the United Kingdom in the 1970s through magazine advertisements for mail order suppliers. It was a cheaper alternative to the mainstream brands available at the time.

Following the merger of East Germany and West Germany, the company was privatized in 1990. After two bankruptcies, a new company, FilmoTec GmbH, was formed in 1998, which continues to manufacture a reduced range of former ORWO products, including high quality, 16mm & 35mm, black and white, print stock, duplicate stock, sound stock, industrial films, cinematography films and photo films. In partnership with ORWO North America, ORWO film has expanded; ORWO N.A currently supplies all US Library of Congress black and white industrial films, in addition to high-profile archival clients like The Smithsonian and MOMA. Fact, black and white movies that have been selected by the US Library of Congress for archival in the last 5 years have been most likely reprocessed on to ORWO film.

The cellulose triacetate base manufacturing plant of ORWO was sold to Island Pyrochemical Industries, Mineola, NY. The new company, located in the Chemiepark, Bitterfeld-Wolfen, Germany, produces high quality TAC (triacetyl cellulose, aka cellulose triacetate) for the LCD polarizer market and the polarized sunglasses market.

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Media related to ORWO at Wikimedia Commons

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