By: Nancy RommelmannPublished: September 4, 2022

The Kodak Brownie

A 2021 article in The New Yorker, "The Case Against the Trauma Plot," noted that "the claim that trauma’s imprint is a timeless feature of our species, that it etches itself on the human brain in a distinct way, ignores how... traumatic flashbacks were reported only after the invention of film."

A provocative assessment! And one unlikely on the mind of George Eastman when, in 1888, he patented the first roll-in film camera and registered the name "Kodak." Each camera came loaded with enough film to snap 100 exposures. The film business would bring Eastman outstanding wealth and make him one of the biggest philanthropists of his day, including donating more than $100 million dollars to projects in Rochester, New York, where Eastman-Kodak was based.

The spark that set fire to the empire happened on September 4, 1900, when Eastman released the Kodak Brownie. Light, portable, and with a selling price of $1, more than 150,000 cameras were shipped in the first year. Marketed as, "So simple, they can easily be operated by any school boy or girl," print ads showed young folks preserving memories of outdoor games and train rides.

As I would write, 109 years later, of Rochester teenagers caught us in a sexting scandal, "Eastman likely never imagined that young people, empowered not only with cameras but mobile wireless network nodes, would instead shoot naked pictures of themselves and send them to friends, who often return the favor."


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