The Brownie

by Photo Life

In February 1900, Eastman Kodak premiered the Brownie camera. This simple cardboard-box camera revolutionized photography by making it accessible to ordinary people. The Brownie was invented by Canadian Frank A. Brownell, a cabinetmaker originally from Vienna, Ontario. Brownell had moved to Rochester, New York, for mechanical and woodworking employment opportunities, but it was his camera-making abilities that impressed George Eastman and led to his success. In the first year, 150 000 Brownies were shipped. A second model (appropriately called “No. 2 Brownie”) debuted in 1901 and was also extremely popular.

Often marketed to children and families, the camera’s name was a reference to the brownies (household fairy or sprites) in Palmer Cox’s comics. Cox was a Canadian author and illustrator from Granby, Quebec. He was most known for his comic characters—the Brownies—published in youth- and family-oriented books and magazines. The Brownie was a starter camera perfect for getting children interested in photography—and for increasing the chances of repeat business from those young photographers when they became adults.

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This article was originally published in the February/March 2017 issue of Photo Life, available to subscribers for free in the digital archives.

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