Photography / Hands-on Review

Classic Cameras: the 1936 Kodak Bullet and Walter Teague

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Over the past few years, many cameras have been marketed as fashion accessories. Many point-and-shoots, not to mention high-end compacts and consumer DSLRs, have been available in a choice of colors—designed to match one’s wardrobe. Novel and bold as this might appear, the concept is far from new.

In the 1920s, around the time F. Scott Fitzgerald was publishing The Great Gatsby, Eastman Kodak began to understand the concept and value of consumer branding and, in 1928, management hired Walter Dorwin Teague to integrate the design and technologies of Kodak’s rapidly growing photographic business to produce cameras that would appeal to consumer tastes of the day.

The photographs in this article were made during a pleasant afternoon jaunt around Coney Island. Photographs © Allan Weitz

Teague, who admittedly knew little about cameras, was a dynamic advertising executive, illustrator, and commercial artist during the first two decades of the 20th Century. His innovations included the universally recognized decorative borders used on the covers of Time Magazine, the logo and architectural designs of Texaco Gas stations—including Texaco’s exhibition hall at the 1935 Texas Centennial Fair, the Ford and US Steel Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, the steel-legged Steinway piano, the interiors of Boeing’s original passenger planes, 32 design patterns for Steuben Glass, not to mention rail cars for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroads.

Fetching Ensemble

Working alongside Kodak’s camera designers, Teague was responsible for designing a series of trendy consumer-oriented cameras that turn heads to this very day. His design flourishes included Art Deco metal and enamel face plates, some with step patterns, others with lightning bolts or diamond patterns. Some of his cameras were available in a choice of colors such as Bluebird (deep blue), Cockatoo (green), Redbreast (red), Jenny Wren (brown), and Sea Gull (gray).

Another line of cameras featured Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Camp Fire Girl logos on the camera and case. The Kodak Ensemble Outfit, which included a color-coordinated camera with a fitted case that included a lipstick holder, a make-up case with a mirror, and a matching change purse, was a smash hit among fashionable ladies of the day.

Speaking of cases, Teague was the first person to suggest the idea of matching cases as accessories for cameras, which quickly proved popular to consumers, as well as Kodak’s bean counters.

The Bullet's Art Deco design aesthetics carried through to the camera's bold yellow and black packaging.

In 1936, the Kodak Bullet was introduced—a sleek, pocket-size camera with a heavy dose of Art Deco design influence. The camera had a fixed-focus, 35mm equivalent lens that screwed into the black Bakelite camera body when not in use. For framing pictures, the Bullet featured a simple popup viewfinder mounted on the top of the camera. Exposure control consisted of a single-speed shutter release.

The Bullet captures eight 1-5/8 x 2-1/2" pictures on a 127-format roll of film. To load the film, you remove the back of the camera, pull the paper lead across the film gate to the take-up spool, replace the back and wind the film until you see the first frame number through a round red plastic window on the camera back. After you capture the eighth frame, you continue winding the film until the paper leader is no longer visible in the window. The Kodak Bullet was strictly for use outdoors. Though flash bulbs were introduced in 1927, by General Electric, the Bullet had no provision for using either flash bulbs or flash powder.

Shooting with a Kodak Bullet is a simple affair. Unscrew the lens, unfold the viewing finder, point, and shoot. Repeat as needed. The Bullet, which retailed for $2.25, remained in production for a total of six years—including a special New York World’s Fair edition that was introduced in 1939.

Other cameras designed by Teague’s design team included the Art Deco gift camera (1928), the Baby Brownie (1934), the Bantam Special (1936), the Kodak Super 620 (1938), and the Brownie Hawkeye (1950). Teague also designed the original Polaroid camera—the Polaroid Model 95, which was introduced in 1948.

Teague’s relationship with Kodak continued until his death, in 1960, at age 76.

5 Comments

Thank you for the retrospective on the Kodak Bullet. Just ran across one elsewhere and it piqued my curiosity. It's a pretty thing, interesting that it was a Walter Teague design. 

Excellent article. I just purchased this camera on eBay today for my wife. I'll pass along this story, she'll love it.

Allan

Thanks for this fun article. I think the Lomography shooters will love this. I do as well.

After seeing your wonderful Coney Island shots, I want to load up one of my film cameras and go out and just have fun somewhere in this great big town of NYC.

Dennis

Thank you Allen Weitz for writing this article on the Kodak Bullet and thank you B & H for publishing it. I bought this camera for my camera collection about 10 years ago. I never knew any of the historty on it. Thank you for sharring. 

Robert Gale

Rob Gale Photography & Photo Booth LLC

www.robgalephotography.com

Rob,

Thanks for the feedback.

Can't argue with you - the camera is elegantly simple in design and has quite a story to go along with it. 

Glad you enjoyed the story.

Allan

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