Abraham Zapruder Biography

Filmmaker, Business Leader (1905–1970)
With his home film camera, Dallas businessman Abraham Zapruder recorded the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. This footage is one of the few films of this historic event.


Born in Russia in 1905, Abraham Zapruder immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He first arrived in Brooklyn, New York, where he worked in the garment business. In the early 1940s, Zapruder moved to Dallas, Texas. He eventually started up his own dress company called Jennifer Juniors, Inc. On November 22, 1963, Zapruder filmed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He sold the rights to the film to LIFE magazine. Zapruder died in Texas in 1970.

Early Life

Born in 1905 in Kovel, Russia (now part of Ukraine), Abraham Zapruder proved to be an important witness to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He captured the event on film, making one of the few visual records of this American tragedy. Zapruder immigrated to the United States as a teenager. At first he lived in Brooklyn, New York, where he found work as a pattern maker in the garment industry.

In 1933, Zapruder married his wife Lillian. The couple eventually had two children, Henry and Myrna. Zapruder moved to Texas in the early 1940s for a job opportunity. He eventually established his clothing company, including a dress line called Jennifer Juniors, Inc. His Dallas office was across the street from the Texas School Book Depository where alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald worked. He reportedly fired on the president from the sixth floor of the depository.

Witness to Assassination

On November 22, 1963, Zapruder and some of his employees went outside of their office to watch President John F. Kennedy drive by. He had forgotten his camera that morning, but one of his employees retrieved from his home for him. Standing on a concrete abutment, Zapruder had a clear view of the presidential motorcade as it traveled down the street.

With his camera, Zapruder managed to catch the entire assassination of President John F. Kennedy on film. "I was standing up here and I was shooting through a telephoto lens," he later explained, according to Sixth Floor Museum website. "I heard the . . . shot and I saw the president lean over and grab himself." Still looking through his camera, Zapruder saw the shot that struck Kennedy in the head.

Zapruder's film was developed later in that day, and copies were made for investigators. The following day, Zapruder made a deal with LIFE magazine for the print rights. The magazine later bought all of the rights related to the film. The alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was quickly arrested, but he was murdered by Jack Ruby a short time later.

The Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy's assassination, relied heavily on Zapruder's film. The film was used by FBI to establish the sequence and timing of events in the assassination. Its final report, issued in 1964, included still images from Zapruder's film. Zapruder himself also testified in front of the commission.

After the assassination, Zapruder was interviewed numerous times to give his account of the assassination. He was also brought in as a witness for the 1969 trial of Clay Shaw as a possible co-conspirator in the Kennedy assassination. Shaw was found not guilty. Zapruder died the following year, on August 30, 1970, of cancer. He was 66 years old.

Legacy of Zapruder's Film

In 1975, Life magazine sold Zapruder's original film and all the rights to Zapruder's family for $1. They soon established the LMH Company to handle business related to the film. Three years later, the family gave the original film to the National Archives for safekeeping.

The Zapruder family licensed the assassination footage to filmmaker Oliver Stone for his 1991 film JFK. The movie raised a lot of questions regarding the assassination, creating a new wave of public interest in this American tragedy. In response to public pressure, a new bill called the JFK Act was passed by the Congress to make available previously classified information regarding the assassination.

As a part of this act, the Assassination Records Review Board was created to examine what documents and materials could be released. The board also determined that the government should take possession of all pertinent evidence in the Kennedy case, including the Zapruder film. After years of legal wrangling and negotiating, the Zapruder family was awarded $16.5 million for the original film in 1999. They then donated the associated copyrights to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

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