All hail the Brownie

February 27, 2000|By Lawrence W. Reed

ONE HUNDRED years ago this month, taking pictures came within the reach of almost every American family thanks to the Kodak Brownie box camera.

George Eastmans Brownie not only ushered in the era of modem photography, it was a cultural phenomenon in America.

When he introduced it, the price was one dollar and film sold for 15 cents. Millions were sold.

The man who gave us the Brownie camera was no stranger to photography in 1900.

In 1871 at the age of 17, Eastman bought almost $100 worth of photographic equipment and hired a photographer to instruct him in the art. He read everything he could find on the subject and with a backpack and a wheelbarrow, he hauled his equipment everywhere he wanted to capture an image.

Cameras in the 1870s were as big as microwave ovens. But by 1888 Eastman had simplified the camera into a small, easily held box.

A new term was coined in 1905 to describe the millions of people caught up in the camera craze: Kodak freaks.

The estimated 70 billion pictures Americans alone will take this year are the direct descendants of the Kodak Brownie, the first mass-produced camera in history.

If, as the saying goes, one picture is worth a thousand words, then the story of George Eastman and the Kodak Brownie is worth 70 trillion.

Lawrence Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland,Mich. This is excepted from the February issue of Ideas on Liberty.

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