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Abraham Zapruder and His Camera: Dual Birthdays

Photo of Abraham Zapruder's old home movie camera, boxy black with silver metal fittings and a lens about three inches long

Abraham Zapruder, who shot the grainy home movie film of John F. Kennedy‘s death in Dallas, was born on May 15th in 1905. He’d be 107 today, had he not died in 1970.

Zapruder bought his Bell & Howell home movie camera in 1962, so the famous instrument turns 50 this year. 

Abraham Zapruder ran a clothing company called Jennifer Juniors that was located near Dealy Plaza in Dallas. On the fateful day in 1963, he and his receptionist walked a few blocks down so he could get shots of the presidential motorcade passing by. That’s how he became the one person in the world to get film of JFK’s death. 

A Zapruder home movie frame showing JFK and Jackie Kennedy in the motorcade before a bright green lawn

The camera was a wind-up, spring-powered model shooting 8mm film. Zapruder had the 9-27mm zoom lens set for full close-up when Lee Harvey Oswald fired his shots.

The camera was given to the National Archives in 1966. The film took a longer road: Zapruder sold it to Time-Life for $150,000 in the days after the assassination, and it was analyzed endlessly for the next decade. Time-Life sold it back to Zapruder’s family for a token $1 sum in 1975. The federal government claimed the film under eminent domain in 1998, paying Zapruder’s family (after some haggling) a whopping $16 million to obtain it.

See our biography of Abraham Zapruder »

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