“You press the button, we do the rest” announced Kodak introducing the camera their first mass market camera.
In May 1888, George Eastman invented and sold a camera packed with film for 100 photographs. Customers snapped their hundred photos then mailed the camera back to Kodak. Kodak mailed back the prints and the camera reloaded with another 100 photos. Kodak’s mail-in camera was both easier and less expensive, an improvement over the 1884 dry-plate process.
Eventually, in 1900, Kodak employee Frank Brownell invented the user-reloadable camera, the first modern mass-produced camera. Branded the Brownie, and marketed heavily to children, the camera was inexpensive, just $1. Before, Kodak’s prior camera cost $25.
The Brownie started a revolution, bringing photography to the masses. Kodak sold 150,000 the first year of production.
Kodak’s original camera contained plates. Later versions contained one-hundred exposures; customers would take their pictures, mail in their camera, and the company mailed back developed pictures and a refilled camera.
Roll film changed all that, vastly lowering the cost and complexity of photography and eventually enabling the creation of movie film. Ordinary people could purchase and load film then remove it for processing, a process that did not change significantly for more than a century.
Roll film and roll film cameras were invited by Scottish immigrant brothers Peter & David Houston of North Dakota. In 1881 they patented their innovation.
George Eastman approached Houston who sold him the rights to the patent and rights to the film for $5,000 in 1889. Legend has it that Houston wanted to have his own company merged with Eastman’s and considered the name Nodak, for North Dakota. Eastman thought the name unusual and changed the “D” to a “K” naming it Kodak.
Inflation calculators from that early are wildly inaccurate. To contextualize, a blacksmith — considered a highly skilled occupation — earned $15.54 per 60-hour week in 1880. Little data exists for North Dakota but, in Iowa, houses cost about $300-$500.
The brothers OK from their innovation and another 21 patents Houston licensed to Eastman. He purchased a 4,000-acre farm that, today, remains a tourist attraction in Bonanzaville, West Fargo, North Dakota.