Kodak  –  Vintage Camera Brand

Kodak Brand Overview

Kodak logo

Founded: 1881 — Rochester, NY, USA
Currently: Eastman Kodak Company

Kodak Brand History

Eastman Kodak is a company founded by George Eastman in Rochester, New York that dominated both film and camera markets in America for most of the 20th century. Kodak’s pioneering of cameras and photographic films makes it one of the most important camera companies in the history of photography.

Kodak was originally founded in 1881 as the Eastman Dry Plate Company for mass production of photographic glass plates, a precursor to film. In 1885, the company debuted transparent photographic film as we know it and expanded its business accordingly. The Kodak moniker arrived with the company’s first camera in 1888 although the company didn’t officially change its name to Eastman Kodak until 1892. Kodak began selling the inexpensive Brownie line of cameras in 1900, effectively making photography accessible to the average American. It adopted the “razor and blades” business model with the Brownie, selling the camera for cheap and relying on film sales to make money. A few years later, George Eastman effectively standardized 35mm film for motion pictures and eventually did the same for still photography. In 1934, Kodak introduced its 35mm film cassette which would eventually become the international standard we all know today.

In 1963, Kodak introduced the 126 film format, alongside the explosively popular Instamatic series. Some would argue that Kodak reached its peak in 1976 with an incredible 90% market share in film sales and 85% in camera sales in the United States. Kodak also began producing instant film cameras in 1976 in order to compete with Polaroid. Polaroid officially sued Kodak for patent infringement in 1981. The court eventually ruled in favor of Polaroid and Kodak was forced to pay an enormous $925 million settlement.

Hoping to duplicate the success of 126 film, Kodak invested heavily in Disc film and introduced it in 1982 with emphasis on compactness and ease of use. Sadly, Disc film suffered from poor image quality and failed spectacularly. Fortunately, the company had the foresight to explore other photography-related fields, with the digital camera being invented by Kodak electrical engineer Steven Sasson. After much research and development, Kodak introduced the world’s first commercially available digital SLR: the DCS 100, a heavily modified Nikon F3.

Ironically, Kodak’s invention of digital photography would also lead to its eventual downfall. Japanese companies like Sony and Minolta took control of the US digital camera market while Fujifilm continued battering it in film sales. In order to get a piece of the action, Kodak teamed up with Chinese firm Seagull to manufacture digital cameras. Kodak produced a few innovative digital cameras like the EasyShare V570 but in 2004, it began licensing its name, outsourcing production, and selling off its divisions. Kodak continued to lose both money and market share until it filed for bankruptcy in early 2012. After much restructuring, Kodak emerged from bankruptcy in late 2013 with a focus on commercial printing operations. In addition to their printing business, Kodak also offers a wide variety of licensed products including digital cameras, batteries, and printer paper.

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of Kodak cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 320-379.

“Milestones,” Eastman Kodak Company, http://www.kodak.com/ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/Milestones.htm

“Polaroid Wins $909 Million From Kodak : Photography: The firms have been involved in a patent-infringement suit for years. Analysts had expected the award to be much larger.,” Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/1990-10-13/business/fi-1997_1_instant-photography

“Kodak engineer had revolutionary idea: the first digital camera,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, http://www.seattlepi.com/business/article/Kodak-engineer-had-revolutionary-idea-the-first-1182624.php

“Kodak and Seagull to Produce Digital Camera Jointly,” People’s Daily, http://en.people.cn/english/200106/26/eng20010626_73529.html

“Kodak Moments Just a Memory as Company Exits Bankruptcy,” Bloomberg Business, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-09-03/kodak-exits-bankruptcy-as-printer-without-photographs

“Kodak,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodak

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