Our crack team of economists tells us that photo booth rentals are a growing trend. Photo booths consistently make up 2-3% of our monthly requests, and have made up a larger share over time.
This Google trends graph for “photo booth rental” searches is an interesting look into the popularity of photo booths over time.
We enjoyed this idea for about three minutes – after all, photo booths are the best way to remember tipsy weddings and your friends’ poor facial hair choices. But then we dug deeper and learned that the photo booth trend began its meteoric rise in the era of flappers and silent movies. Turns out, the photo booth is an integral part of twentieth century history.
What If You Had No Idea What You Looked Like?
Before the invention of practical photography in 1839, most people didn’t know what they looked like. The only way to see yourself was in a mirror and mirrors were reserved for the wealthy. Your photograph options weren’t much cheaper, so for most of the 19th century recognizing your own face was the provenance of the rich.
But by the early 1900s, industrious sorts were making inroads toward fast, cheap photography, so the masses could learn the deep and abiding satisfaction of a well-positioned selfie. To that end, the first sustainable photo booth was introduced to the world by a boy who dreamed of photography as he came of age in the deep snow of Siberia.
Jazz Age Selfies
Anatol Josepho immigrated from Russia to New York in 1912, where he began to evolve the idea of a faster and less costly way to make photos available to anyone who wanted them. He patented his automatic coin operated photographic machine in 1925 and promptly stuck it in Times Square, where people lined up for blocks. Thousands of people a day would crowd into the world’s first photo booth to have their picture taken – 25 cents for a strip of eight.
Among the first patrons of what became known as “Broadway’s greatest quarter snatcher” were New York’s governor and a senator. In April of 1927, Time magazine reported that 280,000 patrons had used the booth in the first six months. It was open until 4 a.m. with much of its bustling business happening at night. Reserving his spot in history as the quintessential immigration success story, Josepho sold his design in 1928 for one million dollars – the equivalent of over twelve million dollars today – and promptly donated half the money to charity.
Conquering the Nation
Photo booths spread from Times Square to arcades, amusement parks, state fairs, and five-and-dimes around the country. Shyster competition sprung up, booths that hid an employee who would quickly develop the strips and push them out the slot to unsuspecting customers.
In 1931, a Canadian named David McCowan was able to reduce the size of the machines. He arrived at a trade show in Chicago, but was met at the elevator by Al Capone with the news that he controlled all vending machines. McCowan stepped right back into the elevator and hustled straight back to Canada.
Within twenty years, there were more than 30,000 photo booths in the United States, thanks largely to World War II soldiers exchanging photos with loved ones. Photo booths began starring in movies – the first in a 1928 film called Lonesome and later in the 1953 film The Band Wagon, where Fred Astair dances in, poses for the flashing bulb, then dances out again (as per Fred Astair’s habit).
In the 1950s, Woolworth’s had to remove the curtains from their photo booths because couples were getting too adventurous for common decency. (Think Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone in the Aerosmith’s Crazy.) But the photo booth had survived the Great Depression and it wasn’t going to crumble at the sight of a little semi-public romping.
The Great Equalizer
Photo booths have captured the masses – some on camera for the first time in their lives – as well as some of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century. Artists used them to document their own mortality, the mafia monopolized them, women strip for them, and dreamers marvel at the anonymous faces of decades past. A kind of magic happens when you close the curtains of a photo booth and wait for the bulb to begin flashing.
Before quickly flashing bulbs, people’s true selves emerge – telling self portraits of our silly, sweet, and risqué sides. Photo booths weathered the vicissitudes of time, including the vanishing of old arcades and the dawn of the digital age.
Now that we’ve hit the internet era, photo booths are the tenth most popular request category on Thumbtack. People want them for weddings and birthdays and office parties and festivals.
Among the top 20 cities for photo booth rental requests for far this year have included Detroit, MI, Philadelphia, PA, Riverside, CA and Los Angeles, CA. Boston is the most expensive city for photo booth rental with a fixed price average of $677, followed by Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and DC. Riverside is the cheapest at $417, followed by Orlando, LA, and San Diego.
Among states with the biggest demand, Massachusetts is the most expensive, followed by Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Maryland. California, Arizona, and Florida are the least expensive.
This month, for the first time in Thumbtack’s history, photo booth demand surpassed the demand for wedding photography. Maybe brides are contemplating shoving their entire family into a photo booth to save everyone the stiff necks that accompany two hours of desperately clinging to a frozen smile. Josepho must be thrilled.
What about you…. have you ever hired a photo booth pro or rented a booth for an event? Let us know in the comments!