The first model of the camera was invented by Frank A. Brownell. The name comes from the brownies in popular Palmer Cox cartoons. Consumers responded, and over 150,000 Brownie cameras were shipped in the first year of production. An improved model, called No. 2 Brownie came in 1901, which produced larger 2-1/4 by 3-1/4 inch photos and cost $2. It was also very popular.
In 1908, the Austrian architectural critic Joseph August Lux wrote a book called Künstlerische Kodakgeheimnisse (Artistic Secrets of the Kodak) in which he championed the use of the camera for its cultural potential. Guided by a position that was influenced by the Catholic critique of modernity, he argued that the accessibility the camera provided for the amateur meant that people could photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world.
Brownies were extensively marketed to children, with Kodak using them to popularise photography. They were also taken to war by soldiers. As they were so ubiquitous, many iconic shots were taken on brownies.
The cameras continued to be popular, and spawned many varieties, such as a Boy Scout edition in the 1930s. Improvements continued, such as in 1940, when Kodak released the Six-20 Flash Brownie. The camera was Kodak's first internally synchronized flash camera, using General electric bulbs. Then in 1957, Kodak produced the Brownie Starflash, Kodak's first camera with a built in flash.
One of the most popular Brownie models was the Brownie 127, millions of which were sold between 1952 and 1967. The Brownie 127 was a simple bakelite camera for 127 film which featured a simple meniscus lens and a curved film plane to compensate for the deficiencies of the lens. Another simple camera was the Brownie Cresta which was sold between 1955 and 1958. It used 120 film and had a fixed-focus lens.
Having written an article in the 1940s for amateur photographers suggesting an expensive camera was unnecessary for quality photography, Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy used a Brownie camera to stage a carefully posed snapshot of two young women sitting on railings above a breezy Blackpool promenade.
The last official Brownie cameras made was the Brownie II Camera, a 110 cartridge film model produced in Brazil for one year...1986.