Eastman, George

Eastman, George
b. 12 July 1854 Waterville, New York, USA
d. 14 March 1932 Rochester, New York, USA
American industrialist and pioneer of popular photography.
The young Eastman was a clerk-bookkeeper in the Rochester Savings Bank when in 1877 he took up photography. Taking lessons in the wet-plate process, he became an enthusiastic amateur photographer. However, the cumbersome equipment and noxious chemicals used in the process proved an obstacle, as he said, "It seemed to be that one ought to be able to carry less than a pack-horse load." Then he came across an account of the new gelatine dry-plate process in the British Journal of Photography of March 1878. He experimented in coating glass plates with the new emulsions, and was soon so successful that he decided to go into commercial manufacture. He devised a machine to simplify the coating of the plates, and travelled to England in July 1879 to patent it. In April 1880 he prepared to begin manufacture in a rented building in Rochester, and contacted the leading American photographic supply house, E. \& H.T.Anthony, offering them an option as agents. A local whip manufacturer, Henry A.Strong, invested $1,000 in the enterprise and the Eastman Dry Plate Company was formed on 1 January 1881. Still working at the Savings Bank, he ran the business in his spare time, and demand grew for the quality product he was producing. The fledgling company survived a near disaster in 1882 when the quality of the emulsions dropped alarmingly. Eastman later discovered this was due to impurities in the gelatine used, and this led him to test all raw materials rigorously for quality. In 1884 the company became a corporation, the Eastman Dry Plate \& Film Company, and a new product was announced. Mindful of his desire to simplify photography, Eastman, with a camera maker, William H.Walker, designed a roll-holder in which the heavy glass plates were replaced by a roll of emulsion-coated paper. The holders were made in sizes suitable for most plate cameras. Eastman designed and patented a coating machine for the large-scale production of the paper film, bringing costs down dramatically, the roll-holders were acclaimed by photographers worldwide, and prizes and medals were awarded, but Eastman was still not satisfied. The next step was to incorporate the roll-holder in a smaller, hand-held camera. His first successful design was launched in June 1888: the Kodak camera. A small box camera, it held enough paper film for 100 circular exposures, and was bought ready-loaded. After the film had been exposed, the camera was returned to Eastman's factory, where the film was removed, processed and printed, and the camera reloaded. This developing and printing service was the most revolutionary part of his invention, since at that time photographers were expected to process their own photographs, which required access to a darkroom and appropriate chemicals. The Kodak camera put photography into the hands of the countless thousands who wanted photographs without complications. Eastman's marketing slogan neatly summed up the advantage: "You Press the Button, We Do the Rest." The Kodak camera was the last product in the design of which Eastman was personally involved. His company was growing rapidly, and he recruited the most talented scientists and technicians available. New products emerged regularly—notably the first commercially produced celluloid roll film for the Kodak cameras in July 1889; this material made possible the introduction of cinematography a few years later. Eastman's philosophy of simplifying photography and reducing its costs continued to influence products: for example, the introduction of the one dollar, or five shilling, Brownie camera in 1900, which put photography in the hands of almost everyone. Over the years the Eastman Kodak Company, as it now was, grew into a giant multinational corporation with manufacturing and marketing organizations throughout the world. Eastman continued to guide the company; he pursued an enlightened policy of employee welfare and profit sharing decades before this was common in industry. He made massive donations to many concerns, notably the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and supported schemes for the education of black people, dental welfare, calendar reform, music and many other causes, he withdrew from the day-to-day control of the company in 1925, and at last had time for recreation. On 14 March 1932, suffering from a painful terminal cancer and after tidying up his affairs, he shot himself through the heart, leaving a note: "To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?" Although Eastman's technical innovations were made mostly at the beginning of his career, the organization which he founded and guided in its formative years was responsible for many of the major advances in photography over the years.
Further Reading
C.Ackerman, 1929, George Eastman, Cambridge, Mass.
B.Coe, 1973, George Eastman and the Early Photographers, London.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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