Frank A. Brownell was born in Canada and moved to Rochester in 1875 after high school graduation. Starting as a cabinet-making apprentice, he put his wood and metal working skills together and began manufacturing cameras. George Eastman contracted with Brownell to work on the woodworking and assembly of Eastman-Walker Roll Film Holders. This relationship expanded and the Brownell Manufacturing Company produced all the Kodak cameras between 1888 and October 1902.
Brownell was the holder of many patents and was responsible for many camera improvements. He was the designer and manufacturer of the Brownie camera. He was bought out by the Eastman Kodak Company in October of 1902 but stayed on in the position of Camera Design Expert.
He resigned this position in 1906 and entered the motor manufacturing business. His businesses were at several locations along St. Paul Street and in 1905-6 he built a modern factory at 634 Lexington Avenue. This building still exists and is on the west side of Wren Street. The City Directory of 1907 lists the Brownell residence as 7 Lakeview Park. In 1907 he incorporated as the F.A. Brownell Motor Company. The company manufactured gasoline engines ranging from 14 to 150 horsepower. These engines were used in automobiles, trucks, boats and tractors. Brownell published a catalog in 1907 with pictures and technical details of his motors. After a financial reversal, the Brownell company was acquired in 1914 by the Rochester Motor Company, a manufacturer of automobile engines.