The First Man to Create the Term
Who was the first to say “Cheese” is a question you will surely get in every single photography facts quiz. So let’s make sure your team scores that point!
The fun trivia about saying cheese is that we don’t actually know who the first person to say it was! It was probably coined on the spot by some photographer, but the likelihood of us ever finding out their name is slim to none.
We do know one fun photography fact, though. The first notion about “saying cheese” appeared in the 1940s. An article from October 1943 published in The Big Spring Daily Herald and called “Need To Put On A Smile?”
Ambassador Davies was more than happy to share this tidbit with the world: “It’s simple. Just say, “Cheese!” It’s an automatic smile. I learned that from a politician.”
The “politician” in question just might be none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt, who Ambassador Davies served under.
The second bit of trivia about saying cheese pertains to the “why” part of our question. It really has nothing to do with this delicious dairy product. It all comes down to something much simpler. The first part of the word makes you naturally bring your teeth together, and then the long “e” sound makes you part your lips, forming something close to a smile.
Significant Development in Its Timeline
To be completely honest, we didn’t always showcase our pearly whites for the camera. Another photography fact worth knowing just might be that in the 19th century, only drunkards, peasants, and children used to smile for the camera. Everyone else had to put on a neutral face, which was deemed dignified and desirable at the time.
Victorian photographers actually used a different phrase with different food. Their equivalent of “Say Cheese” was, in fact, “Say Prunes.” Why? Because it resulted in people tightening their lips, and a small, tightly controlled mouth was considered beautiful. That makes perfect sense since dental hygiene wasn’t exactly a priority in the 1800s.
Photography developed over the years, but it had its fair share of technical limitations. For example, the long exposure time. 1826 brought the very first photograph ever shot: the Window at Le Gras, which took, believe it or not, 8 hours to expose. Then in 1839, Louis Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype and managed to shorten this time down to just 15 minutes. Can you imagine holding a smile for a solid 15 minutes? That would be some Olympic-level muscle exercise.
So when did people switch from prunes to cheese? Around the middle of the 20th century, photography became faster and much more casual. And with those changes came another photography fact. In 1888 George Eastman founded Kodak, and it was Kodak’s $1 Brownie camera that, quite frankly, changed the face of photography only two years later. Ordinary people could afford to buy them, and they were so simple to use that people started capturing everyday moments. And with them came smiles.
Say Cheese Ripple Effect
“You push the button; we do the rest.” That was Kodak’s slogan at the time. And it worked wonders! Kodak cameras, inexpensive and easy to use, brought the joy of photography to the masses.
Kodak, of course, proceeded to seize the moment by advertising their cameras for all occasions, from super casual to highly formal, and they also marketed smiling faces in photographs. They were most successful, and their marketing efforts likely contributed to the famous “Say Cheese” moment.
With the invention of film came the film industry. Even though most movies made before the 1930s were silent, we could easily see movie posters with the then-famous “gasp” smile. Furthermore, in the movies themselves, we could see our favorite movie stars smiling. With the growing influence of Hollywood, it is not difficult to conclude how saying cheese and smiling in photographs became all the rage.
Countries that Adopted the Words
Ready for yet another Trivia about Saying Cheese? We bet you are!
Not all countries actually use the expression “Say Cheese!” when people are having their photos taken. Some of the quite amusing alternatives involving food are the Chinese “eggplant,” the Norwegian “orange,” the Spanish “potato,” Bulgarian “cabbage,” Polish “jam,” German “cheesecake,” or “sausage,” etc. Meanwhile, most Latin American Countries switched to drinks and now tend to use the phrase “Say ‘whiskey.”
Moreover, there are a number of countries which reference a bird! Serbia, Hungary, and Croatia are some of them. It probably stems from a Victorian tradition in which the photographer had a golden mechanical bird attached to their camera. The “birdies” were animated props that could be made to squawk or warble and, in doing so, attract a child’s attention. The photographer would tell children to “watch the birdie.”
So what do English-speaking countries use? Well, the U.K. and U.S. still mostly use “say cheese.” But it is not only the British and American people that stuck to the dairy product. People in the Czech Republic, Greece, Switzerland, Japan, Turkey, and Slovakia also “Say cheese” or just “Cheese” though in their own languages, not in English, of course.
Do People Still Use It Today?
From prunes to cheese and from cheese to …? Times brings new trends. So do we still say “Say Cheese”? We do, but it seems a lot less prevalent than before. Nowadays, it is an instruction we mostly use when taking photos of children. Or teens and adults, but mostly because the majority of people find this phrase rather “cheesy” and will laugh at it because of how old-fashioned it is starting to become.
Photographers these days quite often prefer to use something like “Say, one, two, three” because it has the same effect as saying cheese. So perhaps we can argue that this phrase may have become a bit outdated.
Finally, many argue that the word “cheese” actually makes us smile by positioning our mouths in a rather unnatural shape. So, are there any “non-dairy’’ alternatives? Many photographers advise having people instead say words that end in the ‘uh’ sound. Words such as “yoga” or “mocha.” Supposedly, such words will stretch the mouth into a more natural-looking smile shape. Or just make a bad joke to make people burst out laughing, whichever you find easier!