America at Home: 1950s Kodachromes

America at Home

1:   1950s Kodachromes

Kodachrome photograph: “Wife of Nazi officer in conversation with Adolf Hitler”. 1939.  Photo Hugo Jaeger.  From Kodachrome: The American Invention of Our World.

Kodachrome photograph: “Gene Autry and his wife Ina Mae Spivey in front of their home”.   Hollywood, California ca. 1949.    Photo source Corbis.  No photographer I.D.  From Kodachrome: The American Invention of Our World.

“Hobbyist” Kodachrome photograph.  From Pete Grafton Collection

Kodachrome: The American Invention of our World was the inspired title of a collection of professionally taken Kodachromes edited by Els Rijper and published by Delano Greenidge Edition, New York, 2002.  Colour transparency photography had first been introduced in France in 1907 – others followed – coated on glass plates in a limited colour palette, but it was Kodak’s Kodachrome introduction in 1935 that brought stunning colour in an easy format that could be used by anyone, anywhere, without the use of heavy cameras and tripods.   The German manufacturer Agfa introduced a colour transparency film of similar convenience the following year, 1936, but as can be seen in the domestic photo of Hitler above, Kodachrome was the preferred colour film amongst many German professional photographers, until their supply ended when the United States became a war ally of Britain in 1941.

The use of these films by amateur photographers developed after the end of the Second World War.  In the 1950s it was mostly “hobbyists” or those with a bit of money who shot Kodachromes.  Compared with black and white film, Kodachromes were expensive.  The film was expensive to buy and to have processed.  And quality 35mm format cameras such as a Kodak Retina or a Leica or a decent medium format camera like a Rolleiflex were expensive to buy (Kodachrome film was available in both formats).  To give a “slide show” to family and friends meant additional outlay: a projector and a screen.  There were also storage boxes to be bought for the Kodachromes, made of good quality wood.


The following collection of American 1950s Kodachromes (and a couple of Ektachromes) are from the Pete Grafton Collection.  None have been cropped and any annotation on the slide mount has been reproduced.  Towards the end of the 1950s Kodachrome mounts were date stamped by Kodak, and these have been given beneath the photo.  Bear in mind, however, that a cassette of 35mm Kodachrome could have been sitting in the camera for a few months before – with still several shots still to be taken – before it was sent to be processed.


Ten months to the 1950s…..

Mary & Katie (13 Wks.) 1/2/49.

Mary & Katie (13 Wks.) 1/2/49

Katie 7 months.  May 5,  ’49.  19 lbs, 28″ long.

Katie seems to be looking at an expensive Rolleiflex camera carelessly lying  on the grass, whilst Dad (it is assumed) photos her with an equally expensive 35mm camera.


The   1950s

Birth of a (post-war) Nation.


Mother, Ed and Pat.  Nov. 1950.

Mum, Linda, Mother, Pat. Nov 1950.

Mike and Ed,  June 17, 1955.

Ed, Pat, Mike.  August 1955.




Party Time



On her lap the young woman has a Columbia Records Original Cast recording of the musical play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which ended its Broadway run in September, 1951.  The film version, with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe, was released in 1953.

The bottle being held is Seagrams Seven Crown whiskey.


The blue cast on the photo is typical of when a Kodachrome transparency (slide) film meant for internal flash has been used out of doors.  Kodachrome film came either as ‘Daylight’ or ‘Type F’ (for flash).  The other photos, below,  that the photographer shot indoors on Type F, when the sun had set worked out OK.




Family & Relatives

December 1959.   Kodak date stamp.

Middleton, Sept. 56.

April 1958.  Kodak date stamp.


Where The Boys Are


Friends & Colleagues 

Jean, Geoff, Bob Taylor, Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island.   8/57.

An expensive medium format Rolleiflex camera rests on the gentleman’s tummy. Mackinac Island is in Lake Huron, Michigan.

Fungus marks on Kodachrome, caused by damp storage.


Walla Collage is in Walla Walla, Washington.



Ouch!   Ektachrome:  What Happened?

Ektachrome brought to market by Kodak in the 1940s was a transparency (slide) film that could be used in low light situations, making it more versatile than Kodachrome.  It was also more versatile as it could be processed at local non Kodak film labs, giving a quicker turn around time, whereas Kodachrome had to be sent away by mail to a Kodak film lab.  Ektachrome could also be developed at home by hobbyists with the right colour developer.

The versatility of Ektachrome came at a price:  poor processing whether at lab or at home caused the transparencies to fade to a characteristic red/orange.  Even when stored away from heat it could fade within 8 years.  Kodak reformulated Ektachrome, it is said, in the early 1960s to make it more bullet proof to sloppy lab processing.  However, there are plenty of Ektachromes that properly processed have survived with full colour from the 1950s.

With Kodachrome, variations in the colour quality can be caused by the photographer getting the light exposure wrong, the time of day the photograph was taken, a poor quality camera lens, or the photographer having forgotten to remove a filter not suited for colour photos.   Whatever the cause you will never see an old Kodachrome looking  like the Ektachrome above.

Kodachrome film had a different and more complex emulsion needing a different chemical processing, which is why it had to be sent to specific Kodak photo labs. Outwith the USA most developed countries by the 1960s had a specific Kodak Photo Laboratory that the film had to be sent to.   Many of the Colour Slide Sets sold in tourist spots in the 1950s and 1960s that turn up on ebay have faded or discoloured to some extent.  They were not shot on Kodachrome.

A 68 year old Kodachrome, scanned in, with no corrections or adjustments, on April 10, 2017.   Mary and baby Katie. February 1st, 1949, unknown location, USA.

End of Interlude


Excursions and Vacations

Washington, D.C.

Ektachrome slide.

Niagara Falls.

Wanoma at Houston Zoo, Feb 1958.

Wanoma is enjoying a packet of Popcorn.

Believed to be Riverside, California.  Singer Frankie Laine is topping the bill at the Hotel Riverside.

Mrs John Herman Weber Sr. & Jr. looking for shells, Gulf in background.  Galveston, Tex. 29.12.57.


Service to Country

Oliver Gilbert. 1953.

Note the Mourning Band on the left sleeve of soldier on right.



White Poinsettia, Spring 1955.

Wanoma in rose garden.  Tyler, Texas. Oct 18 1958.

First Magnolia bloom on tree.   June 4, 1955.

Coral Gables, Fla.  (Florida)   Allen’s.   Jan ’58.


Doggies and a Cat


Thanksgiving and Christmas

Reve Hammons carving Turkey – Houston Geophysical Club. 1957.

Turkey Dinner, Houston Geophysical Club, 1957.

Wanoma stringing on tree lights.  Tyler, Texas. 1958.

Norman Taylor, Dec 25, 1953.

Christmas and a present of a projector screen, for a slide show, plus a spinning top for the toddler, and an art print for the wall.


RIP Kodachrome 1935 – 2009


 – BJP (British Journal of Photography), 24.06.09.


Transparency (aka Slide Film or Reversal Film) film is still made – by Fuji, and their Fujichrome Velvia in 35mm, medium format and large sheet film sizes  has the same saturated colours as Kodachrome.  The colours are different, but it is the closest you will get to Kodachrome.  Face and skin tones can be a bit purple/red.  Fujichrome Provia is an alternative for more natural skin tones. Below is a photo taken on a cheap camera using Fujichrome Velvia.

Glasgow street scene, June 2007.  Fuji Velvia film, taken on a cheap 1930s box camera: Zeiss Box Tengor.  photo Pete Grafton

Pete Grafton’s 1930s Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor camera, at top. Photo taken in 2008.  Note that Fuji no longer makes Fujichrome Sensia.

In the 21st century you can get your Fuji transparency film processed, and ask for them to be sent to you in cut strips, unmounted.  You then use an economically priced Epson Photo Scanner to scan your transparency film strip into your computer, edit the photos and take it from there.  And reversal film (like all film) can be archived for years.  The  Film – the ‘images’ as photos are often called these days – will remain accessible for years to come.  How many Photo CDs can no longer be read on a computer? How do you open a Floppy Disc?  Film lasts.  Digitally, there will be no equivalent photos of a Mary and Katie taken in 2017 surviving to 2085.

Mary and Katie, February, 1949.  Kodachrome. USA.


Next, mid to late May 2017:

America at Home 2:

  1960s Kodachromes



Never miss a Photo Post – Click on the FOLLOW button to receive email notification of every new collection of photos.


This entry was posted in People, USA, Vintage Photos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s