35-millimeter Photography

35mm film remained the standard for photography for decades until digital photography. The film is important because it enabled the miniaturization of cameras.


The Houston brothers invented roll film and sold the rights to George Eastman. Eventually, Thomas Edison purchased 70mm roll film from Eastman to make movies. Subsequently, Edison employee William Dickson sliced it in half, creating 35mm roll film.

Cameras at the time typically used 70mm or larger film. Consequently, they were large, lumbering things, not easy to carry around.

In 1913, the “American Tourist Multiple” became the first 35mm still camera available for purchase. However, it cost $175, just under an average year’s wages. Needless to say, it never caught on.

In 1913, Oskar Barnack, a Leica employee, began to develop a mass-produced 35mm camera. WWI interfered with the development and commercialization effort. However, Leica introduced the wildly popular company Leica I in 1925. Markedly, The small size was a dramatic departure from prior cameras.

35mm Cassette Fim

In 1934, Kodak released preloaded 35mm cassettes that dropped into a camera. Prior to that innovation, photographers had to load film into their cameras in darkrooms.

In 1936, the inexpensive Argus A 35mm camera was introduced. Combined with Kodak’s easy loading film, 35mm photography exploded in popularity. Subsequently, that same year, the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera was introduced, allowing photographers to see the exact image the film would record.

By the 1960s, SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses dominated the market. In the 1980s, Kodak release single-use cameras pre-loaded with film. Users took pictures and brought the entire camera, not just the film for developing. Kodak had invented and patented the digital camera a half-decade before, in 1975, but ignored the invention.

Digital Dominates

In 1997, Kodak sold over a billion rolls of film. Twelve years later, on June 22, 2009, announced the cessation of Kodachrome film after 74 years of production. The company declared bankruptcy in January 2012. Digital photography now dominates imaging. However, in 2019, the company still produces a limited line of traditional films for professional photographers.

Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED)

Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) emit light with virtually no electricity. Lamps, televisions, mobile phone, and computer monitors are common applications. Additionally, OLEDs are bright, high-contrast, and extremely thin.

OLED screens are faster, brighter, and use far less energy than LED-based displays. As the technology develops, they will eventually cost less than LED displays.

OLED’s are literally and figuratively flexible: they bend. Consequently, this ability enables all sorts of interesting lamps. Curved OLED televisions already exist and bendable mobile phones are in development.

Eventually, inkjet printers will produce OLED’s, dramatically lowering costs.

In 1987, Ching Tang and Steven Van Slyke of Kodak invented OLED’s. Subsequently, as usual, Kodak failed to meaningfully commercialize the technology beyond patent licensing.

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Flexible OLED Display
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OLED Lamps
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OLED Video Wall


The camcorder combined a camera and videotape player into one handheld unit. It made moviemaking exponentially easier and less expensive, opening the field to countless new auteurs.


The first video making system offered for the home was by Ampex. Advertised in the 1963 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog it cost $30,000 ($247,201 adjusted to 2018) and included a large television camera, TV monitor, and 100-pound Ampex VR-1500 video recorder. The price included a visit from an Ampex engineer who would set the system up.

In 1982 or 1983, depending on the sources, Sony or JVC released the first portable video recorder with a VCR built-in, a camcorder. Before then, video equipment would require a separate VCR making the equipment difficult or impossible to operate without two people and far less portable. There is no obvious record related to the actual innovator of the camcorder. Furthermore, citations are credited to companies, not to individuals working in a company which is usually the case.

We seldom quote on InnoWiki because we’re looking for overviews and patterns, not in-depth bios. However, Mark Shapiro’s epic blog post on the history of camcorders is entertaining and educational.

Mark sums it up:

“According to the Consumer Electronics Association, in 1982, both JVC and Sony announced the “CAMera/recorder”, or camcorder, combinations. On June 1, 1982, JVC’s camcorder used its new mini-VHS format, VHS-C. In Japan five months later, Sony announced its Betamovie Beta camcorder, which was promoted with the slogan “Inside This Camera Is A VCR.” The first Betamovie camcorder hit stores in May 1983. It was a record only machine without an electronic viewfinder.

“In February 1984, photo giant Kodak introduced a new camcorder format, 8mm, in its first 8mm camcorder, the KodaVision 2000. In 1985, Sony introduced the first chip-based camcorders. Called Video 8, it was also Sony’s first 8mm camcorder. The same year, JVC introduced VHS-C, a compact version of VHS cassettes. The next year, 1989, JVC introduced S-VHS. Still analog video, it provided it separated the video signal into two distinct channels. This provided better color and higher resolution, about 400 lines compared to VHS at 220 lines. This higher resolution enables users to actually edit and copy their videos without worrying that their second and third generation tapes would be fuzzy. About the same time, Sony also joined the s-video movement and introduced their first Hi8 camcorder, the venerable CCD-V99 camcorder.

“In 1992, Sharp became the first company to build in a color LCD screen to replace the conventional viewfinder. In fact, their LCD screen was basically the entire camera with the lens assembly hanging off of it. No longer did users have to squint through a tiny eyepiece. This has become a standard feature of almost every consumer camcorder. Finally, today’s digital video technology first arrived in late 1995. Panasonic and Sony brought out the first Digital Video camcorders, soon followed by Sharp and JVC.”

Mark Shapiro

Digital Camera

In 1975, Kodak employee Steven Sasson invented and patented the digital camera in 1975.

Sasson’s camera used a CCD to capture 100×100 pixels and stored those on a cassette tape. He chose to store 30 photos per cassette due not to technical limitations but because Kodak sold film in 24 and 36 exposure rolls. Kodak executives repeated asked Sasson how long until the technology matured, a sign of their nervousness about the technology.

Kodak spent little time developing the immature technology and decided to focus instead on their as-is film and chemical business. No sooner did his camera function than Kodak shoved it in a box, likely hoping to never see it again.

Subsequently, in 1997, Kodak reached its peak valuation of about $30 billion ($45 billion adjusted to 2016).

Fifteen years later, in February 2012, the Rochester firm filed for bankruptcy.

Eventually, in January 2013, the bankruptcy court approved a plan allowing Kodak to emerge from bankruptcy. The court sold its most valuable asset, the core digital photo patents, for $525 million.

Undoubtedly, Kodak could have pioneered the smartphone business. Facebook could and probably should have been Kodakbook. However, managers were unwilling to look beyond their core as-is traditional photography customers.

Instant Photographs

Long before the digital camera Polaroid’s delivered instant photographic gratification, albeit it at a steep price.

Like countless tech inventors after him, Land dropped out of Harvard. He sneaked into the labs at Columbia while developing early Polaroid light filter technology. Land’s Polaroid created polarizing light filters, especially useful as sunglasses during WWII.

Eventually, he turned his attention to instant photographs. They offered their first camera, the Polaroid Land Model 95, to the public in the winter of 1948. The company earned most of its profits selling the expensive instant film.

Polaroid adopted an innovative marketing campaign, hiring famous artists to take Polaroid pictures. They hired, among others, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, William Wegman, Mary Ellen Marks, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Kodak eventually created an instant camera. Interestingly, Kodak’s advertising campaign increased the technologically superior Polaroid cameras. Eventually, in October 1990, a judge ruled that Kodak had violated Polaroid’s intellectual property, ordered Kodak to stop making cameras, and awarded Polaroid $909.5 million.

While Polaroid and Kodak were busy suing one another, other companies were working to improve the sensors and technology in digital cameras. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy almost exactly 11 years after their court victory, in October 2001. Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January 2012.

Photo by Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams

“’Always remember that someone, somewhere, is making a product that will make your product obsolete.”

Georges Doriot

Color Movies

Though not the first color movie, The Wizard of Oz left an indelible mark. Swapping from the old world of black and white to color the world flew over the rainbow. Movies have never been the same since.

Kalmus, an MIT alum, created a process for color movies and ramped up a company, Technicolor. Initially, there was little interest in the added expense of color films; color movies did not attract significantly larger audiences.

Eventually, Walt Disney bought a short-term exclusive user contract for some period of time and released color cartoons. Exclusivity ended in 1935 but Disney continued using the process, releasing Snow White, a blockbuster, in 1937.

The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind (both 1939) created an expectation of color movies.

Mainstream color movie predated mainstream color still photography. With their large audiences, movies justified the cost of color processing whereas still photos did not.

Color movies were technically difficult to create correctly. To ensure quality, Herbert’s wife Natalie worked with movie studios. Her role at Technicolor resulted in an enormous 400+ credits on IMDB.

Eventually, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr. created modern color film in 1935, with three layers of emulsion on one layer of film. They were classical musicians, not chemists, but ended up working with and selling their innovation to Kodak that named the film Kodachrome.

Kodak Brownie

“You press the button, we do the rest” announced Kodak introducing the camera their first mass market camera.

In May 1888, George Eastman invented and sold a camera packed with film for 100 photographs. Customers snapped their hundred photos then mailed the camera back to Kodak. Kodak mailed back the prints and the camera reloaded with another 100 photos. Kodak’s mail-in camera was both easier and less expensive, an improvement over the 1884 dry-plate process.

Eventually, in 1900, Kodak employee Frank Brownell invented the user-reloadable camera, the first modern mass-produced camera. Branded the Brownie, and marketed heavily to children, the camera was inexpensive, just $1. Before, Kodak’s prior camera cost $25.

The Brownie started a revolution, bringing photography to the masses. Kodak sold 150,000 the first year of production.

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Velox Photo Paper

Baekeland, a chemistry student, worked on an improved photographic paper. Before his invention, photo papers required bright sunlight for exposure. This constraint limited photo developing to daylight hours on sunny days and made photo print results unpredictable. Baekeland created a high contrast reliable photo paper. His paper was sensitive enough to work with gas lighting, that was easier to control and predict than sunlight. He named his paper Velox and sold it to Kodak in 1899.

Baekeland’s share of the $750,000 in proceeds was $215,000, a fortune at that time. Putting the amount into context, a 6-bedroom house in Philadelphia cost $15/month to rent and the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court was paid $10,500/year. Although photo paper would make much more money over time for Kodak, Baekeland was an extremely wealthy young man.

Few companies have repeatedly proven more short-sighted over time than Kodak and, true to form, the sale came with a 20-year non-compete. Rather than hire the brilliant inventor the company locked him out of the market for decades. Instead of creating more products for Kodak, he eventually focused his efforts on plastic and invented the wildly successful Bakelite. Baekeland died extremely wealthy.

Roll Film & Roll Film Camera

Kodak’s original camera contained plates. Later versions contained one-hundred exposures; customers would take their pictures, mail in their camera, and the company mailed back developed pictures and a refilled camera.

Roll film changed all that, vastly lowering the cost and complexity of photography and eventually enabling the creation of movie film. Ordinary people could purchase and load film then remove it for processing, a process that did not change significantly for more than a century.

Roll film and roll film cameras were invited by Scottish immigrant brothers Peter & David Houston of North Dakota. In 1881 they patented their innovation.

George Eastman approached Houston who sold him the rights to the patent and rights to the film for $5,000 in 1889. Legend has it that Houston wanted to have his own company merged with Eastman’s and considered the name Nodak, for North Dakota. Eastman thought the name unusual and changed the “D” to a “K” naming it Kodak.

Inflation calculators from that early are wildly inaccurate. To contextualize, a blacksmith — considered a highly skilled occupation — earned $15.54 per 60-hour week in 1880. Little data exists for North Dakota but, in Iowa, houses cost about $300-$500.

The brothers OK from their innovation and another 21 patents Houston licensed to Eastman. He purchased a 4,000-acre farm that, today, remains a tourist attraction in Bonanzaville, West Fargo, North Dakota.