“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.
In 1878, Muybridge famously created high-speed moving photos, calling his machine a Zoopraxiscope. His photos illustrated how people and animals move. Eventually, Walt Disney and other animators and artists later famously used the strips to create more realistic animations.
Eventually Edison’s Kinetoscope, publicly demonstrated in 1891, was a primitive device that showed moving pictures to one person at a time. Initially, Edison did not view his Kinetoscope as a substantive invention; it was a novelty for use in carnivals.
Subsequently, the Lumiere brothers of France, built off Edison’s work to create the first genuine movie camera and projector. They patented their movie equipment, which used perforated film Feb. 13, 1895.
The brothers showed the first movies on Dec. 28, 1885, at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, projecting ten films. Despite their success, the Lumiere’s refused to sell their movie equipment to others, making commercialization impossible. Later, they would create an early color film company, and had a family film company that was already doing well, so they prospered financially, just not from movies.
The Lumiere’s built upon Edison’s work because Edison failed to register European patents, believing his innovation to be impractical. Therefore, Many consider the Lumiere’s the true inventors of movies since multiple people could watch at the same time. Eventually, Edison did improve his movie camera and projector and built it into a successful business.
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.
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.