A Brownie Camera for the Masses

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The Brownie Camera might be the most important camera ever made


Kodak Box Brownie CameraBefore the Brownie, cameras were unwieldy

To photograph far-flung places, porters and pack animals were often needed to carry the cumbersome equipment. Photography was an activity involving patience, toxic chemicals, brute strength and a lot of money. It was not something ordinary people indulged in.

During the 1880s US inventor George Eastman developed a simple box-shaped device that was portable but rather expensive. He named his invention –the “Kodak Camera“. Kodak was primarily a fim making company and so the device came pre-loaded with enough film to take 100 photographs. When the last picture was taken, the entire camera had to be sent back to Kodak to be developed. It was portable, but not affordable.

The revolution came 12 years later

The Kodak Brownie, designed by Edward Brownell, looked similar to the original Kodak, but the film could be taken out of the camera after shooting and developed by either Kodak or a variety of chemists –even at home.

You could buy the camera for $1, purchase a roll of film (Kodak film of course) and have that film processed for just $2 at either Kodak or any number of ever growing independent film processing stations. With Kodak’s main focus of manufacturing and selling film, it became a win-win situation for everyone. Photography had suddenly become not only portable, but affordable too.

Brownie camera advertisement


Marketing to children

Brownies were aimed at children, among others. The camera’s boxes were adorned with a cartoonish character, created by Canadian illustrator Palmer Cox.

With a production run spanning more than eight decades, Brownies were simple and sturdy. They were designed to accompany people on their daily lives –a novelty at the time.

Photography became an everyday activity. Normal life could be pictured, instead of the carefully posed dioramas that required subjects to stay unnaturally still.

The Brownie camera can be argued to have captured more of the 20th Century than any other kind of camera.

Packing Brownies for the masses

Packing Brownies for the masses




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