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1900 Eastman Kodak Co. introduces the $1 Brownie box camera.


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If any single camera can claim to have created the snapshot, that common, unpretentious memento of things as they are, it is the immortal Kodak Brownie box camera introduced to the world at the turn of the last century in February, 1900. It was neither the first box camera, nor the first camera to use paper-backed roll film with numbers on the back (that was the 1892 Bull's-Eye Camera made by the Boston Camera Company, later acquired by Kodak). However, by offering a simple, competent, easy-to-use, daylight-loadable camera at the then-unprecedented price of $1, and putting a brilliantly conceived mass-marketing program behind it, Kodak was literally able to sell a camera to practically everybody, and to motivate millions to buy it. The Brownie's success was unprecedented--in the first year alone, over 150,000 cameras were shipped, three times the previous record. To get a clearer idea of the impact of the Brownie, check out one of the many timelines of the 20th century and go to the year 1900. Right up there along with such momentous events as Max Planck's formulation of the quantum theory and the publication of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams is Kodak's introduction of the $1 Brownie camera!

 

The Brownie got its name from artist Palmer Cox's whimsical cartoon versions of Brownies--"hard-working Scottish sprites or elves who did household chores"--that were as popular in the 1880-1920 period as Mickey Mouse is today. Some have conjectured that the name was an oblique tribute to Frank A. Brownell, who was responsible for its design and manufacture, but this is not the case. In any event, the Brownie is about as simple and basic as a camera can get--an imitation leather-covered cardboard box, with wooden film carrier, measuring about 3x3x5". It has a simple fixed-focus f/11 meniscus lens, and metal rotary shutter with a single speed of about 1/35-1/50 sec plus T. There isn't even a viewfinder--like the original Kodak of 1888.

 

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Despite its modest specs, the original Kodak Brownie did score one extremely important historical distinction--it pioneered No. 117 film, thus making it the world's first 21/4x21/4" rollfilm camera. The 117 size, essentially six exposures of 120 film on a narrower flanged roll, is long defunct, but the glorious 21/4 square rollfilm format is still very much alive.

 

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