Frank A. Brownell
| The dollar Brownie brought photography to millions|
image by Mario Groleau (Image rights)
Frank A. Brownell was possibly the most influential camera designer of all time. Working for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, Brownell was responsible for the design of the Kodak No. 1 - the original Kodak camera, in 1889.
Brownell was born in Ontario, Canada, 4 February 1859 and moved to the US in the 1870s. Beginning as a cabinet maker, Brownell began stand-camera manufacture in the early 1880s. George Eastman commissioned Brownell to make parts for his rollfilm holder in 1885 - and Brownell went on to design many early Kodak cameras, with his Brownell Manufacturing Company building them until 1902.
Brownell designed the first compact cartridge-loading (i.e. rollfilm) folding camera - the Folding Pocket Kodak, introduced in 1897 at an Eastman exhibition in London - selling for £2-10-0.
The cost of the No.1 Kodak was originally $25, and was well out of the budget of the average working man; costs came down gradually, but Eastman was keen to bring photography to the masses. Eastman commissioned Brownell to design and make a camera to be as cheap as possible. This produced the first Kodak Brownie, introduced in February 1900. This was possibly named after him but is generally thought to be named after children's characters created by Palmer Cox, a Canadian author and illustrator. The Brownie characters were frequently featured in advertising for the Brownie camera, targeting the camera at the young. The Brownie was a based on a simple wood block, supporting a box of jute-board - and sold for $1 in the US and 5 shillings (now £0.25) in England. The Brownie camera started a series running until the 1980s.
Brownell's company was bought by Eastman in 1902, but Brownell continued working there as a designer and works manager until 1906, when he moved on to motor manufacturing, in the F.A. Brownell Motor Co. in Lexington Avenue, Rochester. Having also been vice president of the East Side Savings Bank, he retired in 1937 at the age of 78, and died less than two years later on 2 February 1939.
- Coe, Brian, Kodak Cameras, the First Hundred Years, p.XI, Hove Foto Books, 1988
- Coe, Brian, Cameras, from Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, pp.88,99, Nordbok, 1978
- Brownie Box Cameras on Chuck Baker's brownie-camera.com
- Brownell Obituaries(archived)
Sample Brownell Patents
- 537916 Photographic Shutter, 23 April 1895
- 477243 Roll holder, June 1892
- 693583 Photographic Shutter - panoramic cameras 18 February 1902
- 666843 Spirit Level Jan 1901
- 579949 Roll-holding camera April 1897
- D29376 DESIGN FOR A PHOTOGRAPHIC-CAMERA BODY September 1898
- 662762 Clip for Holding Rolls or Spools November 1900
- 580595 Photographic Shutter 13 April 1897
- 605851 Photographic Camera 21 June 1898
- 764910 Camera 12 July 1904