Gregory Gross

Chapter 3. Design Refinements and Product Evolution

In This Chapter

  1. § 3.1. Design Changes and Refinements
  2. § 3.2. Variations on a Theme: Field Model, Duplex, and the Questar Seven
  3. § 3.3. Marketing and Sales
  4. § 3.4. Adoption and Influence
  5. § 3.5. Death of Lawrence Braymer

Lawrence Braymer was both the thriftiest and the most generous businessman one could imagine.

After starting his own business at the beginning of the prior decade, he began the 1960s with his company succeeding on an undeniably upward trajectory. Questar’s sales were strong, its reputation was first rate, and its prospects seemed only to be growing brighter. Yet those old habits he and his wife Marguerite surely learned during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and those first very lean years of Questar’s existence must have been hard to give up. Rather than let anything go to waste, he made use of every existing part in his supply stock before ordering new ones.

He often passed the benefits of his thrift to his customers. In early 1959, for instance, his supply of Linhof tripods was in short supply. But by January 1960, he saw that the price had risen significantly. Since Questar still had a few that they had obtained at the old price, he held the line and kept costs as low as he could for as long as he could. “Our policy is not to raise the price of any item until we have to purchase more at the higher price,” he wrote.[1] With few of his clients complaining, he succeeded in cementing the relationship between them and his company.

But in spite of his frugal habit of using up every last part before ordering more, the fact of the matter was that Braymer sold his superfine Questar telescope at an ultra-expensive price. Perhaps he was justified in doing so considering the amount of effort he had put into its design and manufacture and the amount of personal financial risk he had taken with getting it to market.

But to those individuals who wrote letters to him asking for help with getting one—those who showed the same youthful spark of curiosity that he had as a young man but who lacked the resources to pay the full price for one of his telescopes—Braymer also demonstrated an overflowing kindheartedness.

Later in life, Dr. Todd Wilk Estroff looked back at the way in which he came to own his Questar telescope as a young man in the early 1960s. With his bar mitzvah quickly approaching, those close to him asked what he wanted as a gift. Since he had been an astronomy enthusiast from an early age, Estroff could answer that question with ease: “A telescope and a 35mm single lens reflex camera,” was his usual reply. The response was equally as typical: “We can’t afford to get you a telescope.” He knew the only way he could get what he wanted was to save for it.[2]

After his bar mitzvah came and went, Estroff succeeded in gathering $650 of gift money. It was still not enough for the new $995 Questar telescopes he saw advertised in Sky and Telescope, so he resigned himself to looking for a used one. But how could he make sure it was in good condition? He then sat down and wrote Lawrence Braymer a letter. He asked him if he knew of any good used Questars that he had inspected—and he emphasized that the top price he could pay as a thirteen-year-old boy was only $650 or $750. He dropped his letter into the mail, but he wondered if Questar would take him seriously.[3]

Braymer’s response came quickly. Not only did he take his young client seriously, but he also went a step further. While he did not have any used Questars on hand, Braymer offered to build one for him using parts from other instruments that his shop had recently updated. The optics, however, would be brand new, of course. After receiving Braymer’s letter, Estroff hustled to get an additional hundred dollars. Finally, in December 1963, his Questar arrived with an unusual serial number: “Special 63.”[4]

Ever the faithful and caretaking client, Dr. Estroff sent his Questar in for service multiple times over the subsequent years. He had it converted to the wide field construction in the late 1960s, had the optics recoated in 1986, and had a Powerguide I and finder solar filter added in 1991. Estroff eventually added four other instruments—two Questar Duplexes, a QM1 long distance microscope, and a Questar Seven—to his collection. But his “Special 63” continued to hold its distinct place in his heart. “I still LOVE my Questar,” he unwaveringly declared forty years after he received it. “I am FOREVER GRATEFUL to Lawrence Braymer who took a 13-year-old astronomy nut seriously and made his dream come true.”[5]

Braymer would do anything to get a Questar in the hands of as many individuals as he possibly could.[6] His pride for the telescopes that he and his craftsmen built matched his determination.

Since he never threw anything out, Braymer could build “Special 63” for his young client because of his ample stock of old parts he had on hand. That stock existed as a result of his constant improvements. Not only would he implement those refinements in new Questars, but he rarely hesitated to add them to existing Questars whose owners sent them in for service. Constantly on the lookout for ways to improve that instrument, it was only natural that Braymer would continue to develop refinements to existing designs and to implement those improvements without delay.[7]

As it transitioned out of its founding years, Questar moved into an era of design refinements and new product introductions in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, Questar had finished much of its work refining the original design of its 3.5-inch telescope and had made it into a mature product. The company had also introduced new products based on the design of the Standard Questar. Once the design of its core product had largely solidified, the time had arrived for Questar to spin off other products: the modern Field Model, the Duplex, and the Questar Seven. At the very least, they demonstrated Lawrence Braymer’s strong dedication to finding ways to evolve his basic design into new products.

The evolution of Questar’s marketing matched that of its product offerings. Having demonstrated a winning strategy during its early years, the company continued to use magazine advertisements and promotional literature to promote Questar’s instruments.

As they did in prior years, customers both ordinary and famous responded. Not only did a Questar play at least an ostensibly key role in the conception of a milestone film, but it also made an appearance in one.

Along with his wife Marguerite, Lawrence Braymer spent the first half of the 1960s focused on making improvements to their product line. Unfortunately, his remaining time would prove to be short.

Next: § 3.1. Design Changes and Refinements

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Notes

1 Questar Corporation, advertisement, Sky and Telescope, April 1960, 386.

2 Todd Wilk Estroff, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, January 10, 2004, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/7375, accessed November 3, 2019.

3 Todd Wilk Estroff, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, January 10, 2004, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/7375, accessed November 3, 2019.

4 Todd Wilk Estroff, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, January 10, 2004, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/7375, accessed November 3, 2019.

5 Todd Wilk Estroff, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, January 10, 2004, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/7375, accessed November 3, 2019; “Q_Inventory_083115b.xls” (unpublished manuscript, August 31, 2015), spreadsheet, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/files/Questar%20Information%20Database/, accessed October 15, 2019; Todd Wilk Estroff, email message to author, October 23, 2021.

6 Todd Wilk Estroff, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, January 10, 2004, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/7375, accessed November 3, 2019.

7 Stewart Squires, online forum posting, Questar Users Group, February 5, 2006, https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Questar/conversations/messages/12475, accessed November 3, 2019.