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.



Please DO Touch.  Museums encourage visitors to handle and look through antique stereoscopes, to see photos rendered in 3-D.

Oakland Museum, Oakland, California

In the age before radio and television, the stereoscope was very popular.  Families had one in the parlor, along with many black-and-white photos, two identical photos on a single card.   They bought the cards with the double images on them.

Oakland Museum
Oakland Museum

If you see one in a museum, pick it up and pull the photos toward or away from you until the image pops — they may be black and white photos, but the 3-D effect is vivid.  Many of the photos are landscapes with depth, like the photos here.  The one directly above shows a river in a canyon.

Most folks could not travel far, but a collection of these images from many places would be fun, and your friends would have a different collection in their home.