Move over digital cameras, we remember the original, and the best. In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced the humble Brownie camera and a revolution began.
This small, simple box forever changed our society, from photojournalism, the motion picture industry, medical x-rays, satellite imaging, to the internet – every technology we use to communicate with pictures can trace its ancestry to that first black box.
Frank A Brownell designed and manufactured the first Brownie. It was a simple, black, rectangular box covered in imitation leather with nickelled fittings. It was what you would now call a simple point-and-shoot, hand-held camera. To take a “snapshot” all you had to do was hold the camera at waist height, aim, and turn a switch.
In its advertising campaign Kodak claimed the Brownie camera was “so simple they can easily be operated by any school boy or girl”, do you remember using one?
And looking back, it was so cheap as well. They were just $1, and film was 15 cents.
Kodak heavily marketed the Brownie camera to children – kids under the age of 16 were encouraged to join the Brownie Camera Club, a free club in which they could earn prizes for good photos.
It’s no surprise then that the success of the Brownie camera was enormous. In the first year, 150,000 cameras were shipped. The success continued for 70 years, with over 120 camera models such as the No 1 and No 2 Brownie, as well as the Target, Beau and Hawkeye.
With a handheld Brownie camera anyone could start taking pictures, making photography popular and spontaneous – you could do it anywhere.