This High-Speed Photo Developer Was Also One of the First Home Video Rental Chains

Founded in 1965, Fotomat was an American retail chain of photo development drive-through kiosks primarily located in strip mall parking lots.

The company quickly grew in popularity, going public in 1971 and getting listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1977. By the late 1970’s, there were more than 4,000 Fotomat locations across the U.S., most featuring a trademark golden yellow pyramid-shaped roof and signs with blue and red lettering.

Female Fotomat employees were refered to as “Fotomates,” while males were called “Fotomacs.”

Looking to broaden its offerings, in December 1979 Fotomat became one of the first companies to offer movie rentals on VHS videocassettes with a service called “Fotomat Drive-Thru Movies.” Customers would browse through a small printed catalog, dial a toll free number and order their movie selections.

The next day, the customer would pick up the selected VHS tapes at the Fotomat kiosk of their choice. The cost was $12 per title for a five-day rental period. That price was later reduced to $9.95 for the same time period.

Initially, only Paramount Pictures agreed to offer their film titles for rent with Fotomat. This soon expanded to Walt Disney Productions in March of 1980.

Fotomat also offered titles from smaller distributors such as MCA Distribution, Warner Bros., EMI, Gold Key Entertainment and Tulsa, Oklahoma-based VCI, among others. The company also carried exclusive releases such as “I Go Pogo.”

By 1982, other VHS rental outlets began offering cheaper rentals without the wait and Fotomat shuttered their service.

The company’s main film development product was rendered non-competitive by the late 1980s due to the development of the minilab which provided one-hour photo development and could be installed on-site without a large capital investment.

After the introduction of digital cameras, overnight service became obsolete and Fotomat switched to online digital imaging, where users could edit and store their images. However, because of competition, Fotomat’s website ceased operation on September 1, 2009, marking the end of an era.

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Video presented by Hit Pictures – Handmade Sight and Sound.