Brownie (camera)

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For other uses of "Brownie", see Brownie.
Brownie Flash III.
A Walter Dorwin Teague Beau Brownie camera.
Hawkeye Brownie Flash Model (Sept 1950 - July 1961)

Brownie is the name of a long-running popular series of simple and inexpensive cameras made by Eastman Kodak.

The Brownie popularized low-cost photography and introduced the concept of the snapshot. The first Brownie, introduced in February 1900,[1] was a very basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2¼-inch square pictures on 117 rollfilm. With its simple controls and initial price of $1, it was intended to be a camera that anyone could afford and use, hence the slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest."

The Brownie is one of the most iconic cameras in history. Tens of millions were made so they are easy to find and buy even today, and mostly do not have high value as collectables.


The camera was named after the brownies in popular Palmer Cox cartoons. Consumers responded, and over 150,000 Brownie cameras were shipped in the first year of production.[2] An improved model, called No. 2 Brownie came in 1901, which produced larger photos and cost $2. It was also very popular.

In 1908, the Austrian architectural critic Joseph August Lux wrote a book called Künstlerische Kodakgeheimnisse (Artistic Secrets of the Kodak) in which he championed the use of the camera for its cultural potential. Guided by a position that was influenced by the Catholic critique of modernity, he argued that the accessibility the camera provided for the amateur meant that people could photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world.[3]

Brownies were extensively marketed to children, with Kodak using them to popularise photography. They were also taken to war by soldiers. As they were so ubiquitous, many iconic shots were taken on brownies.

The cameras continued to be popular, and spawned many varieties, such as a Boy Scout edition in the 1930s. Improvements continued, such as in 1940, when Kodak released the Six-20 Flash Brownie.[4] The camera was Kodak's first internally synchronized flash camera, using General electric bulbs. Then in 1957, Kodak produced the Brownie Starflash, Kodak's first camera with a built in flash.[5]

One of the most popular Brownie models was the Brownie 127,[6] millions of which were sold between 1952 and 1967. The Brownie 127 was a simple bakelite camera for 127 film which featured a simple meniscus lens and a curved film plane to compensate for the deficiencies of the lens. Another simple camera was the Brownie Cresta which was sold between 1955 and 1958. It used 120 film and had a fixed-focus lens.

Having written an article in the 1940s for amateur photographers suggesting an expensive camera was unnecessary for quality photography, Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy used a Brownie camera to stage a carefully posed snapshot of two young women sitting on railings above a breezy Blackpool promenade.[7]

The last official Brownie cameras made were "anniversary model", 110 film models in the early 1980s.[8]

Beau Brownie[edit]

The Brownie range was available from 1930 to 1933.

They differed little from the popular Brownie cameras, the only technical difference being the introduction of a new doublet lens, allowing the same picture to be projected on a film plate over a shorter distance, making the Beau Brownies nearly 2" shorter than their conventional counterparts.

Visually, they had a different enameled two-tone front plate in a geometric Art Deco design, the work of American designer Walter Dorwin Teague.

They were available in five color combinations: black and burgundy, brown and tan, two-tone blue, two-tone green, and two-tone rose.[9] The rose and green cameras were produced only in 1930 and 1931, and are therefore rarer than the others. They were encased in a faux-leatherette casing.

There were two formats, the $4 No.2 and $5 2A, just like the Brownies, the No.2 measuring 2 ¼" by 3 ¼" and using 120 roll film, and the 2A measuring 2½" by 4¼", and taking 116 Kodak roll film. The 2A had a thicker, bakelite rim and was an inch taller than the No. 2.

Photographs taken with Brownie cameras[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ List of Brownie models at George Eastman House
  2. ^ Gustavson, Todd (2011). 500 Cameras 170 years of photographic innovation. Sterling Signature. ISBN 978-1-4027-8086-8. 
  3. ^ Mark Jarzombek. "Joseph Agust Lux: Theorizing Early Amateur Photography - in Search of a "Catholic Something"," Centropa 4/1 (January 2004), 80-87.
  4. ^ Gustavson, Todd (2011). 500 Cameras 170 years of photographic innovation. Sterling Signature. ISBN 978-1-4027-8086-8. 
  5. ^ Gustavson, Todd (2011). 500 Cameras 170 years of photographic innovation. Sterling Signature. ISBN 978-1-4027-8086-8. 
  6. ^ "Brownie 127"
  7. ^ Bert Hardy snapshot
  8. ^ "The Last Brownie Camera",
  9. ^ "No.2A Beau Brownie rose",

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]