Voigtländer began in Vienna, Austria in 1756 by Johann Voigtländer as a manufacturer of scientific instruments. His son Johann expanded the business to include optics, and his son, Wilhelm Friedrich, helped design the first mathematically computed lens (an f3.7) in 1840, and then designed a camera to use it, an all-metal job with rack & pinion focusing at a time when most cameras were just wooden boxes.
Voigtländers tend to be middle-class cameras. They made some excellent cameras that are very highly regarded, but most of them are better classified as “good.” With Leicas above them and Agfas below, Voigtländer competed against the Zeiss-Ikons and mid-range Kodaks in the market.
In 1925 they were taken over by Schering Ltd., a manufacturer of photographic chemicals and materials. Schering kept it until 1956 when they sold it to the German Zeiss-Ikon conglomerate. But Zeiss was ailing and they ended up selling Voigtländer to Rollei around 1972. The Voigtländer name was used as a brand for various products in Germany but disappeared from the world market.
In 1982 Rollei fell apart, and the Voigtländer trademark went to a company called Plusfoto. They held it until 1997 when Ringfoto and ALFO acquired it and began marketing cameras under its name. Voigtländer is currently branded on a number of good quality cameras, including digitals and “classically-influenced” designs.