Made in Colorado 2016: Henry Bergeson
One man's journey from engineer to kaleidoscope maker
Henry Bergeson Kaleidoscopes, Conifer
Bergeson, 58, estimates he’s made 50,000 kaleidoscopes in the past 30 years.
He lost his job as an engineer for a medical manufacturer in Massachusetts – “my last real job,” he says with a grin – in 1987. “My boss said, ‘You could make a lot more money making kaleidoscopes than I could pay you.’ Four months later, he laid me off.”
So Bergeson moved west to Colorado and looked for an engineering job before going into the kaleidoscope business full-time. He started in a dinky cabin with “no running water, a woodstove, and a workshop” before relocating to his current two-story shop.
“You do what you can do,” muses Bergeson. “You manifest what you can do with the skills you’ve got.”
Invented by Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster 200 years ago, the kaleidoscope “is pretty simple,” says Bergeson. The three main components for most of his ‘scopes: wood casing, a mirrored triangle with precise angles that divide evenly into 360, and an object case filled with a multi-hued “recipe” of colorful beads, glass, and plastic suspended in glycerine.
Woodworking is his big differentiator, he adds, and his engineering background helped him perfect the process. He now uses CNC routers and vacuum tables to automate some of the work. Making one kaleidoscope “varies from hours to weeks,” Bergeson adds.
His kaleidoscopes, which retail for $200 to $5,000, have gotten higher tech as well, and feature built-in LED lights and circuit boards.
He initially sold them store to store on the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, and ski towns around Colorado, before getting into the wholesale business. But wholesale has dropped by 50 percent in the past two years, replaced by Internet sales, which have increased by 50 percent.
Bergeson had six employees in the late 1990s, but now he’s a self-described “one-man band” and splits his time making kaleidoscopes and high-end electrostatic speakers for Sanders Sound Systems, also in Conifer.
Looking ahead, he’s got a big idea for public artwork: a super-sized kaleidoscope. “I’d like to do a big public kaleidoscope,” Bergeson says. “There’s a lot of stuff I want to do with projection – a backdrop behind a band, for instance.”