- NAME: George Eastman
- OCCUPATION: Entrepreneur, Inventor
- BIRTH DATE: July 12, 1854
- DEATH DATE: March 14, 1932
- Did You Know?: Although Eastman invented amateur photography, there are very few pictures of him, and he often went unrecognized in his hometown of Rochester, which he had helped become a thriving community.
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Waterville, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: Rochester, New York
Best Known For
George Eastman invented the first Kodak camera, helping make photography accessible to the public. His company remains one of the largest in the industry.
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"What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are."
"I don't believe in men waiting until they are ready to die before using any of their money for helpful purposes."
Named after his father, George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854, in Waterville, New York. George Sr. had started a small business school, Eastman Commercial College, in Rochester, where he moved the family in 1860. But he died suddenly when George Jr. was 8. One of young George's two older sisters was wheelchair-bound from polio and died when George was 16.
George's mother, Mary, took in boarders to support the family, and George dropped out of high school at age 14 to add to the family income. He began as a messenger and office boy for insurance companies and studied accounting at home to qualify for a higher salary. He eventually landed a job as bookkeeper at the Rochester Savings Bank.
When George was 24, he planned to visit Santo Domingo and, on the advice of a colleague, decided to document the trip. But the photography equipment alone was enormous, heavy and costly. He bought all the equipment, but never took the trip.
Instead he began researching how to make photography less cumbersome and easier for the average person to enjoy. After seeing a formula for a "dry plate" emulsion in a British publication, and getting tutelage from two local amateur photographers, Eastman formulated a gelatin-based paper film and a device for coating dry plates.
He resigned from his bank job after launching his fledgling photography company in April 1880. In 1885, he headed to the patent office with a roll holder device that he and camera inventor William Hall Walker had developed. This allowed cameras to be smaller, and cheaper.
Eastman also came up with the name Kodak, because he believed products should have their own identity, free from association with anything else. So in 1888, they launched the first Kodak camera (a few years later, he amended the company name to Eastman Kodak).
Their slogan was "You press the button, we do the rest," which meant the camera was sent in to the company after the 100 exposures on the roll of film had been used; they developed it and sent it back to the customer. In 1889 Eastman hired chemist Henry Reichenbach to develop a type of flexible film that could be more easily inserted into cameras. Thomas Edison adapted the film for use in the motion-picture camera he was developing, further propelling the success of Eastman's company.
The Brownie camera was launched in 1900 to target new hobbyist photographers, children—and with its $1 price tag, it also became a favorite of servicemen. Eastman supported the military in other ways as well, developing unbreakable glass lenses for gas masks, and a special camera for taking pictures from planes during World War I.
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