Negretti and Zambra

1850-1980s, optical instrument maker; mathematical instrument maker, London, England

Negretti and Zambra was established in 1850 by Henry Negretti and Joseph Zambra who had formed a partnership. Their skill was immediately apparent when, exhibiting at the 1851 Great Exhibition at Hyde Park, they were the only English instrument makers to receive a prize medal for meteorological instruments, and were appointed instrument makers to the queen, Greenwich observatory, and the British Meteorological Society.

In 1853, when the Crystal Palace was re-erected in Sydenham, Negretti and Zambra became the official photographers of the Crystal Palace Company, which allowed them to photograph the interior and grounds of the new building. The firm made use of this access to produce a number of stereographs.

Between 1855 and 1857 Negretti and Zambra commissioned photographer Pierre Rossier to travel to China to document the Second Opium War. Although Rossier subsequently was unable to accompany to Anglo-French forces in that campaign, he nevertheless produced a number of stereographs and other photographs of China, Japan, the Philippines and Siam (now Thailand), which Negretti and Zambra published and that represented the first commercial photographs of those countries. In 1856 Negretti and Zambra sponsored a photographic expedition to Egypt, Nubia and Ethiopia conducted by Francis Frith.

In 1864 Negretti and Zambra (themselves) photographed Shakespeare's House, Stratford-on-Avon. A sepia photograph was then pasted onto card 4" × 2.5". This was then presented to visitors to the Crystal Palace to enable them to compare it with the model erected by Mr E. T. Parr in the Centre Transept. The card itself is headed "Crystal Palace April 23rd 1864." That year they also published a book, titled A Treatise on Meteorological Instruments, (which was reprinted in 1995).

Throughout World War One Negretti and Zambra were entirely engaged in production of various instruments for the Ministry of Munitions. They developed many instruments for the Air Ministry including a mercury-in-steel distance thermometer for taking oil and air temperatures in aircraft which was patented in 1920.

In 1946 the company went private and in 1948 the company was made public, and by 1950 Negretti and Zanbra had 821 employees in Britain. In order to increase production and to safeguard future development in 1964 they purchased a modern factory at Aylesbury for all their production.

In 1981 Negretti and Zambra were taken over by a group of financial institutions in the form of Western Scientific Instruments and in 1985 the company was acquired by Meggitt Holdings.

Negretti and Zambra traded at : 11 Hatton Garden, London (1850-9), 59 & 68 Cornhill, London (1857-9), 1 Hatton Garden (1859-67), 107 Holborn Hill, London (1859-60), 59 Cornhill (1860-72), 122 Regent St., London (1862-1901), 153 Fleet St. (1865-73), Holborn Circus & Viaduct (1870-90), 2 Chartehouse, London (1870-85), 45 Cornhill (1872-1901), 38 Holborn Viaduct (1895-1901)