The Brownie: A Camera for the Masses

We treasure our photos:  birthday parties, barbeques and ordinary days with people we love. When a wildfire burned a few miles from me, I kept the family albums in my car when I drove anywhere. When did our culture change and give us our precious snapshots? In 1900, Kodak launched the Brownie camera.

It was so cheap ($1) and simple to use it was marketed to children. “Brownies” were impish fairies in children’s books by Palmer Cox. Adults used the cameras, too, and enjoyed the little photos (2 1/4 inches square). The camera became enormously popular as ordinary people recorded their lives.

This is a link to a charming site by Kodak, posted in 2000, to celebrate the centennial of the first Brownie cameras. Make sure your sound is on so you can hear people reminisce. You might like the passage about Ansel Adams’ first pictures he took as a boy.


Office Supplies On the Go in 1895

Today, in a coffeehouse or an airport, and other places as well, people work on laptops and netbooks. In 1895, you could buy a “pocket inkstand.” One in the Montgomery Ward & Co. mail-order catalog (republished in 1969 by Dover Publications) had a screw top and promised that it could not leak, which would certainly ruin your clothes.

The catalog suggests that this is good for tourists. I suppose you could write “picture postcards” and keep a travel journal, writing while sightseeing. Within ten years, the Brownie camera would change the way ordinary people recorded their vacations.

If you were in business or teaching, you could order a portable blackboard, even a cloth one you could roll up, stick in a bag, and use anywhere.