History of Cameras: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Alyson Breeding

Alyson is an elementary special education teacher and has a master's degree in special education.

Cameras are now in our phones, computers, and even watches. They have a very long history. This lesson will explore the invention of the camera and how it became the selfie-taking machine we know today.

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

The cameras that we know today are used to take pictures and videos, however, the first camera didn't take any kind of picture at all. The camera obscura projected an upside down image through glass and onto a wall or table. The camera obscura's image was not permanent unless someone traced the entire image onto paper. The typical camera obscura was extremely large--some were as big as a person's bedroom--and only used by people such as scientists.

Nicéphore Niépce

Hundreds of years after the first camera obscura was invented, a man named Nicéphore Niépce created in 1816 a very small version of the camera obscura and added a piece of paper covered in silver chloride, which darkened where the light hit it and thus created a copy of the image projected by the camera obscura. Nevertheless, this image too was only temporary. In either 1826 or 1827 Niépce managed to capture a photograph that did not fade, which is the world's oldest known surviving photograph.

Daguerreotypes and Calotypes

In 1839, an inventor named Louis Daguerre changed the original camera obscura to make a more permanent image. Daguerre treated a sheet of paper with silver iodine, projected the image with the camera the same way that Niépce did but developed the image with mercury vapor and sodium chloride. This made the image last longer. This type of camera was known as the daguerreotype. Then in 1840, another inventor, Henry Fox Talbot, created the calotype. The calotype required a longer exposure time in order for the image to become permanent, sometimes even up to an entire hour.

Dry Plates and Portability

Finally, in the late 1800s dry plates were invented, which meant that the treatment with mercury and sodium chloride was no longer needed. Camera images could be developed on the go, thus making cameras smaller and more portable.

Kodak Cameras

Early Kodak Camera
Early Kodak Camera

The camera that the average person could own was first sold in 1900. It was a small box and had a single shutter speed. Shutter speed is the speed that the shutter closes on a camera lens. Each time the shutter closes, a picture is taken. The camera was able to take 100 pictures and had to be sent to a special factory in order for the pictures to be developed and sent back.

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