Box Cameras and the Brownie Legacy

At the turn of the twentieth century, cameras were still too expensive for the average consumer. George Eastman, founder of Kodak, envisioned everyone buying and using cameras—including children. Named after the designer Frank Brownell, and the popular “Brownie” cartoon characters, the first Kodak Brownies sold for $1 in 1900.

Brownies were “box” cameras that required no experience. Before World War I, they had simple rotary shutters and a fixed aperture and lens size. Brownie cameras were cheap, convenient, and sturdy cardboard box cameras for the amateur photographer. Kodak specifically marketed this camera to children—who could safely and easily take photographs with the Brownie. The Brownies’ appeal—that cameras could be used by anyone and everyone—has inspired camera design and technology for over a hundred years. 

The Evolution of 20th Century Camera Technology from the William B. Cavanaugh Collection