Kodak may be "a walking corpse of a company" according to some, but 120 years ago it was the first to offer consumers a chance to try out—and even own—a camera. Introduced in 1888, the Kodak No. 1 was the first camera marketed to average consumers. And thanks to a new set of images from the National Media Museum, we can now see what kinds of photos these early amateurs shot.
Before the Kodak hit the market, photography was the realm of professionals, who operated their own costly and often massive early cameras (one of which you can see below). But the No.1? It only cost $25—roughly $600 in today's money, about as much as a low-end SLR. It was a camera for the people. As a machine, it was simple: A small brown box with an embedded lens, which users would simply point in the direction of their subject (there was no viewfinder) and then do three things: Wind the film, open the shutter, and press a button to actually snap the picture.
Then things got really interesting. This was before the age of developer labs or polaroids, so the No. 1 came pre-loaded with enough negatives for 100 photos. When you finished shooting, you sent the whole shebang back to the Kodak factory and they developed the circular, 2.5 inch-wide images for you. Along with the images, Kodak would return your camera—fully-loaded with paper for 100 more snaps.
The tagline Kodak founder George Eastman gave his paradigm-shifting gadget? "You press the button, we do the rest.” What resulted were the very first amateur photographs—pictures of vacations, families, and every day life in the 1890s. It might seem banal to us, but to the person standing behind the lens, it was nothing short of magic. [National Media Museum]