GEORGE EASTMAN Biography - Pioneers, Explorers & inventors


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George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, is heralded as the father       
of popular photography and inventor of motion-picture film. He was born in 1854       
in the Central New York village of Waterville. That same year, his father,             
George Washington Eastman, established Eastman?s Commercial College in Rochester.     
After many trips between Waterville and Rochester, the elder Eastman moved the         
family to Rochester in 1860. Two years later, he died suddenly, leaving his           
family with few financial resources.                                                   
George Eastman left school at age 14 to support his mother, Maria Kilbourn             
Eastman, and two older sisters, Ellen and Kate. He first worked at a local             
insurance company and then was hired as a junior clerk by the Rochester Savings       
In 1878, one of Eastman?s colleagues suggested that Eastman, 23, take a camera         
on an upcoming vacation with this mother to Santo Domingo. Eastman bought a           
photographic outfit, and although he never made the journey, he became fully           
engrossed in photography.                                                             
The weight, awkwardness, and cost of a photographic outfit soon led Eastman to         
experiment on improvements. Unhappy with the excessive work and materials             
required to take and develop photographs, Eastman searched for a simpler way to       
develop negatives. He spent three years in his mother?s kitchen experimenting         
with gelatin emulsions. By 1880, Eastman had invented and patented a dry-plate         
coating machine.                                                                       
In 1881, with the financial backing of Henry Strong, Eastman and Strong formed         
the Eastman Dry Plate Company. Eastman, treasurer of his newly formed company,         
resigned from the Rochester Savings Bank. In 1884, the Eastman Dry Plate Company       
was reincorporated as the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. They then patented       
and produced rollable film as an alternative to the glass negative.                   
Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company in 1892, an organization that               
revolutionized photography through simplification. With a series of landmark           
innovations, the company created small, easy-to-use cameras like the famous           
Kodak camera introduced in 1888 with the motto: You press the button, we do the       
rest. The company also invented a flexible film that helped launch the motion         
picture industry. Today Eastman is known as the man who brought the joy of             
photography to millions around the world.                                             
In 1888 Eastman invented the word ?Kodak? as a distinctive name for a film             
camera he was developing. He needed a strong, short, distinctive word that would       
also meet foreign trademark laws, and the letter ?K? was a personal favorite of       
Eastman?s. According to him, ?It became a question of trying out a great number       
of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ?K.? The           
word ?Kodak? is the result.?                                                           
The first Kodak camera, costing $25, came out in 1888. It came with 100               
exposures and the user could send the camera back to Kodak for the film to be         
processed and developed. It was not until 1900 that the first of the famous ?Brownie? 
cameras was introduced. It cost $1 and used film that sold for 15 cents a roll.       
The ?Brownie? camera was easy for anyone to use and it made photography               
available to people of all ages.                                                       
Eastman succeeded in bringing the Eastman Kodak Company to the forefront of the       
photography industry. By 1902, he was ready to begin building his ?dream house.?       
Eastman wanted a house like the Root House in Buffalo, N.Y., with its Colonial         
Revival-style architecture and light-colored Roman bricks.                             
Eastman hired architect J. Foster Warner and plans for the Eastman mansion began       
in 1902. Although Warner was the principal architect, Eastman remained involved       
in every aspect of the construction. He required the use of high quality               
materials and paid close attention to detail. The total cost of the construction       
was $335,000, and the 35,000-square-foot, 50-room house included state-of-the-art     
heating and electricity, telephones, a centralized clock system, and an elevator.     
Eastman then hired the premiere New York firm McKim, Mead, and White to design         
the interior of the house. Previously, they worked on Andrew Carnegie?s house in       
New York and the White House. Mr. Eastman?s mansion was completed in 1905, and         
he celebrated with a gala celebration that October.                                   
Eastman was also a very generous man, and during his life he donated more than $100   
million to educational and arts institutions, public parks, hospitals, dental         
clinics, and charitable organizations around the world. Education interested Mr.       
Eastman very much, and he even contacted the presidents of several universities       
to ask for the names of young men who could come work for Kodak.                       
Throughout his life, Eastman donated nearly $20 million to the Massachusetts           
Institute of Technology. The Mechanics Institute, now the Rochester Institute of       
Technology, received a gift of $625,000 in 1901. Eastman also gave approximately       
$2 million each to Tuskegee Institute and to Hampton Institute, both Southern         
and predominantly African-American colleges.                                           
Eastman felt a strong tie to the community of Rochester. He founded the               
Community Chest (which later became the local United Way), planned for a school       
of music, and pioneered the first employee profit-sharing program in America. At       
the time of his death, he left most of his estate, including his house, to the         
University of Rochester.                                                               
Eastman was a successful business man and a generous philanthropist, yet he           
enjoyed his leisure time. Before his retirement in 1925, he worked long hours at       
Kodak. After he retired, Eastman pursued adventure in the American West and in         
the African jungle.                                                                   
One of Eastman?s best known trips was his safari to Kenya taken between March         
and October 1926. He traveled with his personal doctor and the famous wildlife         
researchers and photographers Martin and Osa Johnson.                                 
While in Africa, Eastman met with Carl Akeley, a naturalist and taxidermist from       
the United States. Akeley was collecting specimens to begin the African Hall for       
the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. These meetings secured       
the inclusion of donations from Eastman?s safari for the museum?s collections.         
Eastman went on a second safari, up the Nile to Uganda, in 1928. On this trip,         
he bagged two of his most highly prized trophies, a white rhinoceros and an           
elephant. When he returned to Rochester, Eastman displayed the head of the             
elephant in the conservatory of his house. A replica is exhibited in its               
original location in the mansion.                                                     
Eastman enjoyed his many traveling adventures. After he returned from his second       
trip to Africa however, he was diagnosed with a progressive and irreversible           
spinal disease. On March 14, 1932, Eastman ended his own life. In a note to           
friends, Eastman wrote, ?My work is done. Why wait??                                   
Although he believed his work was done, Eastman?s company continued to expand.         
Today Eastman Kodak Company is one of the world?s largest, most successful film