Patents: George Eastman and the Roll Film Camera

Posted September 4, 2014 by Amanda | One Comment

Do you remember the days when cameras used film rolls? Today most of us take photos digitally, either with our phones, tablets or a digital camera and it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always so easy to snap a picture. Nearly fifty years after the world was first introduced to the daguerrotype, American inventor and entrepreneur George Eastman sought to find a way to make photography less cumbersome and easier for the average person to enjoy.

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the early history of photographs on the anniversary of the daguerreotype. Today let’s take a look at the invention that made photography accessible to everybody with just the push of a button.


Kodak camera

On September 4, 1888, Eastman received a patent for a roll-film camera and registered the trademark “Kodak.”  The name “Kodak” came from Eastman’s fondness for the letter “K.” He found it a “strong, incisive sort of letter.” He and his mother devised the name Kodak with an anagram set.


Patent filed by George Eastman (click to view full patent)

By popularizing the use of roll film, Eastman succeeded in bringing photography to the mainstream. Small, affordable, and easy-to-use, Kodak cameras were an instant hit. They even coined the motto: “You press the button, we do the rest.”


Kodak camera ad, 1889

Each camera had enough film for 100 exposures. When the roll was finished, the user would send it back to Kodak to be processed and developed. The end result would be a circular photograph.


Picture of George Eastman with a Kodak camera taken with a Kodak camera, 1890

In 1892, Eastman established the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. The company was the first of its kind to mass produce standardized photography equipment. In 1900, Kodak introduced their famous Brownie cameras. At just $1 and using film that sold for only 15 cents, the Brownie was easy for people of all ages to use.


Eastman Kodak Company, c.1900-1910

Eastman’s contributions revolutionized the industry of photography and transformed the world’s relationship with photos. His improvements also proved to be vital to the invention of motion picture film by some of the world’s first film-makers.

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George Eastman with Thomas Edison, 1928

Did your family have an early Kodak camera? What are some of your earliest photographs?

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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