You might not know this, but there was metadata before there was, well, metadata. Way back in 1914, Kodak introduced the Autographic system, a combination of autographic cameras and film that allowed you to permanently sign, date and title your negatives as you shot them.
“Every negative that is worth making is worth a date and title,” writes the Kodak ad. “These notations add to the value of every picture you make.” And so, in order to enable you to inscribe those dates and titles on your negatives, Kodak came out with the Autographic.
To be fair, autographic film wasn’t George Eastman’s idea. The system was originally patented by Henry Jacques Gaisman (who also invented the safety razor). But Eastman bought the idea from him for $300,000 and thus was born the Kodak Autographic camera.
The special autographic film that you would load into the camera had a tiny bit of carbon paper placed between the film and the paper backing.
To make a notation, you simply unlatched the little window in the back and used the provided metal stylus to write whatever information you saw fit directly into the margins of the film. You then exposed the note by keeping the door open for a few seconds and voila: metadata.
Sadly, the cameras never really gained the popularity that Kodak hoped they would, and so they were discontinued in 1932. But before that happened, Kodak was dedicated to making the idea work. They even sold autographic back upgrades for their current cameras, you just had to make sure you bought Autographic film if you intended to write on the negatives.
These days, getting your own Autographic Camera won’t cost you very much on eBay, but given the amount of info your digital camera embeds into the image file automatically, the ability to physically add a title, date and signature to your photos might hold even less appeal today than it did back then.