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Eastman, George - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: George Eastman

film camera cameras world

Eastman Kodak Company


George Eastman and his company are credited with introducing a simple-to-operate, roll-film camera, originally called the Kodak. Eastman made the camera available to virtually all people, enabling them to see the world and themselves in an entirely new way. Eastman built his company into the world’s largest photographic manufacturing establishment and dominated international markets by a continual pioneering of photographic research and development.

Personal Life

George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854 in the small town of Waterville, New York. The youngest of three children born to Maria and George W. Eastman, he had two older sisters.

Eastman’s father operated a small commercial business college in the nearby city of Rochester, and the family eventually moved there when young Eastman was six years of age. Two years later, the elder George Eastman died suddenly, and the business college closed. Thereafter, Maria Eastman supported the children by renting rooms in their house to boarders. At age 14, Eastman dropped out of school and began to work in an insurance office. He later took a position as a bookkeeper in a bank.

Eastman grew into young adulthood as a shy, short, trim, and precise kind of person. He saw himself as a businessman very early in life. He kept daily detailed accounts of his income and expenses and carefully saved his money. He immersed himself in business matters and remained a bachelor throughout his life.

Eastman made a great fortune, and by the 1920s, when he was in his 60s, he devoted himself to philanthropic efforts, giving away his fortune to educational, medical, and civic organizations. His love of music led to a generous monetary gift to the University of Rochester, which resulted in the founding of the now world-famous Eastman-Rochester School of Music, the only institution ever named after him.

By the age of 78, he had given away most of his fortune. When he sensed in 1932 that his mind and body were failing him, he wrote a simple note, “My work is done,” and took his own life on March 14, 1932.

Career Details

While he was still working for the bank in Rochester, New York, Eastman became seriously interested in photography. At that time it was a clumsy, cumbersome, time-consuming pursuit confined to those who had enough patience to deal with the expensive and complex process of taking photographs. Eastman, however deeply enjoyed this activity. Though he had planned to remain a banker, he abruptly quit his job after failing to receive a promotion and decided to devote himself to his hobby of photography.

Eastman, in putting his total focus on photography, had unwittingly made a pivotal career choice, almost overnight. He had already developed many strengths that would help him succeed in nearly any business. He had strong technical and scientific skills, a commitment to capitalist business values, great personal ambition, and a strong desire to be in control of his work life. Before he quit his bank job, he was already using sophisticated marketing and financial plans to raise money to explore his photographic research.

By 1884, at the age of 30, Eastman had tried many unsuccessful ways to market camera equipment of his own invention. Then he made improvements to a newlyinvented process of taking a series of pictures on strips of commercially-coated paper film. He also decided that the market for his new film would not be limited to professionals but would include amateur photographers as well, since at the time there were roughly ten amateur photographers for every professional.

Eastman created the trademark “Kodak” both for simplicity and to honor his mother’s maiden name, Kilbourn, by using the letter K. In 1888 Eastman began to market the first cameras that were simple enough to be used by anyone. He patented his creation carefully and equipped the Kodak camera with the first thin celluloid film, something most photographers now take for granted. Employing the sales slogan “You press the button, we do the rest,” he began successfully selling this camera to millions of people worldwide.

Since his invention attracted a great deal of competition, Eastman’s strategy was to stay ahead by constantly making improvements on cameras and film so that he was always introducing new and refined products.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Eastman sought to control the entire film industry. He bought up companies wherever he could and developed a monopoly on cameras, plate cameras, printing paper, and motion-picture film. Eventually, the U.S. government moved in and convicted him of creating a monopoly in the film business, Eastman found himself backing off on certain aspects of his enterprise to allow for some fair competition.

Eastman began to get good results from his own research laboratory, where new products for film were developed. It was in this laboratory where color film processing was developed for commercial use.

As a businessman, Eastman also recognized the value of retaining loyal employees. During this “progressive era” in American history, where employee rights were being defined by growing union activities, Eastman created many employee benefit programs. In 1910 he began to establish a profit-sharing program for all employees and in the next decade, created other employee benefits, including health services and retirement funds.

Social and Economic Impact

Eastman spent his entire career as a businessman tangled in legal disputes related to his tendency to monopolize the marketplace and to use other people’s ideas without acknowledging them. One example was when Eastman used the idea of Hannibal Goodwin, an Episcopal minister—to whom he later paid financial redress—to develop his strip-of-film idea, allowing Eastman to place a strip of film on spools that would take multiple photographs with cameras such as the Kodak, the Brownie, and much later, the Instamatic.

Eastman revolutionized aspects of our world with his promotion of the simple camera. Kodak was followed by the famous “Brownie” camera. Designed for children, it had pictures of fairies painted on the side. It sold 250,000 cameras in 1900, during its first year of production.

The easy-to-use, inexpensive camera was clearly a tremendous contribution to science, art, and popular culture. Millions of people were now able to save treasured moments of their families, of their everyday lives, and of their travels. It is difficult to imagine a world without photography and photographs. It was George Eastman’s passion and devotion to his vision that brought the photograph into the everyday lives of ordinary people. He invented, for all practical purposes, the modern, everyday, easy-to-use, point-and-click camera, and the process for quickly developing the film and providing pictures to the photographer.

The so-called ordinary camera has changed the world and how we look at it. The picture, taken as a photograph, has proven to be worth, indeed, a thousand words.

Eastman pursued the development of his company as a very deliberate, dedicated businessman. He used every known business strategy to enhance the sales of his products. Eastman remained ahead of his competition, advertised intelligently, created affordable products of good quality, created a loyal work force who shared in his profits, and maintained an up-to-date research and development unit of his company that constantly introduced new and improved products to the marketplace.

Overall, the strategy was to place Eastman camera equipment in the hands of the everyday citizen, as well as the professionals. He sought to saturate the world with cameras, even to the point of having a monopoly on the industry. His efforts to capture world markets seem to have succeeded very well.

Chronology: George Eastman

1854: Born in Waterville, New York.

1888: Began marketing the first easy-to-use cameras for nonprofessionals.

1900: Introduced the “Brownie” camera for children.

1910: Began profit-sharing program for employees.

1928: Marketed first Kodak using color film.

1932: Died.

During the last 20 years of his life, Eastman gave away his money in philanthropic gifts to universities and to medical and civic organizations.

Eastman, Mary Henderson (1818–1887) - Sioux History [next] [back] Earth II

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