Kodak’s initial foray into the digital world marked the biggest change in photography since the company introduced the original point-and-shoot film camera in 1888. The prototype camera, made in 1975 by Steve Sasson, was an 8-pound, toaster-sized contraption. Sasson cobbled together state-of-the-art parts—a Super 8 movie camera lens, experimental charge-coupled device chips to convert light into electrons and a digital cassette recorder— with jury-rigged circuit boards, an analog-to-digital converter and 16 nickel cadmium batteries. It took 23 seconds to record a blurry image of a lab assistant to tape, which was then read by a separate VCR-like component and viewed on a TV screen. The assistant, said Sasson, “was less than happy with the photo.” The first commercially available digital camera—the Dycam Model 1—appeared 15 years later. Soon after, Kodak produced its own line of digital cameras but misjudged how quickly consumers would abandon film, its bread and butter for 124 years. The company filed for bankruptcy in January.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.