Reinhold Heidecke was employed by Voigtlander making precision instruments. After learning the trade, he left the company to try to form his own to make new roll film cameras that were easier to use (than the current products out there). Reinhold Heidecke teamed up with Paul Franke in 1920 to form a new company called … wait for it … Franke and Heidecke. Their first cameras were stereoscopic types, but the third one was a charm. This was their first TLR, the Rolleiflex made in 1929.
The Rolleiflex is considered the mother of all TLR’s (ok, I made that up … but it could be true). The design of the Rollei TLRs will be copied by everyone else that came after it, and the Rollei’s are still one of the most coveted cameras to this date (I should know as I am still trying to get a hold of a cheap one).
In 1966, Rollei made their first viewfinder 35mm camera … and it also happened to be the smallest 135 film camera ever. It was so cool that Queen Elizabeth went out and bought one (Ok, she probably didn’t actually do that … but she does own a gold one).
The company name did change with the addition of Rollei-Werke before the F&H, and in 1979 the company changed name to Rollei, then in 2007 the company broke up into three bits … these bits broke, kinda.
Before it’s end, Rollei made a number of cameras (TLR, 135, 6×6, sub, and even digital) and other photographic equipment like slide projectors … but if you told someone today that you have a “Rollei” it will always refer to the Rolleiflex TLR.