Happy Birthday to George Eastman, the Father of Film!
It’s no secret that the FPP is a big fan of Kodak Film. As much as we love seeking out and testing new & experimental film stocks or adapting industrial films for individual consumer use, when we want a superior film that yields consistent results, we choose Kodak every time. And sure, as great as Kodak film is, some of our motivation is sentiment – Leslie Lazenby, Mat Marrash, John Fedele and I all grew up shooting Kodak film. Like Kleenex and tissue, for us Kodak was film. So, with that in mind, we salute George Eastman - inventor, entrepreneur, progressive and philanthropist - on his birthday with a quick look at his contributions to photography and a special promotion on all things Kodak!
Putting Cameras in the Hands of the People
George Eastman was born July 12, 1854 in the village of Waterville New York. After his father’s death, he left school around the age of 15 to help support his family. The International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum claims that in 1874, a co-worker’s suggestion changed George’s life:
He was making travel plans to Santo Domingo when co-worker suggested that Eastman record his trip with a “photographic outfit”. Although he did not make the trip, he bought the “outfit” and described it as “a pack-horse load” because the camera was huge and needed a heavy tripod. If he would have made the trip, he would have had to carry a tent to spread the photographic emulsion on glass plates before exposing them and then develop the plates before they dried out! Eastman would have also had to carry chemicals, glass tanks, plate holders and a jug of water. After buying the photography equipment, he became obsessed with how to make photography easier.
By 1884, George had “patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable; he had been tinkering at home to develop it. In 1888, he perfected the Kodak Black camera, which was the first camera designed to use roll film. In 1889 he first offered film stock, and by 1896 became the leading supplier of film stock internationally. He incorporated his company under the name Eastman Kodak, in 1892. As film stock became standardized, Eastman continued to lead in innovations. Refinements in colored film stock continued after his death.” (Wikipedia)
And biography.com says, “Later he offered the first Brownie camera, which was intended for children but 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. By 1927, Eastman Kodak was the largest U.S. company in the industry.”
Empowering his Employees
George’s efforts to improve lives extended far beyond making photography accessible to the masses. As an employer:
Early on Eastman planned for dividends on wages and in 1899 he gave a gift of money to all his employees. Later, each employee was able to purchase stock and on a yearly basis the employee would receive benefits from the stock. In 1919, Eastman gave one-third of his own holdings to his employees. It amounted to about $10 million dollars. He was also a pioneer in giving employees insurance and disability benefits. (International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum)
Several sources confirm that George gave heavily to dental clinics both in Rochester and in the UK. "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."
The Final Chapter
A class act until the end, George Eastman opted to take his own life on March 14, 1932 after enduring many years of physical pain and infirmity. He died from a single gunshot through the heart. He was 77 years old. According to several sources, his suicide note read, “To my friends, my work is done – Why wait? GE”
8 Fun Facts About George Eastman
- In 1888, he introduced a new camera that came fully loaded with film with the extremely contemporary sounding campaign, “You Push the Button, We Do the Rest!”
- George created all the emulsions other companies emulated. Illford, Fuji – you name it, if they make film, they owe a huge debt to George.
- George was a progressive and a feminist! According to Wikipedia, Eastman promoted Florence McAnaney to be head of the personnel department. She was one of the first women to hold an executive position in a major U.S. company
- During his lifetime George donated $100 MILLION DOLLARS to various educational and charitable organizations
- He holds at least 6 film patents, including “Roll Holder for Photographic Film”!
- In 1930 he was awarded the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal
- On July 12, 1954, the U.S. Post Office issued a three-cent commemorative stamp marking the 100th anniversary of George Eastman's birth
- In honor of his many contributions to still and motion picture film, George Eastman has TWO stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
The FILM PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECT offers KODAK films to you at the best prices in all available formats. Please check out our KODAK section.
About Paige Kay Davis - Paige is the Director of film restoration at Film Media and a regular contributor to The Film Photography Project