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The age of photography was born 150 years ago in 1839 and photography today has become a $20 billion industry in the United States alone.

There were some 9 million cameras bought in the United States last year, according to an article in the current issue of Popular Mechanics, and Americans took more than 15 billion pictures, about one-third of the world's total.Photofinishing itself is a $4 billion business in the United States. If all the labs were a single company, it would rank 94th on the Fortune 500 list.

Photography was born in Paris in January 1839 with Louis Daguerre's "photogenic drawings," the first practical photographic process. It was a far cry from today's computer-assisted point-and-shoot cameras. Daguerre's photographs, recorded on a silver-coated copper plate, yielded excellent but one-of-a-kind positive images that could not be reproduced.

Britain's William Talbot developed a process using silver-coated paper to create a negative image - light and dark tones reversed - within the camera. The "negative" could be transferred to a second sheet of sensitized paper to yield a positive image, making multiple images possible.

Early photo subjects had to sit uncomfortably still for portraits. By the 1850s, exposure-making was nearly instantaneous in daylight, thanks to a new light-sensitive material. The process remained complicated. A heavy glass plate had to be sensitized in liquid chemicals, then exposed in the camera while still wet - all in the dark. Then the exposed plate had to be developed immediately.

It was under such burdensome conditions that Matthew Brady, America's first photojournalist, captured his compelling images of the Civil War.

It took a young bank clerk named George Eastman to put photography on the move. In 1879, working in his mother's kitchen in Rochester, N.Y., he came up with "dry" plates - presensitized glass plates that could be stored for spontaneous loading and exposure, then developed at leisure.

His next product, in 1885, was a dry, lightweight multi-exposure roll of chemically sensitized paper. To use the paper, Eastman designed the Kodak roll-film camera in 1888.

The Kodak cost $25, nearly twice the price of a man's suit, and came loaded with 100 exposures. When the roll was exhausted, the owner mailed the entire camera and $10 to the factory, which returned small circular prints and a reloaded camera.

By 1900, Eastman had replaced light-sensitive paper rolls with film and introduced the $1 Brownie camera, opening photography to the masses.

In 1912, Missourian Guy Smith envisioned 35mm film pierced at the edges by sprocket holes. The first flashbulb popped around 1925 and the electronic flash was in the works by 1940.

Although color photography was possible as early as the 1890s, it wasn't practical until the advent of Eastman-Kodak's Kodachrome in 1936, with color print film arriving in 1942.

On the 150th anniversary of Daguerre's announcement, a new development has hit the market. Cannon is selling a camera that records images on a magnetic disc instead of film. No processing is necessary. Instead of projecting slides, we will display our video stills on a color TV.