George Eastman - Successful People

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.” - George Eastman.
George Eastman (July 12, 1854 – March 14, 1932 ) was an American inventor, he invented the Kodak Camera and an entrepreneur who founded the Eastman Kodak Company. He popularized the use of roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream. In 1883, Eastman announced the invention of photographic film in rolls. 

The company was born in 1888 when the first Kodak camera entered the market. Pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures, the Kodak camera could easily be carried and handheld during its operation. After the film was exposed (all the shots taken), the whole camera was returned to the Kodak company in Rochester, New York, where the film was developed, prints were made, new photographic film was inserted, and then the camera and prints were returned to the customer.

George Eastman was one of the first American industrialists to employ a full-time research scientist. Together with his associate, Eastman perfected the first commercial transparent roll film which made possible Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera in 1891.


George Eastman was a high school dropout. Then, forced by family circumstances, he had to find employment. He began his business career as a 14-year old as an office boy in an insurance company. He was poor, but even as a young man, he took it upon himself to support his widowed mother and two sisters, one of whom was severely handicapped.

His first job, paid $3 a week. A year later, he became office boy for another insurance firm. Through his own initiative, he soon took charge of policy filing and even wrote policies. His pay increased to $5 per week. But, even with that increase, his income was not enough to meet family expenses. He studied accounting at home evenings to get a better paying job.

In 1874, after five years in the insurance business, he was hired as a junior clerk at the Rochester Savings Bank. His salary tripled -- to more than $15 a week.


Trials Of An Amateur

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. 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. The camera was as big as a microwave oven and needed a heavy tripod. And he carried a tent so that he could spread photographic emulsion on glass plates before exposing them, and develop the exposed plates before they dried out. 

There were chemicals, glass tanks, a heavy plate holder, and a jug of water. The complete outfit "was a pack-horse load," as he described it. Learning how to use it to take pictures cost $5. Even though he did not make the Santo Domingo trip, he become completely absorbed in photography and sought to simplify the complicated process.

The British magazines photographers were making their own gelatin emulsions. Plates coated with this emulsion remained sensitive after they were dry and could be exposed at leisure. Using a formula taken from one of these British journals, Eastman began making gelatin emulsions. He worked at the bank during the day and experimented at home in his mother's kitchen at night. 

His mother said that some nights Eastman was so tired he couldn't undress, but slept on a blanket on the floor beside the kitchen stove.
After three years of photographic experiments, Eastman had a formula that worked. By 1880, he had not only invented a dry plate formula, but had patented a machine for preparing large numbers of the plates. He quickly recognized the possibilities of making dry plates for sale to other photographers.

Business Career

In April 1880, Eastman leased the third floor of a building on State Street in Rochester, and began to manufacture dry plates for sale. One of his first purchases was a second-hand engine priced at $125.
On January 1, 1881, Eastman and Strong formed a partnership called the Eastman Dry Plate Company. 

Late that year, Eastman resigned from his position at the Rochester Savings Bank to devote all his time to the new company and its business. While actively managing all phases of the firm's activities, he continued research in an effort to simplify photography. In 1883, Eastman startled the trade with the announcement of film in rolls, with the roll holder adaptable to nearly every plate camera on the market. 

With the KODAK camera in 1888, he put down the foundation for making photography available to everyone. In 1884, Eastman patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable; he had been tinkering at home to develop it. 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.

In 1879, London was the center of the photographic and business world. George Eastman went there to obtain a patent on his plate-coating machine. An American patent was granted the following year. His ability to overcome financial adversity, his gift for organization and management, and his lively and inventive mind made him a successful entrepreneur by his mid-twenties, and enabled him to direct his Eastman Kodak Company to the forefront of American industry.

The KODAK camera, pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures, could be easily carried and handheld during operation. It was priced at $25. After exposure, the whole camera was returned to Rochester. There the film was developed, prints were made and new film was inserted -- all for $10.

In 1884, the Eastman-Strong partnership had given way to a new firm -- the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company -- with 14 shareowners. A successive concern -- the Eastman Company, was formed in 1889. The company has been called Eastman Kodak Company since 1892, when Eastman Kodak Company of New York was organized. In 1901, the Eastman Kodak Company of New Jersey was formed under the laws of that state.

His established Eastman Kodak Company, in Rochester, New York, was one of the first firms to mass-produce standardized photography equipment. The company also manufactured the flexible transparent film, devised by Eastman in 1889, which proved vital to the subsequent development of the motion picture industry.

The company 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.

Eastman Built His Business On Four Basic Principles:

  • A focus on the customer;
  • Mass production at low cost;
  • Worldwide distribution;
  • Extensive advertising.

He saw all four as being closely related. Mass production could not be justified without wide distribution. Distribution, in turn, needed the support of strong advertising. From the beginning, he imbued the company with the conviction that fulfilling customer needs and desires is the only road to corporate success.


Customer Focus

As Eastman’s young company grew, it faced total collapse at least once when dry plates in the hands of dealers went bad. Eastman recalled them and replaced them with a good product. "Making good on those plates took our last dollar," he said. "But what we had left was more important -- reputation."

"The idea gradually dawned on me," he later said, "that what we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but that we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair." Or as he described it more succinctly "to make the camera as convenient as the pencil."

Eastman's experiments were directed to the use of a lighter and more flexible support than glass. His first approach was to coat the photographic emulsion on paper and then load the paper in a roll holder. The holder was used in view cameras in place of the holders for glass plates.

The first film advertisements in 1885 stated that "shortly there will be introduced a new sensitive film which it is believed will prove an economical and convenient substitute for glass dry plates both for outdoor and studio work." This system of photography using roll holders was immediately successful. However, paper was not entirely satisfactory as a carrier for the emulsion because the grain of the paper was likely to be reproduced in the photo.

Eastman's solution was to coat the paper with a layer of plain, soluble gelatin, and then with a layer of insoluble light-sensitive gelatin. After exposure and development, the gelatin bearing the image was stripped from the paper, transferred to a sheet of clear gelatin, and varnished with collodion -- a cellulose solution that forms a tough, flexible film.

As he perfected transparent roll film and the roll holder, Eastman changed the whole direction of his work and established the base on which his success in amateur photography would be built.

He later said: 
"When we started out with our scheme of film photography, we expected that everybody who used glass plates would take up films. But we found that the number which did so was relatively small. In order to make a large business we would have to reach the general public."


Eastman's faith in the importance of advertising, both to the company and to the public, was unbounded. The very first Kodak products were advertised in leading papers and periodicals of the day -- with ads written by Eastman himself.

"You press the button, we do the rest" promised George Eastman in 1888 with this advertising slogan for his Kodak camera.

George Eastman wanted to simplify photography and make it available to everyone, not just trained photographers. Space was taken at world expositions, and the "Kodak Girl," with the style of her clothes and the camera she carried changing every year, smiled engagingly at photographers everywhere. 

In 1897, the word "Kodak" sparkled from an electric sign on London's Trafalgar Square -- one of the first such signs to be used in advertising. The word "Kodak" was first registered as a trademark in 1888. A name Eastman invented out of thin air.

He explained: "I devised the name myself. The letter 'K' had been a favorite with me -- it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter. 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."
 Eastman also selected Kodak's distinctive yellow trade dress, which is widely known throughout the world.

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 era that is still going strong today.


A Principled Leader

To his basic principles of business, Eastman added these policies:

Foster growth and development through continuing research, reinvest profits to build and extend the business, and treat employees in a fair, self-respecting way. In regards to his employees and in building his business, Eastman blended human and democratic qualities, with remarkable foresight. He believed employees should have more than just good wages -- a way of thinking that was far ahead of management people of his era.

Early in his business, Eastman began planning for "dividends on wages" for employees. His first act, in 1899, was the distribution of a substantial sum of his own money -- an outright gift -- to each person who worked for him. Later he set up a "Wage Dividend" – an innovation for its time – in which each employee benefited above his or her wages in proportion to the yearly dividend on the company stock.

Eastman felt that the prosperity of an organization was not necessarily due to inventions and patents, but more to workers' goodwill and loyalty, which in turn were enhanced by forms of profit sharing. In 1919, Eastman gave one-third of his own holdings of company stock – then worth $10 million – to his employees. 

Still later came the fulfillment of what he felt was a responsibility to employees with the establishment of retirement annuity, life insurance, and disability benefit plans.

Giving Away His Fortune

Eastman is almost as well known for his philanthropy as he is for his pioneering work in photography. In this field, as in others, he put the direction of an enthusiastic amateur to work. He started his philanthropy early, sharing the income from his business to establish educational and health institutions. He began giving to nonprofit institutions when his salary was $60 a week -- with a donation of $50 to the young and struggling Mechanics Institute of Rochester, now the Rochester Institute of Technology.

He was one of the outstanding philanthropists of his time, donating more than $100 million to various projects in Rochester; Cambridge, Massachusetts; at two historically black colleges in the South; and in several European cities.In 1918, he endowed the establishment of the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, and in 1921 a school of medicine and dentistry there.

His sincere concern for the education of African Americans brought gifts to the Hampton and the Tuskegee Institutes. One day in 1924, Eastman signed away $30 million to the University of Rochester, M.I.T., Hampton and Tuskegee. As he laid down the pen he said, "Now I feel better."

In explaining these large gifts, he said, "The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education. I selected a limited number of recipients because I wanted to cover certain kinds of education, and felt I could get results with those named quicker and more directly than if the money were spread."

Eastman often made the beneficiary match his gift in some way, so the institution would have the confidence of standing on its own. For him, great wealth brought the greater opportunity to serve. He was an admirer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because he had hired some of its graduates, who had become his best assistants.

This admiration, after thorough study, was translated into a handsome gift to M.I.T., eventually reaching $20 million. It was given anonymously from a "Mr. Smith," and for several years the identity of the mysterious "Mr. Smith" was speculated about, even finding expression in a popular M.I.T. song.

Eastman loved music and wanted others to enjoy the beauty and pleasure of music. He established and supported the Eastman School of Music, a theatre, and a symphony orchestra. "It is fairly easy to employ skillful musicians. It is impossible to buy appreciation of music. Yet without a large body of people who get joy out of it, any attempt to develop musical resources of any city is doomed to failure," he said. 

So his plan had a practical formula for exposing the public to music -- with the result that the people of Rochester have for decades supported their own philharmonic orchestra. Dental clinics were also of great interest to Eastman. Interest in hospitals and dental clinics had grown with Eastman's work and study of the field. 

He promoted and brought to fruition a program to develop a medical school and hospital at the University of Rochester, which became as nationally prominent as the university's music school. Rochester is filled with Eastman landmarks that contribute to the enrichment of community life.

He devised complete plans and financial backing for a $2.5 million dental clinic for Rochester. He then started a large-scale, remedial dental program for children. Dental clinics were also given to London, Paris, Rome, Brussels and Stockholm. When asked why he favored dental clinics, he replied, "I get more results for my money than in any other philanthropic scheme. 

It is a medical fact 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."

Carl W. Ackerman, a biographer writing in 1932, said: "Mr. Eastman was a giant in his day. The social philosophy, which he practiced in building his company, was not only far in advance of the thinking during his lifetime, but it will be years before it is generally recognized and accepted."


Leisure Hours

Eastman was reticent and shunned publicity. It seems paradoxical that the man whose name is synonymous with photography should have fewer photographs taken of him than many other outstanding leaders of his time. He could walk down the main street of Rochester without being recognized.

Eastman lived his philosophy, "What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are." A tough competitor, hard-bitten and practical in business, he was gentle and congenial at home or in the field of outdoor enjoyment.

In his yearly visits to Europe, he toured the art galleries methodically -- even cycling from place to place. By the time he could afford masterpieces, he had learned enough to say, "I never buy a painting until I have lived with it in my home." The result: his home became the showplace of one of the finest private collections of paintings.

Personal Life

As Eastman began to experience success with his photography business, he vowed to repay his mother for the hardships she had endured in raising him. He was close to his mother, and to his sister and her family. Maria's second daughter, Katie, had contracted polio when young and died in late 1870, when George was 16 years old.

George Eastman never married. He had a long platonic relationship with Josephine Dickman, a trained singer and the wife of business associate George Dickman, becoming especially close to her after the death of his mother, Maria Eastman, in 1907. In 1911, he founded the Eastman Trust and Savings Bank. While discouraging the formation of unions at his manufacturing plant, he established paternal systems of support for his employees.

He was also an avid traveller and had a passion for playing the piano.
One of Eastman’s best known trips was his safari to Kenya taken between March and October 1926. He travelled 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. The loss of his mother, Maria, was particularly crushing to George. Almost natural concerned with decorum, he found himself unable for the first time to control his emotions in the presence of friends.

 "When my mother died I cried all day", he explained later. "I could not have stopped to save my life". Due to his mother's reluctance to accept his gifts, George Eastman could never do enough for his mother during her lifetime. He opened the Eastman Theater in Rochester on September 4, 1922, which included a chamber-music hall dedicated to his mother's memory: the Kilbourn Theater.

At the Eastman House, he maintained a rose bush using a cutting from her childhood home. Eastman 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 a stupendous factor in the education of the modern world," said an editorial in the New York Times following his death. "Of what he got in return for his great gifts to the human race he gave generously for their good; fostering music, endowing learning, supporting science in its researches and teaching, seeking to promote health and lessen human ills, helping the lowliest in their struggle toward the light, making his own city a center of the arts and glorifying his own country in the eyes of the world."

Eastman had a very astute business sense. He focused his company on making film when competition heated up in the camera industry. By providing quality and affordable film to every camera manufacturer, Kodak managed to turn its competitors into de facto business partners. 

During his lifetime Eastman donated $100 million to various organizations, with most of his money going to the University of Rochester and to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build their programs and facilities (under the alias "Mr. Smith"). The Rochester Institute of Technology has a building dedicated to Eastman, in recognition of his support and substantial donations.

MIT installed a plaque of Eastman on one of the buildings he funded. Eastman also made substantial gifts to the Tuskegee Institute and the Hampton Institute in Alabama and Virginia, respectively. Eastman had built a mansion, which became known as the George Eastman House, at 900 East Avenue in Rochester. Here he entertained friends to dinner and held private music concerts. The University of Rochester used the mansion for various purposes for decades after his death.

The George Eastman House, now operated as the International Museum of Photography and Film, has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Eastman is the only person represented by two stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the same category, for his invention of roll film.

In 1925, Eastman gave up his daily management of Kodak to become treasurer. He was one of the major philanthropists of his time, ranking only slightly behind Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and a few others, but did not seek publicity for his activities. He concentrated on institution-building and causes that could help people's health.

From 1926 until his death, Eastman also donated $22,050 per year to the American Eugenics Society, a popular cause among many of the upper class when there were concerns about immigration and "race mixing." Eastman donated £200,000 in 1926 to fund a dental clinic in London, UK after being approached by the Chairman of the Royal Free Hospital, Lord Riddell. 

This was in addition to donations of £50,000 each from Lord Riddell and the Royal Free honorary treasurer. On 20 November 1931, the Eastman Dental Clinic opened in a ceremony attended by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health, and the American Ambassador to the UK. The clinic was incorporated into the Royal Free Hospital and was committed to providing dental care for disadvantaged children from central London.

In 1915, Eastman founded a bureau of municipal research in Rochester "to get things done for the community" and to serve as an "independent, non-partisan agency for keeping citizens informed." Called the Center for Governmental Research, the agency continues to carry out that mission. CGR has been delivering expert support to the public, nonprofit and private sectors for a century. 

Incorporated as the Rochester (NY) Bureau of Municipal Research. The organizations passion for delivering promising solutions has never changed, both the geographic area and clients they serve have broadened dramatically. The organization reach out to the length and breadth of America, working with a diverse range of agencies, organizations and communities.

To ensure the success of his company in Rochester, Eastman left in his will money that would encourage education, appreciation of the arts, and expansion of medical services in the community. Eastman’s generosity and love for Rochester continues to be reflected through his gifts, such as the University of Rochester’s Eastman Dental Center and Eastman School of Music. These organizations have kept alive Eastman’s wish to continuously improve the quality of life for Rochesterians.

Upon his death, his entire estate went to the University of Rochester. The Eastman Quadrangle of the River Campus was named after him.

Patent Suits

On April 26, 1976, one of the largest patent suits involving photography was filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. Polaroid Corporation, the assignee of numerous patents relating to instant photography, brought an action against Kodak Corporation for infringement of 12 Polaroid patents relating to instant photography.

On October 11, 1985, after five years of vigorous pretrial activity and 75 days of trial, seven Polaroid patents were found to be valid and infringed. Kodak was out of the instant picture market leaving customers with useless cameras and no film. Kodak offered camera owners various compensation for their loss. George Eastman bought the patent rights to twenty-one inventions related to photographic cameras issued to David H. Houston.

Eastman was associated with the Kodak company in an administrative and an executive capacity until his death; he contributed much to the development of its notable research facilities. Eastman died by his own hand on March 14, 1932 at the age of 77. 

Plagued by progressive disability resulting from a hardening of the cells in the lower spinal cord, Eastman became increasingly frustrated at his inability to maintain an active life, and set about putting his estate in order. Leaving a note which read, "To my friends, 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 manufacturers. His company remains one of the largest in the industry. Building a multinational corporation and emerging as one of America's most important industries.

He was a modest, unassuming man... an inventor, a marketer, a global visionary, a philanthropist, and a champion of inclusion.

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