Originally selling for just $1 upon its debut in February 1900, the Brownie was a simple camera — essentially a heavy cardboard box with a basic lens — and was intended to bring photography to the masses. The now famous slogan “You push the button, we do the rest” was entirely true — with no focus or exposure controls, the Brownie was the original point and shoot camera.
Of course, the Brownie wasn’t conceived and designed with any particularly altruistic purpose in mind. George Eastman was not only a brilliant inventor, but a rather clever businessman as well. Kodak at the time was first and foremost a film company. Eastman figured, quite rightly, that the more cameras that were out there being used, the more film he could sell.
Despite its simplicity, the Brownie was capable of producing good images on its 2-1/4″ square negatives, and photography went from being something only a select few could afford to indulge themselves in to a popular hobby practically overnight.
By the time Kodak put the Brownie name to rest in the 1960s, millions upon millions of these cameras had been sold, and countless snapshots of daily life captured. – AJW
The brilliant little brownie
Here are three vintage Kodak Brownie ads from 1901:
Top photo of a girl with her Brownie camera from the editor’s personal collection (c1910)