“The Parting Gift — A Vest Pocket Kodak.” Ad in Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1917.
We take small, portable cameras for granted. But one hundred years ago, Kodak was putting pocket sized cameras into the hands of people who never had them before — including the men and boys who volunteered to fight in World War I.
Kodak Vest Pocket camera ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1917, p. 51. “It is monotony, not bullets, that our soldiers dread…. In the training camps and during the days of forced inaction there are going to be some tedious, home-sick days — days the Kodak can make more cheerful…. There’s room for a little Vest Pocket Kodak in every soldiers’ and sailor’s kit.”
When the United States entered the war in April of 1917, training camps were still being built — including Camp Fremont, in what is now Menlo Park, California. For teen-aged girls like my mother’s older sister and her friends, it was both a patriotic duty and a pleasure to meet homesick young men from all over the country. And, judging from the photos I inherited from my aunt, “the boys” did enjoy sending pictures of their daily activities to family and friends.
My aunt, in her school uniform, with Walter van Alyne. The back of the photo says, “aged 20 years,” and it was apparently mailed to her when Walter was “Somewhere in Fra …. chelles.” [writing not legible]
Here she is with Wentworth Prescott Gann, in 1918:
Wentworth Prescott Gann and my aunt, 1918.
Pictures reassured soldiers’ families, and were also a pretext for corresponding with new friends. (“I’d love a copy of that photo with you….” or “Here’s a copy of that picture we took at the beach….”)
Wentworth Prescott Gann, posing with artillery and a friendly dog, 1918.
Three soldiers posing for a picture to send home — or to sweethearts. The one on the left is Gaston Popescul; “Columbus (?) GA”
Clarence Turpening, probably at Camp Fremont, 1918. Sitting on two garbage cans, he is the picture of military camp tedium.
Because Camp Fremont was still under construction in 1917, many of the soldiers who trained there did not get sent overseas. However, some unfortunate members of the 8th Division were sent to Siberia after the Russian Revolution of 1917. They were on active duty for months after World War I came to an end.
This photo of a luckier group was made into a postcard — probably everyone in it sent a copy home. I believe it is a group of bakers, with my uncle Holt (the soldier my aunt eventually married) leaning against a post in the center. I’m sure a picture like this would reassure worried families that their menfolk were safe and well. And perhaps, a bit bored….
A group of Army bakers or cooks, military camp in U.S.A., World War I photo.
“Snap-shots from Home” enhance morale for soldiers in World War I. Kodak ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1917, p. 91.
Text of “Snap-shots from Home” ad, Kodak, Sept. 1917. Ladies’ HOme Journal.
Even schoolgirls like my aunt took (and sometimes printed) their own photos.
This typical photo from 1917-1918 fits easily in my hand. It’s about three inches high. The soldier’s name is Philip Wilson.
I was always puzzled by how tiny (about 2″ by 3″) many of these old photos are. Finally, I found a full page ad in the Ladies Home Journal that gave me a hint: to save money, many people used their contact prints — made directly from the negative — but never bought enlargements. (In my aunt’s case, she made her own duplicate contact prints for friends.)
[Not Actual Size] Top of a full-page ad for Kodak, showing Vest Pocket photos in two sizes. July 1917, LHJ, page 79.
The contact prints, made by putting the negative directly on the photo paper without using an enlarger, were actually about two by three inches. The paper used for contacts feels flimsier than normal photo prints.
Bottom of full-page Kodak Vest Pocket camera ad, July 1917, page 79. Not actual size. “You don’t carry a Vest Pocket Kodak, you wear it, like your watch.”
I was not able to photograph the magazine page at actual size, so I took a photo of the whole page and then made this “relative size” image of the contact print and the enlargement.
Relative size of a contact print and an enlargement, 1917. The small contact prints — the same size as the film — were meant to be used for selecting the enlargements you ordered, but people who couldn’t afford 15 cents per enlargement made do with the contact prints themselves. And duplicate contact-sized pictures could be made by amateurs who didn’t own an enlarger.
Different cameras used different sized film, so those little contact prints came in a range of sizes. A roll of film for the Vest Pocket Kodak cost twenty cents in 1917 and made eight exposures.
Although most people on the home front, especially in the U.S., had no idea of the horrors of the First World War, a tone of sadness, or at least, of solemnity, affected even Kodak’s Christmas season advertising in wartime.
“Kodak knows no dark days.” Top of a full -page ad for Kodak cameras, December 1917. Ladies Home Journal, p. 104.
The ad was referring to taking pictures indoors, but a reference to “its allies” in the text is a reminder of the war.
Text of a Kodak ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1917, page 104.
“With its allies, the Kodak flash sheets and a Kodak flash sheet holder….” As in fashion writing, allusions to the war crept in everywhere, even when it wasn’t mentioned specifically.
And here, as our dessert, is that lovely pink silk dress in better detail:
A young woman poses in a party dress in this Kodak ad from 1917. Ladies’ Home Journal, Dec. 1917, p. 104. It’s not a full color ad, which would have been more expensive, but probably printed using just black and red ink.