Boomers Saw Their Lives Pictured in Nice Bright Colors

This past week, another company that was instrumental in documenting the lives of the Boomer Generation filed for bankruptcy. Kodak first marketed color negative film in 1942, paving the way for post-war parents of boomers to partner with the company in producing millions of photos of our wonder years.

Eastman Kodak has a long and storied history as an all-American company. It was the first company to introduce a consumer camera, back in 1888; and introduced the first consumer film in 1889. Film became the biggest selling item for Kodak for more than 100 years. Throughout the Boomer Years the name “Kodak” was synonymous with photography. As the world leader in photographic products, Kodak invented, manufactured and sold many innovative products during our early years.

  •  The Brownie 8MM movie camera was introduced in 1951. That opened the door for many boomer parents to add action to the family photo record. Every extended family had at least one uncle — men were mostly in charge of the photographic duties — who became an 8MM aficionado, igniting vast arrays of floodlights at gatherings and exhorting family members to look and wave at the camera.
  • In 1959, Kodak introduced Ektachrome film. It was a high-speed film that allowed for shooting in areas where Kodachrome wasn’t up to snuff. It also helped launch the amateur photographer movement by simplifying the developing process. Before Ektachrome, it was thought that a lab was necessary to develop Kodachrome because of its intricate process.
  • Where would boomer photo memories be without the Kodak Carousel projector? It was introduced in 1961, four years shy of the end of the baby boom. That positioned it to be a prime product for baby boomer parents. Also in 1961, Kodak introduced Kodachrome II, which further saturated the colors for which Kodachrome was known.
  • In 1963 we would be oh-so-modern with Kodak Instamatic cameras. Aside from the ease of use, the innovation for the Instamatic came in the form of a four-sided flash cube. Unlike earlier years, where a hot, spent flash bulb had to be removed and replaced with a fresh one after each photo, the flash cube allowed the user to shoot four shots before changing the cube, which conveniently snapped into a slot on the top of the camera. By 1970, more than 50 million Instamatic cameras were made.

  •  The Super 8 movie format was developed by Kodak in 1965. Along with Super 8 cameras, Kodak introduced Kodachrome film cartridges for the cameras. In keeping with George Eastman’s original marketing tagline for Kodak, “You press the button — we do the rest,” the new film cartridge made changing film as easy as clicking in a new one.
  • Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. The original was larger than a toaster and recorded digitized images to a standard cassette tape. Unfortunately for the company, Kodak never became the dominant player in the digital camera field, as it had in film.
This is the Kodak camera that Mister B's father used to document many birthdays, Easter outfits and Christmas mornings. Since his father was always behind the camera, he was rarely in family photos. Kodak marketed the Brownie Hawkeye Camera with flash attachment from 1950 to 1961. Its original suggested retail price was $7.00.

Unlike the snap-happy shutterbugs of today, Mister Boomer recalls that photography was, for many boomer families, more about documenting milestones and special events. As such, a roll of film — which was either 24 or 36 exposures — could sit inside a camera for a year. Drug stores were often the places to drop off film, which, once exposed through camera shots, could be brought to a lab for developing and printing.

Photo labs would send runners to all the various drop-off points to pick up and return film and prints; the entire process could take up to a week. Especially with vacation photos, Mister Boomer and his siblings would excitedly head to the drug store to retrieve the photo envelope. Inside, a pouch contained the developed negatives. In another pouch were placed prints from the negatives. Once the roll had been completed and developed, the resulting prints from a single roll could show all four seasons, from winter birthdays to spring school events; summer family picnics to vacations; Halloween costumes to Christmas gift openings.

Mister Boomer’s family never jumped on the movie camera bandwagon. Even after Mister B’s father won a Super 8 movie camera at a golf or bowling outing, it was, for the most part, relegated to a closet’s top shelf for years. In fact, the family didn’t immediately embrace color film, either. More than likely it was a cost consideration, since black and white film was less expensive to both purchase and develop. By the time Mister B’s family started seeing the U.S.A. in driving vacations around 1962, color had supplanted back and white.

Kodak gave us many … well … Kodak moments. Like the nice bright colors of our photographed youth, the company has faded from prominence in the past couple of decades. Let’s hope it doesn’t fade to the point that Kodak is no longer in the picture.

What Kodak moments come to mind for you, boomers?

Will Boomers Say “Shine On Brightly?”

In 2007, Congress set up a schedule that was to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2014: the incandescent light bulb was destined to go the way of Betamax and the 8-track tape, relegated to the dustbin of history. Now that schedule is in question due to Congressional Republicans — despite voting earlier for the bi-partisan bill — blocking the provision of the ban attached to the national spending bill that would have phased out the 100-watt incandescent bulb beginning January 1, 2012. Instead, that provision is now set to take effect next year.

Regardless of the politics of the light bulb ban, it is reported that manufacturers have already stopped production of incandescent bulbs in favor of retooling their assembly lines for the more expensive Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and LED bulbs that will replace the bulb types we’ve used for the past hundred-plus years. For boomers, this situation has many nostalgic implications.

The incandescent light bulb’s make-up is a simple design in which a filament is contained within a vacuum-sealed glass bulb. When an electric current is applied, the electricity flows through the filament, causing it to glow and give off heat and light in the process. It is commonly believed that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. In fact, a British inventor named Joseph Swan held the first patent on the light bulb in 1878 (one year earlier than Edison’s), but experiments with many versions of the bulb had been carried out by more than 20 inventors from several different countries as far back as 1800.

Edison had merely improved upon existing designs with a higher vacuum and a longer-lasting filament made of carbon. After Edison filed his patent, it was immediately challenged in British and U.S. Courts. In both cases, Edison lost and was forced to give up any rights to “his” light bulb. Edison’s genius at that point, however, was to recognize that a light bulb was powerless without an electrical supply. It was then that he developed his system of electrical generation and distribution that still dominates the marketplace today. His Edison Electric Company ultimately morphed into what boomers knew as “Edison,” preceded by their city or state name. Today we know the company as Consolidated Edison or Con Ed.

In the early boomer years, bulbs were just what they were: a utilitarian device we took for granted. No one questioned the life expectancy of a bulb, or worried about shadows or glare or how jaundiced a face could look in its glow. Bulbs existed, and that was that. And bulbs burned out as a fact of life, too. On occasion they could just cease to work. Upon removal from its receptacle, a simple shake of the bulb next to one’s ear would tell the story: a good bulb would not have a sound, while one that had a broken filament would rattle. Sometimes bulbs would explode when the switch was flicked, with an audible pop and a momentary bright flash — a last-gasp household supernova contained in a thin glass globe. Mister Boomer enjoyed these split-second-long displays, as he felt at an early age it was better to burn out than fade away.

Mister Boomer recalls his deepest connection with the incandescent light bulb through the visits he made with his mother to the Edison storefront in their city. In the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, consumers could pay their electric bill at the Edison store, but more importantly, they could exchange used light bulbs for new ones at no cost. The Edison company acted as an electricity pusher in that it was aware that the bulbs would use more than 20 percent of the electricity an average household would use. By supplying the bulbs for free, the company could guarantee business on a continuing basis. In our houses where electrical outlets weren’t necessarily situated on every wall, no one could imagine how our thirst for electricity would grow to what it is today.

In the Mister Boomer household, light bulbs were kept in a filled-to-the-brim paper shopping bag in the hall closet. Each bulb from the Edison store was set in a corrugated cardboard rectangular box, open at each end. As a new bulb was taken from the bag, the used bulb was placed into its corrugated container. Once the bag had come close to exhausting its supply, it was removed from the closet and placed into a little red wagon, along with Mister B’s sister. While walking the two miles to the store, Mister B and his brother would take turns pulling the wagon. At the Edison store, an employee would take out the used bulbs and count them, replacing into the bag the exact number of new bulbs as had been returned.

If CFLs had been introduced in the `1960s, art within ads may have had this type of appearance. Surely the bulbs would have been positioned as an exciting new technology for the modern housewife.

In Mister B’s view, consumer resistance to the phase out is not in line with our illustrious boomer history. Certainly we boomers have been faced with technological change our entire lives. Phasing out the incandescent light bulb is not a question of personal freedom. Rather, the logic behind the ban is environmental, which in itself is a movement brought to the forefront through the actions of boomers. CFL, halogen and LED light bulbs are much more efficient in the modern world, and last longer. While it is true that new bulbs currently cost much more than incandescent (and many of us doubted people would ever be willing to pay for something they once got for free … hello, cable TV!) new bulbs last for years instead of weeks or months. Issues like a non-appealing glow are already being addressed, and the price will fall as it has with every new invention. Do you recall what your first calculator or VCR cost you back in the ’70s?

Incandescent bulbs themselves emit greenhouse gases as the carbon heats within the filament. Yes, there are some pollution concerns over the disposal of new bulbs that contain trace amounts of mercury, but the same concerns have been voiced for years over incandescent bulbs, which contain lead. These new pollution issues are also being addressed: Home Depot, the country’s largest retail seller of light bulbs, as well as other outlets, are now accepting used bulbs for recycling. More solutions are sure to follow.

So how about it, boomers? Will it be c’mon baby light my fire because the times they are a-changing, you light up my life or either light up or leave me alone?

What bright memories of incandescent lighting come to mind for you, boomers?