You Press the Button …

kodak

In 1888, George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and for the first time, photographs could be taken by amateurs.  His original advertising slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was not only catchy, it was completely accurate.  Indeed, there was very little this new breed of photographers could do other than press the shutter and advance the film by turning a key.  This included looking through a viewfinder; the original Kodak did not have one (but it did provide a guide to give you an idea of the coverage area). To take a photo, one would hold the camera at waist level, slightly against the abdomen for steadiness and click.  The camera was loaded with enough film for 100 photos (assuming that you did not overwind).  At the end of a roll, you sent the camera back to have the 2 ½ “ round photos developed and the camera reloaded with film.

Despite the $25 price tag (a hefty amount in 1888), the Kodak was a success. President Grover Cleveland owned one, although he reportedly did not advance the film on his first try and took 100 photos on one exposure!  The Kodak camera was also making an impact on society. In comments that echo the concerns of today’s online postings, The Hartford Courant lamented the fact that an average person cannot “indulge in any hilariousness” without the fear of photos surfacing in his Sunday school class.

Eastman realized the limitations of a $25 camera and in 1900 introduced the first Brownie camera.  Its cardboard frame and simple lens lowered the cost to an affordable $1 (plus 15¢ for film).  Snapshot photography was born and the Brownie camera line remained popular until its end in 1970.  Many photographers, including Ansel Adams, recall that a Brownie was their first camera. Adams received his from his parents on his first trip to Yosemite.

Over the years, Kodak has released 100’s of different cameras and models ranging from the über-popular (the Instamatic and the Pocket Instamatic) to the never should have been made (the Disc cameras). The Eastman Kodak Co. is expected to emerge from bankruptcy protection this summer.  It will not be the company it once was and probably will not sell cameras or film (it has already sold many of its patents).  It may even go the way of Polaroid and become only an administrative shell with a famous name.  Of course, this would be a shame, but what a name! Few companies have lasted as long and have had the impact of Kodak.  Ironically, the company responsible for adding “A Kodak Moment” to the lexicon did not realize that they were really selling memories, not film, cameras or printers.

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