The history of cameras is defined by a series of world-changing inventions and discoveries that the rest of the world had to catch up to. The first permanent photograph was invented more than a century before portable cameras were available for everyone to buy, but once technology caught up, cameras became an essential part of everyday life.
1826: The idea of cameras had existed for centuries, but photography as we know it today didn’t exist until Joseph Nicéphore Niépce started experimenting with silver chloride and silver halide photography and succeeded in taking the first permanent photograph: a view of his workroom in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France.
1839: After word of Niépce’s success got around, a French artist named Louis Daguerre partnered with him to continue to refine the process of photography. They came up with the idea of making a picture on a shiny copper plate treated with chemicals, using a new device that would be called the Daguerreotype camera.
1841: William Henry Fox Talbot created the calotype process, which was the first to use a negative to create an image. The process used a chemically treated piece of paper to make a paper negative, which could then be used to make multiple copies of a photo.
1848: The Langenheim brothers in Philadelphia introduced the world’s first photographic lantern slide, an image made on a piece of glass. When you used a projector to shine a light through the slide, you could project the image at a larger size onto a screen.
1849: The inventor of the kaleidoscope, Sir David Brewster, developed the lenticular stereoscope. With this device, you could view two stereographic photographs, two nearly identical photos of the same thing, at the same time to create a single three-dimensional image. This became a popular format from the 1850s through the 1920s.
1856: American scientist, photographer, and astronomer Hamilton Smith patented the tintype process. This was an inexpensive alternative to the daguerreotype used for portrait photography. Tintype photos were popular in America until the early 20th century.
1874: Gelatin silver paper became available for the public to buy, and by 1890, its use was widespread. This invention made it easier and cheaper to create high-quality pictures.
1888: The Kodak No. 1 box camera arrived on the market. It allowed anyone to take their own photos, and once the film inside had been used up, people would send the whole camera to Kodak to have them developed. Kodak would then put more film in the camera and send it back.
1898: The Multiscope & Film Co. created the Al-Vista, the first mass-produced American panoramic camera. It allowed amateurs to take panorama photographs that were up to 12 inches long.
1900: Kodak introduced the Brownie camera, which was far less bulky than previous cameras and a lot cheaper, selling for $1. It became the most popular camera of the 20th century because of how easy to use and inexpensive it was. This greatly expanded the market for amateur photographers.
1925: The Leica camera was invented and became the first compact camera to have a good lens and the ability to shoot photos on 35 mm film. The Leica camera was the start of what we expect modern cameras to be like.
1935: Kodachrome, the first successful color film, was introduced by Eastman Kodak.
1948: By the 1940s, cameras were household objects all over the world, but taking and developing a photo was a time-consuming process: Once you finished a roll of film, you’d have to take it to a professional to have it developed before you could actually hold your pictures in your hand. Polaroid changed all of that when they released the first instant camera. This camera contained special paper that included developing chemicals inside of it. After you took a picture, you could pull it out of the camera and hold it in your hand in just a minute or two.
1963: The first point-and-shoot camera, the Instamatic, was released by Kodak. It was designed to be simple to use: All you had to do was point the camera at your subject and push a button.
2000: The camera phone was introduced. Early cell phone cameras didn’t make great photos, but people still liked that they could have a camera and a phone without having to carry two different things. In the decades since then, phone cameras have improved to the point that with the right photographer, the pictures can look just about as good as ones taken by a professional.
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