November 19 stands out as a particularly colorful day in the history of print publishing. On this day in 1893, the first newspaper color supplement was published in the Sunday New York World. On the same date 35 years later, Time magazine published its first full-color cover. The subject was Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

November 19 stands out as a particularly colorful day in the history of print publishing. On this day in 1893, the first newspaper color supplement was published in the Sunday New York World. On the same date 35 years later, Time magazine published its first full-color cover. The subject was Japanese Emperor Hirohito.


Colorful media images are something we take for granted these days, but only a few decades ago, they were far less common. If you happen to be over 45 years old, you can likely remember black and white televisions as well as the first time your local newspaper had a color photograph on the front page.


Way back in 1861 the ubiquity of high definition video from a cellular telephone might have seemed akin to witchcraft, but that’s the year James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish theoretical physicist, composed the first color photograph.


Collaborating with his partner, Thomas Sutton, at the Royal Institution in London, Maxwell took three separate exposures of a tartan ribbon through red, green and blue filters. The developed negatives were projected through separate "magic" lanterns, using the same colored filters to create a single image and the principle of color photography was born.


It would take another three decades before American inventor Frederick Eugene Ives unveiled his three-color separation process (and camera for such) capable of creating plates for color photo engravings.


Between Ives’ 1892 successes and 1935 several different color processes were attempted. Most produced unsatisfactory images. Typical of these was a process invented by the German, Rudolph Fischer. His "subtractive" color process used couplers, color producing substances, embedded in three film layers sensitive to red, green, and blue colored light. While this was a major development in color photography, it yielded poor image quality because the couplers did not stay in their respective film layers.


That changed when Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes working at Kodak Research Laboratories created a film with three different color-sensitive emulsion layers, and which incorporated dye couplers in the processing chemicals. This eliminated the previous problem of dyes migrating between layers. Godowsky’s and Mannes’ invention was Kodachrome film.


For decades Kodachrome film was the gold standard of color photography. Professional photographers all over the globe took advantage of the film’s lush, accurate color reproduction to capture the full beautiful spectrum of everything from dung beetles to super-models.


On December 29, 2010, the great reign of Kodachrome finally came to an end. Its run stopped in the inauspicious community of Parsons, Kansas. Parsons was home to Dwayne’s Photo, the last place on Earth to get Kodachrome film developed.


Interestingly an Arkansan, a railroad worker named Jim DeNike, was among the last to have his film developed. According to the New York Times, DeNike had driven to Parsons to pick up 1,580 rolls of film that he’d paid $15,798 to have developed. For the trip home, DeNike’s old Pontiac became a rolling gallery of more than 50,000 color slides. He explained that every picture inside was of railroad trains; and that he had borrowed money from his father’s retirement account to pay for developing them.


Of course very successful professional photographers need not sweat the death of Kodachrome. Technology has stepped in to save the day. With the improvements in digital photography, film of any stripe is hardly missed. As with almost anything, the only governor is price. Any big box store can set you up with a nifty point-and-shoot for a hundred bucks, but if you’ve got $50,000 burning a hole in your camera bag, Hasselblad recently updated its 200 megapixel H4D-200MS. If you want the "upgrades" that’s another seven grand.