The Families of Adam Keith

Inventors and their inventions


Kodak “Brownie” camera


Frank Alexander Brownell [1859-1939]


Ancestry:  Adam Keith1>Maria Catherina [Gieg] m. [John George] Slough2>Anna Maria [Slough] m. [Andrew] Jones3>Phoebe [Jones] m. [John] Culver4>Pauline N. [Culver] m. [Myron S.] Brownell5>Frank Alexander Brownell6

Frank A. Brownell was born on February 4, 1859 in the Village of Vienna [Elgin Co. ON CAN], and was a camera maker and business associate of George Eastman of Eastman Kodak. After attending high school and graduating in 1875 [in Canada] he moved to New York, where he began to experiment and build cameras.


Frank A. Brownell later produced cameras for the Eastman Kodak Company, and operated the F. A. Brownell Camera Factory for nearly twenty years. One of his early cameras, called the "Brownie" [note: Not named for Frank Brownell] was designed and manufactured by Brownell under the Kodak label.


Source: The Kodak Company “Brownie” page


In 1898 George Eastman asked Frank Brownell, his camera designer and manufacturer, to design the least expensive camera possible while at the same time making it effective and reliable. Eastman realized that if the cost could be reduced that more people, especially children, might take up photography which would lead to future film sales. Brownell came up with the Brownie Camera which Kodak started selling in February of 1900. "The Brownie" was named after the little characters created by the Canadian author and illustrator, Palmer Cox. His verse and entertaining drawings had been highly popular, even "Disney" character like, with children throughout the 1890's.

By adopting the name and using the characters in advertising, Eastman, shrewd as always, gained a major marketing advantage. Some would argue that Eastman created a market that was not there before! That in itself would not have ensured the long-term success of the cameras, and thereby film sales, if they had not been of good value and reliable. For the next 80 years the name "Brownie" was synonymous with popular photography. Several generations of famous photographers acknowledged that their interest began through first using a Brownie box camera, which still happens today for future famous photographers as the Gallery on this website will point out. From the first cardboard and wood model in 1900 to the last, a compact molded plastic cartridge loading pocket camera made by Kodak Limited in 1980, almost 100 cameras bore the famous name.


The F.A. Brownell Motor Co, [Rochester NY] was the successor to Brownell-Trebert Company. It was incorporated on October 22, 1907 with a capital stock of $400,000. Stockholders were: Frank A. Brownell, 1140 shares; William H. Dunn, 50 shares; William Dieninger, 50 shares; George C. Whipple, 25 shares; Robert C. Kershner, 20 shares; Thomas J. Swanton, 20 shares; Burton H. Davy, 20 shares and Clarence E. Schuster, 20 shares. Frank A. Brownell was the first president, and a partner in Brownell-Trebert.


Entries for F.A Brownell Motors can be found in the Rochester City Directories from 1908 to 1913.


The company manufactured 4 and 6 cylinder automotive, marine and industrial engines at their factory on Lexington Avenue. All engines in the 1908 catalog were of the overhead valve type. They also produced reverse gears and clutches for marine use, and automobile and truck transmissions.