20 February 2009
The invention: The first inexpensive and easy-to-use camera available to the general public, the Brownie revolutionized photography by making it possible for every person to become a photographer. The people behind the invention: George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of the Eastman Kodak Company Frank A. Brownell, a camera maker for the Kodak Company who designed the Brownie Henry M. Reichenbach, a chemist who worked with Eastman to develop flexible film William H. Walker, a Rochester camera manufacturer who collaborated with Eastman A New Way to Take Pictures In early February of 1900, the first shipments of a new small box camera called the Brownie reached Kodak dealers in the United States and England. George Eastman, eager to put photography within the reach of everyone, had directed Frank Brownell to design a small camera that could be manufactured inexpensively but that would still take good photographs. Advertisements for the Brownie proclaimed that everyone— even children—could take good pictures with the camera. The Brownie was aimed directly at the children’s market, a fact indicated by its box, which was decorated with drawings of imaginary elves called “Brownies” created by the Canadian illustrator Palmer Cox. Moreover, the camera cost only one dollar. The Brownie was made of jute board and wood, with a hinged back fastened by a sliding catch. It had an inexpensive two-piece glass lens and a simple rotary shutter that allowed both timed and instantaneous exposures to be made. With a lens aperture of approximately f14 and a shutter speed of approximately 1/50 of a second, the Brownie was certainly capable of taking acceptable snapshots. It had no viewfinder; however, an optional clip-on reflecting viewfinder was available. The camera came loaded with a six-exposure roll of Kodak film that produced square negatives 2.5 inches on a side. This film could be developed, printed, and mounted for forty cents, and a new roll could be purchased for fifteen cents. George Eastman’s first career choice had been banking, but when he failed to receive a promotion he thought he deserved, he decided to devote himself to his hobby, photography. Having worked with a rigorous wet-plate process, he knew why there were few amateur photographers at the time—the whole process, from plate preparation to printing, was too expensive and too much trouble. Even so, he had already begun to think about the commercial possibilities of photography; after reading of British experiments with dry-plate technology, he set up a small chemical laboratory and came up with a process of his own. The Eastman Dry Plate Company became one of the most successful producers of gelatin dry plates. Dry-plate photography had attracted more amateurs, but it was still a complicated and expensive hobby. Eastman realized that the number of photographers would have to increase considerably if the market for cameras and supplies were to have any potential. In the early 1880’s, Eastman first formulated the policies that would make the Eastman Kodak Company so successful in years to come: mass production, low prices, foreign and domestic distribution, and selling through extensive advertising and by demonstration. In his efforts to expand the amateur market, Eastman first tackled the problem of the glass-plate negative, which was heavy, fragile, and expensive to make. By 1884, his experiments with paper negatives had been successful enough that he changed the name of his company to The Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. Since flexible roll film needed some sort of device to hold it steady in the camera’s focal plane, Eastman collaborated with William Walker to develop the Eastman-Walker roll-holder. Eastman’s pioneering manufacture and use of roll films led to the appearance on the market in the 1880’s of a wide array of hand cameras from a number of different companies. Such cameras were called “detective cameras” because they were small and could be used surreptitiously. The most famous of these, introduced by Eastman in 1888, was named the “Kodak”—a word he coined to be terse, distinctive, and easily pronounced in any language. This camera’s simplicity of operation was appealing to the general public and stimulated the growth of amateur photography. The Camera The Kodak was a box about seven inches long and four inches wide, with a one-speed shutter and a fixed-focus lens that produced reasonably sharp pictures. It came loaded with enough roll film to make one hundred exposures. The camera’s initial price of twentyfive dollars included the cost of processing the first roll of film; the camera also came with a leather case and strap. After the film was exposed, the camera was mailed, unopened, to the company’s plant in Rochester, New York, where the developing and printing were done. For an additional ten dollars, the camera was reloaded and sent back to the customer. The Kodak was advertised in mass-market publications, rather than in specialized photographic journals, with the slogan: “You press the button, we do the rest.”With his introduction of a camera that was easy to use and a service that eliminated the need to know anything about processing negatives, Eastman revolutionized the photographic market. Thousands of people no longer depended upon professional photographers for their portraits but instead learned to make their own. In 1892, the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company became the Eastman Kodak Company, and by the mid- 1890’s, one hundred thousand Kodak cameras had been manufactured and sold, half of them in Europe by Kodak Limited. Having popularized photography with the first Kodak, in 1900 Eastman turned his attention to the children’s market with the introduction of the Brownie. The first five thousand cameras sent to dealers were sold immediately; by the end of the following year, almost a quarter of a million had been sold. The Kodak Company organized Brownie camera clubs and held competitions specifically for young photographers. The Brownie came with an instruction booklet that gave children simple directions for taking successful pictures, and “The Brownie Boy,” an appealing youngster who loved photography, became a standard feature of Kodak’s advertisements. Impact Eastman followed the success of the first Brownie by introducing several additional models between 1901 and 1917. Each was a more elaborate version of the original. These Brownie box cameras were on the market until the early 1930’s, and their success inspired other companies to manufacture box cameras of their own. In 1906, the Ansco company produced the Buster Brown camera in three sizes that corresponded to Kodak’s Brownie camera range; in 1910 and 1914, Ansco made three more versions. The Seneca company’s Scout box camera, in three sizes, appeared in 1913, and Sears Roebuck’s Kewpie cameras, in five sizes, were sold beginning in 1916. In England, the Houghtons company introduced its first Scout camera in 1901, followed by another series of four box cameras in 1910 sold under the Ensign trademark. Other English manufacturers of box cameras included the James Sinclair company, with its Traveller Una of 1909, and the Thornton-Pickard company, with a Filma camera marketed in four sizes in 1912. After World War I ended, several series of box cameras were manufactured in Germany by companies that had formerly concentrated on more advanced and expensive cameras. The success of box cameras in other countries, led by Kodak’s Brownie, undoubtedly prompted this trend in the German photographic industry. The Ernemann Film K series of cameras in three sizes, introduced in 1919, and the all-metal Trapp LittleWonder of 1922 are examples of popular German box cameras. In the early 1920’s, camera manufacturers began making boxcamera bodies from metal rather than from wood and cardboard. Machine-formed metal was less expensive than the traditional handworked materials. In 1924, Kodak’s two most popular Brownie sizes appeared with aluminum bodies. In 1928, Kodak Limited of England added two important new features to the Brownie—a built-in portrait lens, which could be brought in front of the taking lens by pressing a lever, and camera bodies in a range of seven different fashion colors. The Beau Brownie cameras, made in 1930, were the most popular of all the colored box cameras. The work ofWalter Dorwin Teague, a leading American designer, these cameras had an Art Deco geometric pattern on the front panel, which was enameled in a color matching the leatherette covering of the camera body. Several other companies, including Ansco, again followed Kodak’s lead and introduced their own lines of colored cameras. In the 1930’s, several new box cameras with interesting features appeared, many manufactured by leading film companies. In France, the Lumiere Company advertised a series of box cameras—the Luxbox, Scoutbox, and Lumibox—that ranged from a basic camera to one with an adjustable lens and shutter. In 1933, the German Agfa company restyled its entire range of box cameras, and in 1939, the Italian Ferrania company entered the market with box cameras in two sizes. In 1932, Kodak redesigned its Brownie series to take the new 620 roll film, which it had just introduced. This film and the new Six-20 Brownies inspired other companies to experiment with variations of their own; some box cameras, such as the Certo Double-box, the Coronet Every Distance, and the Ensign E-20 cameras, offered a choice of two picture formats. Another new trend was a move toward smaller-format cameras using standard 127 roll film. In 1934, Kodak marketed the small Baby Brownie. Designed by Teague and made from molded black plastic, this little camera with a folding viewfinder sold for only one dollar—the price of the original Brownie in 1900. The Baby Brownie, the first Kodak camera made of molded plastic, heralded the move to the use of plastic in camera manufacture. Soon many others, such as the Altissa series of box cameras and the Voigtlander Brilliant V/6 camera, were being made from this new material. Later Trends By the late 1930’s, flashbulbs had replaced flash powder for taking pictures in low light; again, the Eastman Kodak Company led the way in introducing this new technology as a feature on the inexpensive box camera. The Falcon Press-Flash, marketed in 1939, was the first mass-produced camera to have flash synchronization and was followed the next year by the Six-20 Flash Brownie, which had a detachable flash gun. In the early 1940’s, other companies, such as Agfa-Ansco, introduced this feature on their own box cameras.In the years after World War II, the box camera evolved into an eye-level camera, making it more convenient to carry and use. Many amateur photographers, however, still had trouble handling paper-backed roll film and were taking their cameras back to dealers to be unloaded and reloaded. Kodak therefore developed a new system of film loading, using the Kodapak cartridge, which could be mass-produced with a high degree of accuracy by precision plastic- molding techniques. To load the camera, the user simply opened the camera back and inserted the cartridge. This new film was introduced in 1963, along with a series of Instamatic cameras designed for its use. Both were immediately successful. The popularity of the film cartridge ended the long history of the simple and inexpensive roll film camera. The last English Brownie was made in 1967, and the series of Brownies made in the United States was discontinued in 1970. Eastman’s original marketing strategy of simplifying photography in order to increase the demand for cameras and film continued, however, with the public’s acceptance of cartridge-loading cameras such as the Instamatic. From the beginning, Eastman had recognized that there were two kinds of photographers other than professionals. The first, he declared, were the true amateurs who devoted time enough to acquire skill in the complex processing procedures of the day. The second were those who merely wanted personal pictures or memorabilia of their everyday lives, families, and travels. The second class, he observed, outnumbered the first by almost ten to one. Thus, it was to this second kind of amateur photographer that Eastman had appealed, both with his first cameras and with his advertising slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Eastman had done much more than simply invent cameras and films; he had invented a system and then developed the means for supporting that system. This is essentially what the Eastman Kodak Company continued to accomplish with the series of Instamatics and other descendants of the original Brownie. In the decade between 1963 and 1973, for example, approximately sixty million Instamatics were sold throughout the world. The research, manufacturing, and marketing activities of the Eastman Kodak Company have been so complex and varied that no one would suggest that the company’s prosperity rests solely on the success of its line of inexpensive cameras and cartridge films, although these have continued to be important to the company. Like Kodak, however, most large companies in the photographic industry have expanded their research to satisfy the ever-growing demand from amateurs. The amateurism that George Eastman recognized and encouraged at the beginning of the twentieth century thus still flourished at its end.