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.
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?