George Eastman biography
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.
Inventor of the Snapshot
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.
In all, Eastman's innovations started the amateur photography craze that is still going strong today.
Although his company was essentially a monopoly for many years, Eastman was not the average corporate industrialist. He was the first to develop and implement the concept of profit sharing, and, in addition, he made an outright gift from his own money to each of his workers. In 1919, he added what is known now as stock options.
His generosity extended beyond his own business, as he gave to the struggling Mechanics Institute of Rochester, which became the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as M.I.T. (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). His high regard for education in general led him to contribute to University of Rochester, and the Hampton and Tuskegee institutes. "The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education," he said.
Dental clinics both in Rochester and in Europe were also a focus of his concern. "It is a medical fact," he said, "that children can have a better chance in life with better looks, better health and more vigor if the teeth, nose, throat and mouth are taken proper care of at the crucial time of childhood."
In all, it is estimated that Eastman contributed more than $100 million of his wealth for philanthropic purposes during his lifetime.
Death and Legacy
An avid cyclist, Eastman noticed a progressive immobility, the result of a degenerative condition that involved a hardening of the cells in the lower spinal cord. He also suffered from severe diabetes. So on March 14, 1932, at age 77, he took his own life with a single gunshot to the head. A note he left said, "My work is done. Why wait?"
He never married or had a family, citing being too busy and too poor when he was younger. He was an enthusiastic art collector on his long trips to Europe, and a music lover, establishing the prestigious Eastman School of Music.
Overall, it is believed that he enjoyed his life, and he gave countless millions the opportunity to enjoy theirs with lasting memories captured on film.