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When Was the First Camera Released?

By Christian Roemer

We take pictures for granted these days. If you think about the whole of human history, cameras have only been around for a blink of an eye.

Nowadays, we can capture images of whatever we want. It’s amazing!

Before cameras came around, the only way to preserve anything was to paint it. Or sculpt it, technically. It took a ton of time, skill, and money to create a decent painting. Unfortunately, that means we only have images of weird dudes like Louis XIV leftover. Heck, even those paintings are upgrades over cave paintings. Have you seen those things? They don’t even look like buffalo!


Normal folks wouldn’t have had our pictures made. We couldn’t afford an artist to immortalize us. Instead, we would have just lived, worked in a coal mine or something, and died.

But not anymore. 

Now we get to snap photos of anything and everything, whenever we want! We have ultra-powerful cameras right in our pockets. Want to snap a pic of yourself flexing at the gym? Hit it bro. Want to brag to everyone about the incredible omelette and mimosas you’re about to enjoy for Sunday brunch? Get it, girl! Want to photoshop yourself into some national park scenery to see if you can somehow snag yourself an influencership? Shoot, not for me, but you do you.

So how did we get from cave paintings to where we are today? When did the human race change from having zero ability to take a photo to them being ubiquitous? Turns out, it mostly depended on how rich you were.

The first widely available cameras were hardly recognizable to what we have today. They were called Daguerreotypes, and they were cumbersome to say the least. They didn’t use film. Instead, they used giant polished silver sheets with toxic chemicals applied to them. They took a long time to set up, a long time to develop, and they weighed a bunch. They were also expensive.

Daguerreotypes were invented and available in the mid 1800s, but because they were a pain to use, only certain folks had them. That means, you guessed it, rich folks and photographers.

If we want to cast a wider net, the first camera that became a mainstream success was called the Kodak Brownie. Basically a funny looking box with a little lens on the end, the Brownie brought photography to the masses.

Available for the low price of $1 in 1900 (about $35 in today’s money), the Brownie was accessible to regular schmoes like me. Invented by Kodak, it used Kodak film also, and took photos that were only 2.5 inches. Even though the pictures were small and the quality wasn’t great, the ability for regular folks to snap photos of their lives was a game changer.

The Brownie was a huge hit. Kodak sold over 150,000 units in the first year that it was released. And Kodak kept milking that cow for a lot longer than you would expect. They didn’t discontinue the Brownie until the mid 1960s! Can you imagine any product staying around that long anymore?

Even though we have cameras in our pockets that can capture practically anything at any time of the day, it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, and not that long ago, cameras didn’t exist at all. That all changed when the Brownie came out in 1900.

Thanks Kodak!

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