Several significant camera companies would shape the trajectory of photographic history. In America, prominent manufacturers included Scovill Manufacturing Company, E. & H.T. Anthony Company, and Eastman Kodak Company. Meanwhile, in Europe, influential manufacturers such as Voigtländer in Austria and Thornton-Pickard in England emerged as dominant forces in the industry.
Voigtländer, founded in 1756 by Johann Christoph Voigtländer in Vienna, was one of the oldest optical companies in Europe. In 1840, the company introduced the Petzval lens, a groundbreaking invention that greatly improved portrait photography due to its fast aperture and sharp focus. Voigtländer’s cameras, such as the Daguerreotype camera and the later metal-bodied Avus series, were widely renowned for their precision and craftsmanship.
Thornton-Pickard, established in 1888 by John Edward Thornton and Edgar Pickard in Manchester, England, was a leading British camera manufacturer. The company was particularly known for its innovative camera designs, such as the Ruby Reflex and the Imperial Triple Extension camera, which offered photographers high-quality, versatile equipment.
Scovill Manufacturing Company, founded in 1802 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Initially focused on brass manufacturing, Scovill began producing daguerreotype photographic plates in the 1840s, eventually expanding its operations to include cameras and other photographic equipment. By the mid-19th century, Scovill had emerged as a leading American camera manufacturer, producing a range of cameras that catered to both amateur and professional photographers.
Another notable manufacturer during this period was the E. & H.T. Anthony Company, founded in 1842 by Edward Anthony in New York City. Initially a distributor of photographic supplies, the company expanded its operations to include camera manufacturing in the 1850s. Under the leadership of Edward’s brother, Henry T. Anthony, the E. & H.T. Anthony Company quickly became one of the most prominent American camera manufacturers, producing a wide variety of camera models and photographic equipment.
The second segment, the advancement of novel camera designs, saw the development of several pioneering camera models that would significantly impact the future of photography. In 1888, George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company (later renamed Eastman Kodak Company), introduced the Kodak camera. This portable, easy-to-use box camera came pre-loaded with a roll of flexible film capable of capturing 100 photographs. Once the roll was used up, the entire camera was sent back to the company for film processing and reloading. The Kodak camera’s compact design, simplicity, and the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” revolutionized the photographic industry and marked the beginning of the snapshot era.
The Blair Camera Company, founded by Thomas H. Blair in 1878, introduced the Hawk-Eye Detective Camera in 1888. This portable, box-shaped camera was designed to capture images discreetly, contributing to the development of candid and street photography.
The Rochester Optical Company, founded in 1883 by Henry M. Reichenbach, William H. Walker, and George C. Seybolt, was another influential manufacturer, producing several high-quality camera models, including the Premo and Poco cameras.
The Ernemann Company, founded by Heinrich Ernemann in 1889 in Dresden, Germany, was known for its high-quality folding cameras, such as the Bob series, which featured compact and elegant designs.
In France, the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, introduced the Cinématographe in 1895, a device that served as both a motion picture camera and projector, paving the way for the development of the film industry.
The third segment, the popularization of photography, encompassed the increasing accessibility of photographic technology to a broader demographic. Camera manufacturers, such as Scovill, E. & H.T. Anthony Company, and Eastman Kodak, produced more affordable and easy-to-use cameras. Photography transitioned from a specialized craft to a popular pastime. The introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in 1900, priced at just $1, marked the culmination of this trend, making photography accessible to the masses and solidifying Eastman Kodak’s position as the leading American camera manufacturer.
In Germany, Oskar Barnack, an engineer at Leitz, developed the prototype for the first Leica camera in 1913, which used 35mm film and offered a compact design. Although the Leica camera would not be introduced to the public until 1925, Barnack’s invention laid the groundwork for the future development of compact cameras that were more accessible to a wider audience.