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Frank A. Brownell was possibly the most influential camera designer of all time. Working for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY, Brownell was responsible for the design of the Kodak No. 1 - the original Kodak camera, in 1889.

Brownell was born in Ontario, Canada, 4 February 1859 and moved to the US in the 1870s. Beginning as a cabinet maker, Brownell began stand-camera manufacture in the early 1880s. George Eastman commissioned Brownell to make parts for his rollfilm holder in 1885 - and Brownell went on to design many early Kodak cameras, with his Brownell Manufacturing Company building them until 1902.

Brownell designed the first compact cartridge-loading (i.e. rollfilm) folding camera - the Folding Pocket Kodak, introduced in 1897 at an Eastman exhibition in London - selling for £2-10-0.

The cost of the No.1 Kodak was originally $25, and was well out of the budget of the average working man; costs came down gradually, but Eastman was keen to bring photography to the masses. Eastman commissioned Brownell to design and make a camera to be as cheap as possible. This produced the original Kodak Brownie, introduced in February 1900. This was possibly named after him but is generally thought to be named after children's characters created by Palmer Cox, a Canadian author and illustrator. The Brownie characters were frequently featured in advertising for the Brownie camera, targeting the camera at the young. The Brownie was a based on a simple wood block, supporting a box of jute-board - and sold for $1 in the US and 5 shillings (now £0.25) in England. The Brownie camera started a series running until the 1980s.

Brownell's company was bought by Eastman in 1902, but Brownell continued working there as a designer and works manager until 1906, when he moved on to motor manufacturing, in the F.A. Brownell Motor Co. in Lexington Avenue, Rochester. Having also been vice president of the East Side Savings Bank, he retired in 1937 at the age of 78, and died less than two years later on 2 February 1939.


  • Coe, Brian, Kodak Cameras, the First Hundred Years, p.XI, Hove Foto Books, 1988
  • Coe, Brian, Cameras, from Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, pp.88,99, Nordbok, 1978
  • Brownie Box Cameras on Chuck Baker's
  • Brownell Obituaries
  • Brownie Story by Karen Jenkins at Routledge Taylor & Francis Group publishers

Sample Brownell Patents[]