Daily Herald Photograph: Kodak Factory, manufacturing cameras Daily Herald Photograph: Kodak Factory, manufacturing cameras (1932-07)National Science and Media Museum
Photography for all
The gelatin dry plate process, introduced in the 1870s, replaced collodion wet and dry plates and represented an important step in the democratisation of photography. Photographers no longer needed to coat photographic plates themselves or travel with a portable darkroom.
Daily Herald Photograph: Coronet cine camerasNational Science and Media Museum
George Eastman of Kodak and Alfred Harman of Ilford began experimenting with gelatin dry plates early on. Eastman opened the UK Harrow branch of Kodak in 1891 and Harman established production sites in Ilford, Brentford and Mobberley. Mobberley is still operational today.
You press the button, we do the rest
Kodak’s first cameras, called ‘Kodak’ and ‘Kodak No 1’, came pre-loaded with enough paper film for 100 exposures. Under the famous slogan ‘you press the button, we do the rest’, they would be sent back to the factory for processing and reloading with film.
Daily Herald Photograph: Kodak factory, developing and printing photographic negatives Daily Herald Photograph: Kodak factory, developing and printing photographic negatives (1932-06)National Science and Media Museum
Hundreds of staff, mostly women, worked in semi-darkness developing and printing amateurs ’ negatives. By 1932, 400,000 rolls of film were developed and 4.2 million contact prints were being made each year at Kodak in Harrow.
Jobs with a silver lining
These workers at the Kodak Factory were always surrounded by wealth. The blocks of silver shown were used in the manufacture of silver nitrate for coating photographic film, paper and glass. Many tons of silver, worth thousands of pounds, were kept in stock at Harrow.
Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, coating photographic plates with emulsionNational Science and Media Museum
Seeing the unseen
Daily Herald photographer James Jarché took the very first photograph showing the manufacture of glass plates. Taken at Ilford in almost total darkness except for three infrared lamps, the photograph shows plates being coated in emulsion sensitive to all light except infrared.
Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, applying photographic emulsion Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, applying photographic emulsion (1934-1939)National Science and Media Museum
Behind the film (and paper and glass)
Applying emulsion to photographic paper at Ilford factory. The emulsion was made up of silver salts dispersed in gelatin; the exact ‘recipe’ depended on what base was being used (paper, glass or plastic film) and the quality, sensitivity and aesthetics required for the product.
Film coating machine at Ilford. Paper and film were fed through these continuous wheel machines and coated with an emulsion layer, a baryta layer and sometimes a resin, wax or oil topcoat.
Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, photographic film drying room Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, photographic film drying room (1934-1939)National Science and Media Museum
Drying film. After coating, the base needed to be cooled and dried very slowly to prevent imperfections. If dried too quickly, the emulsion later could slide right off the base!
Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, paper guillotine Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, paper guillotine (1934-1939)National Science and Media Museum
Guillotine for cutting paper at Ilford.
Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, packing photographic film Daily Herald Photograph: Ilford factory, packing photographic film (1934-1939)National Science and Media Museum
Packaging film at Ilford. After drying, metal cassettes were made for 35mm roll film, while 120 film was wrapped around plastic cores. The processed film, paper and glass was then ready to be packaged and sold to the customer.
Check, check and check again!
Quality control was very important at Kodak and Ilford. Coated and uncoated film, paper and glass had to be checked for scratches, repeat marks and coating quality. At Kodak, junior staff members were often given the job of sifting through negatives to check for errors.
Waterproofing cameras at Kodak. Kodak’s famous Brownie cameras were manufactured in the USA from 1900 and introduced in the UK a few years later in 1908. Initially costing just $1, these cameras put the hobby of photography within the financial reach of nearly everybody.
Assembling a Kodascope at Kodak. Hundreds of cine projectors were produced for the home cinema season. Kodak introduced 16mm motion picture cameras, film, and projectors in 1923. These were cheaper than the standard 35mm and immediately popular with amateur movie-makers.
Checking camera lenses at Kodak. Cheap, easy-to-use cameras were promoted as essential to capturing significant occasions such as holidays, and were initially aimed at women. The phrase ‘Kodak moment’ quickly became synonymous with capturing an important moment.
All images are from the Science Museum Group collection. Copyright Mirrorpix, Hulton Archive/Getty Images, and TopFoto.