Blast from the Past: Photos Captured 125 Years Ago with the Kodak No. 1


It could be argued that consumer photography didn’t begin until 1888, when Eastman Kodak made his Kodak No. 1 (the followup to the Kodak Box) available to the public at large alongside the now famous slogan: “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.”

And thanks to the National Media Museum, we now have a small gallery of sample photographs that show what photos taken 125 years ago with the Kodak No. 1 looked like.

Without a doubt, the Kodak No. 1 revolutionized photography. A plain-looking, leather-covered wooden box preloaded with 100 exposures, its simplicity and (relatively) low price tag made it the first camera realistically available to the masses.


Using the camera was as easy as turning the key to wind the film, pulling the string to set the shutter and pressing the button. So, technically, the slogan should have read “You wind the key, pull the string and press the button… we do the rest,” but you can’t blame them for shortening it.

When you had used all 100 of your exposures, you would send the entire camera back to Kodak where the company would develop your prints and send them back alongside the re-loaded camera.

When your photos finally arrived, what you had in hand was 100 2.5-inch circular prints that looked something like this:















The photos above give us a glimpse into the interests and daily lives of regular people in the early 1890’s, to whom photography still held a very magical quality. You could consider these the first photos ever taken by “amateur” photographers.

That’s because, thanks to Eastman Kodak, you no longer needed to be a professional to own a camera and take pictures. All you needed was little bit of money. When the Kodak No. 1 came out, it cost $25 for the camera and $10 each time you had to send it in for reloading/developing — in today’s money, that translates to about $630 and $250, respectively.

To learn more or see all of the Kodak No. 1 images available through the National Media Museum in high-resolution, head over to the Museum’s Flickr account by clicking here.

(via Gizmodo)

Image credit: Original Kodak Camera, Serial No. 540 by National Museum of American History and Kodak No. 1 Photos courtesy of the National Media Museum.

  • Leonardo Abreu


  • Aiden

    Those photos look pretty good considering how old they actually are.

  • Randell

    Women really did suffer for fashion. :)

  • Rainbow Eyes

    Better photos than the Instagram photos :)

  • Peter Acker

    I was just going to say the same thing. A 125 year old wind up box camera and the results are still better than half the crap on Facebook. =0) ….. well obviously it was new at the time, but you know what I mean.

  • Zzz

    If people were charged $250 for every hundred photos, I bet facebook photos wouldn’t be bad either.

  • kassim

    CD covers? Why are the photos round?

  • MJ Coffey

    Wonderful images.

  • Norshan Nusi

    Retro aspect ratio :)

  • AntonyShepherd

    My guess is that with the simple lens the corners of the image would have been darker and blurry so it was the fashion to cut those off.

  • moshy

    because the image projected from a lens is round, it is that we are used to seeing this cropped down to a rectangular or square shape… asthetics.

  • hb

    It is absolutely astonishing how high quality these photgraphs are, especially considering that they where develped over 120 years ago!

  • R O

    Not just better than Facebook. These photos are better than the ones typically captured by the average tourist/amateur walking about, festooned with today’s grotesquely oversized DSLR/kit lens combos.

  • -Mark S.

    “It could be argued that consumer photography didn’t begin until 1888, when Eastman Kodak made his Kodak No. 1 ”

    There is no person named Eastman Kodak. George Eastman founded the company Eastman Kodak in 1888. The paragraph should say “the Kodak No. 1″, rather than “his Kodak No. 1″.

    Your nits have now, officailly, been picked. :~)

    Great images. I really miss processing and printing in my B&W darkroom.


    -M (RIT class of ’85)

  • Alice Teeple

    I have another nit to pick here: I think you’re off with the pricing. The Kodak No 1, with its price tag of $10 per 100 exposure roll, was astronomically expensive in 1889 for the average family. The daily take-home pay for most working men was about $1.36 ($500/year) for an average 16-hour day (as opposed to an 8-hour one), so simply to develop a roll of film would be closer to the working equivalent of $1000 today (the average take-home salary is currently $42K/year). As those wages in 1889 were expected to feed and house an entire family on one paycheck, this sort of photography was only reserved for those with serious extraneous cash!

  • Alice Teeple

    I have a collection of box cameras that can still be used! 120 rollfilm is still widely available and I’ve shot a bunch of photos with my 1900s Brownies. They’re not always great, but I did manage to take some interesting photos with them.