In its early days, photography was a complicated business, a pursuit taken up only by professionals or extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable amateurs. In 1888, along came a camera that changed all that. It had no complicated controls and instead of taking pictures on individual glass plates, as had previously been the case, it used a roll of film.
Until then the word ‘snapshot’ referred to a gunshot fired quickly without seriously aiming at a fast-moving target. But now the word took on a new meaning. Snapshot photography for the masses arrived with a camera aimed at (and bought by) people who might never before have thought of owning a camera.
This new type of camera was the brainchild of George Eastman. He became interested in photography at 24, when he bought a wet plate outfit in which plates had to be made and sensitized prior to exposure, used while still wet and then processed immediately after. To make photography simpler, Eastman began manufacturing dry plates, which could be made in advance for use and development at a later date. From there it was only a short step to coating an emulsion onto paper to make flexible film.
Eastman’s first commercial use for the film was loaded into holders, made to fit existing plate cameras. But soon he turned his attention elsewhere. On March 30 1888 he filed a patent for the camera that changed the way people thought about photography. It was the first roll film snapshot camera, and he called it The Kodak.