The “NoDak Kodak” inventor

Posted 5/20/23 (Sat)

By Christa Kiedrowski

Published: May. 19, 2023

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota has churned out many notable people, from television host Lawrence Welk to basketball great Phil Jackson to fashion model Cari Dee English and rapper Wiz Khalifa, there’s certainly no shortage of talent. Photographers across the globe may owe some gratitude to one North Dakota man credited with inventing portable photography for all those captured memories.

Cameras as some may remember, all have a tie to one North Dakota man. Ironically, very few photos of him are still around.

David Henderson Houston was a successful North Dakota farmer; however, his success was compounded by his innovative photography patents. “The really famous one is he invented roll film holder. At the time photographers were still using sensitized glass plates instead of flexible photographic negatives they actually hadn’t been invented yet at the time,” said Matt Ely, photo archivist the State Historical Society.

Henderson Houston eventually sold his patent to George Eastman owner of Kodak. Deborah Kates says professional photography still requires a certain level of skill and attention to detail, it has changed dramatically since the days of film. “For one thing when you use film you didn’t know what you were getting. I mean you’d hear those horror tales about a photographer who didn’t have the film hooked up at a wedding and when they got back, they didn’t have any pictures. I mean now we just can see it we can see is our exposure right is our white balance right,” said Deborah Kates, of Deborah Kates Fine Photography.

The State Historical Society has many cameras in their collection, some dating back to the time of David Henderson Houston himself. “What makes this camera very interesting is that this is one of the early cameras and luckily we can take this camera apart and what is kind of fun about these bullseye cameras is that is that these are one of the earlier uses of the reel film. So, you can see here where the film would go, and here on the other side is where the film would start,” said Jenny Yearous, Curator of Collections at the State Historical Society.

Photography has changed so much since David Henderson Houston sold his patent to George Eastman. What once required a large machine like this, now fits in the palm of our hands.

But photography technology isn’t done developing quite yet. “Artificial Intelligence is taking over, A.I., and to be honest a lot of these landscapes you see with these amazing skies and’s not even real. It’s pulled from another image,” said Kates.

It is rumored that the Kodak name is a playoff of North Dakota’s abbreviated name “NoDak”, however, Ely says it’s possible, but the Kodak name was trademarked before Henderson Houston sold his patent to Eastman.

The State Historical Society is always searching for well-preserved items or objects with connections to North Dakota. Right now, they are looking to add things like cabbage patch dolls, 80′s, 90′s and 2000′s fashion clothing and clamshell style VHS tapes to their collections. For a full list of items that they are looking for you can head to their website.

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