If you have any old black-and-white pictures of your parents or grandparents (or great-grandparents) stacked away in a box somewhere, chances are that at least some of them were taken with a Box Brownie.
Brownie was the name given to the long-running popular series of simple and inexpensive cameras made by the Eastman Kodak Company. The Brownie camera was first marketed to the public in February 1900. With the introduction of the concept of the snapshot to the masses, the world of photography was changed forever.
Kodak’s advertisement for the Brownie 118 years ago read as follows: “Any school-boy or girl can make good pictures with one of the Eastman Kodak Co.’s Brownie Cameras, $1.00. Brownies load in daylight with film cartridges for 6 exposures, have fine meniscus lenses, the Eastman rotary shutters for snap shots or time exposures.”
Although initially marketed as a child’s camera, the Brownie proved to be so useful that adults were soon buying it for their own use. More than 150 000 cameras were sold in the first year of production. The improved No. 2 Brownie (at $2) was released in 1902, and was an even bigger success.
A large variety of Brownie models were made over the years, including the Folding Autographic Brownie, the Beau Brownie, and the Hawkeye Brownie Flash Model. The last official Brownie manufactured was the Brownie II, produced in Brazil in 1986.
One of the most popular models was the Brownie 127, of which millions were sold in the 1950s and 1960s. This was the model that I owned as a child. And for you Millennials out there thinking that your generation invented the selfie: Think again! We Baby Boomers all took selfies with our Brownies more than half a century ago.
Have you seen Paul McCartney’s mirror selfie, which he took in 1959 with his Brownie Reflex? (By the way, Paul’s late wife, Linda Eastman, was NOT in any way related to the co-founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, George Eastman.)