The other day I received an invitation to an exhibition opening, which isn’t unusual, except the envelope was wearing a Baby Brownie stamp. As a fancier of all things photographic, I was much more interested in the stamp than in going to the out-of-town shindig. A couple of research clicks later I discovered that back on June 29th of this year, the USPS issued a set of twelve commemorative stamps honoring Pioneers of American Industrial Design. Among those honored is Walter Dorwin Teague, considered the dean of American design, who styled a number of Kodak products.
My cancelled Baby Brownie stamp
I’ve always been curious how this arrangement began. A little research brought me to transcripts in the GEH library of a 1970s interview between Reese Jenkins (now professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University) and Kodak retiree Adolph Stuber. Stuber’s father, William G. Stuber, was hired by George Eastman in the early company days; he went on to be the company CEO after Eastman retired in 1925. Adolph grew up with Kodak and also had a distinguished career in the company himself, becoming manager of the Camera Works in the mid-1920s, then ending up as a company vice president in the sales and advertising department after WWII. It was Adolph Stuber who interviewed and hired Teague, then a fledgling New York City artist, to do facelifts on some of the cameras, as the old designs had become a bit dated. Teague became a design consultant for Kodak for the next thirty years or so. Many of the milestone Eastman Kodak Company products, such as the Baby Brownie (the first injected-molded camera made by Kodak), the Super Kodak Six-20 (the first auto-exposure camera), and the Bantam Special (the first Kodak camera with the f/2 Ektar lens) were Teague designs.
The success of the plastic Baby Brownie would prompt the company to produce more cameras of this type. Most Baby Boomers’ photographic experience began with descendants of the Baby Brownie, such as the Brownie Tourist, the Brownie Holiday, and of course the various Brownie Star models. One of the last cameras Teague was involved with was the Brownie Starflash of 1957; it was the first Kodak camera featuring a built-in flash holder. It was also my first camera.
Todd Gustavson is the curator of technology at George Eastman House, working with the collection for more than 20 years.