George Eastman Biography (1854-1932)


Born in Waterville, New York, George Eastman quit school at the age of fourteen to help support his family, working first as a messenger for an insurancecompany and then as a bank clerk. In l878 as he planned a vacation, a friendsuggested he take along a camera. Eastman took the suggestion to heart, equipping himself with the paraphernalia then required in the wet-plate process ofphotography: a sizable camera, a heavy tripod, a plate holder and a number of the fragile and cumbersome glass plates, and the developing necessities, among them chemicals and a portable tent-like darkroom--a "packhorse load," asEastman himself called it. That firsthand encounter with the complexities andinconvenience of the photographic method of the day launched Eastman on hisquest to simplify the process and make it accessible and enjoyable to the general public.

Eastman learned soon after that an English photographer, Dr. Richard Leach Maddox, had invented dry photographic plates in 1871 to replace the glass plates, which had to be smeared with an emulsion of wet chemicals before a photo could be taken. Experimenting in his mother's kitchen after work hours, Eastman devised a means of coating glass plates with a gelatin emulsion. After theemulsion dried, the plate would last for long periods of time. In 1879 Eastman sailed to England and obtained the first patent for his invention and received the corresponding American patent within the next year.

The following year Eastman started a company to produce and market dry photographic plates, and by the end of 1881 he had a business partner and six employees. He quit his position at the bank to devote his full attention to his photographic business. In 1884 Eastman patented photographic film, on which theemulsion was smeared on paper. That same year Eastman and an associate invented a container for rolls of negative paper.

The inventor's love of the letter K led him to create the name Kodak for his company. In 1888, the Number One Kodak Camera was introduced ata cost of $25, which covered film for a hundred exposures, a shoulder strap,and a case. After the film was shot, the camera's owner sent the camera backto Kodak, which then developed and printed the film, inserted new film in the camera, and returned everything to the owner. Kodak's slogan in those dayswas apt: You press the button--we do the rest.

In 1889, Eastman abandoned paper and turned to a tougher material, celluloidnitrite-- celluloid --to produce flexible transparent film with the help of astaff research scientist. Soon thereafter, Thomas Alva Edison used this typeof film to realize his dream of a practical motion picture process. (Celluloid proved to be flammable, however. When Kodak came out with a home movie camera and projector in 1923, it used 16 mm movie film on a nonflammable base ofcellulose acetate.)

Eastman's company produced new products in rapid succession: the first folding camera in 1890, film that could be loaded in daylight in 1891, a pocket camera with a window that showed the number of exposures in the camera in 1895,and a folding pocket camera in 1898. In 1900 Kodak introduced the Brownie camera at a cost of one dollar; a roll of film was fifteen cents.

In his lifetime, George Eastman gave away nearly $100 million, including $20million to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and $51 million to the University of Rochester. He also established the Rochester Dental Dispensary and dental clinics in several large European cities.

By the time he was in his 70s, he had given away the majority of his wealth.He never married and had no close relationships, and on March 14, 1932, afterleaving a simple note--My work is done. Why wait ?--Eastman committed suicide.

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