Here's my guesses:
Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
- was readily available to the camera makers in New York in the early 1900's?
Possible but don't know for sure. Walnut would be the other native wood of choice.
Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
- has beautiful grain?
It certainly does. The grain is also fine and close which makes it easier to finish.

Quote Originally Posted by GaussianNoise
- has some some mechanical property which makes it especially conducive to use in camera construction?
Not any more than several other woods. Its properties are very similar to walnut; strong, hard enough but works easy, close grain, finishes beautifully, stays stable, very low dimensional changes. The same can be said for mohagany which is imported. Probably more than anything is cost; walnut has always been at the high end of the cost ladder. Both species of oak harden over the years becoming nearly unworkable. Hard maple is HARD and tools tend to skip around discontinuities in the grain. Ebony, mohogany, teak were all imported. Teak is a REAL PITA to work because it has silica in its pores - dulls tools fast.

Just my guesses.