America Meets the Personal Camera

View item information

Two women with a camera looking out over a desert landscape. Lyle, Charles Nourse. Courtesy of the University of Kentucky via the Kentucky Digital Library.

Due to several breakthrough developments in camera production, photography soon began to shift from a professionally-dominated field to an amateur-friendly pastime. The invention of a gelatin dry plate in 1871, for example, helped photographers create quality images faster and more easily than ever before. It eliminated the need for a tripod and strict posing, allowing for more candid photography.

While Eastman Kodak Company was not the only business producing cameras at the end of the nineteenth century, they spearheaded many of the crucial innovations that led to modern photography. Kodak made its consumer debut with the easy-to-use Box Camera in 1888, using the advertising slogan “you press the button – we do the rest.” The camera had a fixed-focus lens and one shutter speed, making it easy to use.

This was followed the next year by roll film, which was introduced as an alternative to bulky photographic plates. Photo processing became standardized as well. The Kodak Box Camera was even pre-loaded with a hundred photos-worth of film. Once the exposures were done, users would send the camera back to the manufacturer to be processed and re-loaded. In 1902, the Kodak Developing Machine, which eliminated the need for a formal darkroom, hit the market. This machine allowed photographers to develop their pictures at home, making the camera ready for everyone.