History of the Brownie Camera

Early 20th Century History of Photography

A picture of a girl using a Brownie camera.
A girl taking a photograph with a Kodak box Brownie camera (circa 1935). (Photo by Keystone View Company/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

In 1900, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced a low-priced, point-and-shoot, hand-held camera, called the Brownie. The Brownie camera, simple enough for even children to use, was designed, priced, and marketed to have wide appeal. It made photography accessible to the masses.

What Was the Brownie Camera?

The Brownie camera was a simple, black, rectangular box covered in imitation leather with nickeled fittings.

To take a "snapshot," all one had to do was hold the camera waist height, aim, and turn a switch. Kodak claimed in its advertisements that the Brownie camera was "so simple they can easily [be] operated by any school boy or girl" (excerpt from an ad in Cosmopolitan Magazine, July 1900). Though simple enough for even children to use, a 44-page instruction booklet accompanied every Brownie camera. The Brownie was affordable and easy to use and very popular with a growing population that was discovering photography.

Making Photography Affordable

The Brownie camera was very affordable, selling for only $1 each. Plus, for only 15 cents, a Brownie camera owner could buy a six-exposure film cartridge that could be loaded in daylight. Kodak promised to develop the film for the camera's owner, rather than the owner having to invest in materials and a darkroom.

Marketed to Children

Kodak heavily marketed the Brownie camera to children.

In ads, the camera was accompanied by the very popular Brownie characters, elf-like creatures created by Palmer Cox. Ads for the Brownie camera appeared in popular magazines, rather than just trade journals. Children under the age of sixteen were also urged to join the Brownie Camera Club, a free club in which they could earn prizes for good photos and receive a Photographic Art Brochure.

Lots and Lots of Brownies

No longer was taking photographs just for the professionals and only of grand events, the Brownie camera allowed the capturing of birthdays and other family events. In just the first year, the Eastman Kodak Company sold over a quarter of a million Brownies, forever changing the future of photography.​​​​​​

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "History of the Brownie Camera." ThoughtCo, Apr. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/brownie-camera-1779181. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, April 14). History of the Brownie Camera. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brownie-camera-1779181 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "History of the Brownie Camera." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brownie-camera-1779181 (accessed February 20, 2018).