In this new mini-series called The Godfathers of Film, join us as we trace the origins of the photographic emulsions we have all grown to love shooting with. For the first installment, learn about the important invention that led to the development of a popular film format: roll film.
In the early days of photography, photographic films did not exist yet. To take photographs, light-sensitive chemicals were poured and coated on silver-plated copper sheets, and eventually, thin glass plates. Eastman Kodak introduced the first flexible photographic film in 1885, but the emulsion was actually coated on paper. George Eastman eventually perfected the first roll film, which he developed and patented in 1884, but perhaps it would not have been possible without the aid of David Houston’s important invention: the roll film holder.
In 1881, Peter Houston, a Wisconsin farmer, invented the first roll film camera. His younger brother, David, created the early film holders for flexible roll films. The younger Houston filed for the patent of his older brother’s camera invention and the film holder in the same year. However, he licensed the roll film holder patent to George Eastman, who used it for his perfected Kodak box camera in 1888. Houston continued to make revisions and improvements for the roll camera between 1881 and 1902. He eventually sold the 1881 patent and the 1886 revision to George Eastman in 1889 for $5000. Eastman obtained the rest of Houston’s patents in 1912 after the Wisconsin inventor’s estate transferred them to to the iconic entrepreneur’s name.
Centuries after its invention by George Eastman, roll film, the spool-wound photographic film with paper backing protection, persists to this day, more familiar to us lomographers and film photographers in the form of 120 film. The medium format film was introduced by Kodak in 1901, marketed for use in the Brownie No. 2 camera.
Stay tuned for the next installment to learn more interesting tidbits about different film formats!
All information for this article were taken from Roll film on Wikipedia, 120 film on Wikipedia, George Eastman on Wikipedia, Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives, and North Dakota Online Artist Archive.