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Kodak, various box cameras representing 1901 - 1933

Kodak, various box cameras representing 1901 - 1933

So many box cameras were produced by various companies it would be difficult to list them all. They are extremely common and can be picked up for as little as £1. These three are all Kodak examples, from left to right: No.0 Brownie c1915, No.2 Brownie made from 1901 until 1933 and a No.2 Rainbow Hawkeye, although this example is boringly black - rather than one of the coloured versions. The No.0 takes 127 film, No.2 takes 120 which was introduced for it, so it's claim to fame might well be that. The No.2 Hawkeye uses 120 again. All have similar basic rotary shutters giving speeds of instant or timed. Since these simple Box cameras vary little in overall terms, we chose the middle one from above for the rotating view.

Kodak ought to be credited with the invention and popularizing the box camera. George Eastman, Kodak's founder, knew nothing of photography and when he first encountered it in the late 1870s, was put off by the complexity. In those days, the commonly used "wet plate" process was unwieldy and required great expertise - it also required the photographic plate to be coated, exposed and processed whilst still wet, hence the term "wet plate". This also meant that the budding photographer had to carry a mobile darkroom with them, a far from convenient system. Rather than give up, George set about discovering all he could about the art and in due course learned of the new embryonic "dry plate" that enabled photographic plates to be made and stored, ready to be used later. George learned the method and subsequently started making his own plates. This is where George Eastman's innovative and inventive mind really excelled, for he invented a machine that could coat the plates consistently and evenly. By 1879 he'd filed a patent in England for the machine and in 1880 started manufacturing photographic plates commercially in Rochester, New York, becoming the Eastman Dry Plate Company in 1881. George Eastman's drive was really to make photography as easy and accessible as possible, partly out of his own disappointment earlier, but mainly because he was an extremely shrewd businessman. George's 1884 innovation, and revelation, was to to produce a paper film in rolls - together with a device enabling the film to be used in currently available plate cameras. This lead to the first Eastman box camera in 1888, simply called the "Kodak". Recognizably a box camera, it was a wooden box, with a barrel shutter and came pre loaded with enough paper based film to make 100 images. Once the user had exposed the film, they sent it back to Eastman, who processed the images, reloaded the camera and returned them - thereby making photography accessible to anyone who could afford the $25 outlay for the initial film and camera and $10 for each subsequent process. George Eastman had delivered on his advertising promise "You press the button, we do the rest". In time the film and cameras evolved, but all subsequent humble and unpretentious box cameras and the millions of images we have to hand down through the generations owe their existence to George Eastman.

George Eastman remained innovative to the end. Suffering terribly with a spinal condition similar to one he'd seen his own mother die from, he put his affairs in order and elected to end his own life on March 14th 1932 at the age of 77, leaving the note - "My work is done, why wait?"

 

 

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