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George Eastman

Male 1854 - 1932  (77 years)    Has more than 100 ancestors but no descendants in this family tree.

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  • Name George Eastman 
    Birth 12 Jul 1854  Waterville Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Prominent People USA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Death 14 Mar 1932 
    Person ID I296083  Geneagraphie
    Last Modified 16 Sep 2001 

    Father George Washington Eastman   d. 1868 
    Mother Maria Kilbourn   d. Yes, date unknown 
    Family ID F118942  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family ID F118943  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart
    Last Modified 8 Sep 2001 

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  • Notes 
    • Inventor of photographic equipment and processes, treasurer and general manager of Eastman Kodak Company, and founder of the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY.

      George Eastman's inventions of dry, rolled film and the hand-held cameras that could utilize it revolutionized photography. Born in Waterville, New York, Eastman, in 1877, embarked upon the intricate tasks of preparing the necessary emulsions, coating the 'wet plates' on which most pictures were then taken, and developing the prints. He pursued eagerly a ll available literature on the subject and was attracted by a formula for a 'dry plate' emulsion that appeared in an English almanac. The formula suggested the possibility of reducing the size and weight of outdoor photographic equipment. Eastman had in mind the commercial prospects of dry plates and by 1879 was ready to embark on a business career. Patents were secured in England and America on his coating machine, and returns began to flow in from foreign lessees. Eastman began his search for a transparent and flexible film in 1884. The first commercial film, put into production a year later, was cut in narrow strips and wound on a roller device patented by Eastman and Walker. Film rolls sufficient for 100 exposures were mounted in a small box camera-the Kodak, which was introduced in 1888 priced at $25. The steady improvement of Edison's motion-picture camera also spurred Eastman to perfect a stronger film designed to fill that promising market. As passing years brought increased wealth, Eastman became one of America leading philanthropists, giving away more than $100 million

      George Eastman was born to Maria Kilbourn and George Washington Eastman, the youngest of three children
      The house on the old Eastman homestead, where his father was born and where George spent his early years, has since been moved to the Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, N.Y., outside Rochester.
      When George was five years old, his father sold his nursery business and moved the family to Rochester. There the elder Eastman devoted his full energy to establishing Eastman Commercial College. Then tragedy struck. George's father died, the college failed and the family became financially distressed.
      George continued school until he was 14. Then, forced by family circumstances, he had to find employment.
      His first job, as a messenger boy with an insurance firm, 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. And so, 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 Eastman was 24, he made plans for a vacation to Santo Domingo. When a co-worker suggested he make a record of the trip, Eastman bought a photographic outfit with all the paraphernalia of the wet plate days.
      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 then develop the 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.
      Eastman did not make the Santo Domingo trip. But he did become completely absorbed in photography and sought to simplify the complicated process.
      He read in British magazines that 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, E astman 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.
      A self-portrait on experimental film.
      After three years of photographic experiments, Eastman had a formula that worked. By 1880, he had invented and patented not only a dry plate formula, but also a machine for preparing large numbers of the plates. He quickly recognized the possibilities of making dry plates for sale to other photographers.
      Birth of a Company
      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.
      Eastman's first office was on the third floor of this building on State Street, in Rochester.
      "I really needed only a one horse-power," he later recalled. "This was a two horse-power, but I thought perhaps business would grow up to it. It was worth a chance, so I took it."
      As his 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.
      An early ad featuring a slogan coined by Eastman.
      Eastman coined the slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest," when he introduced the Kodak Camera in 1888 and within a year, it became a well known phrase. Later, with advertising managers and agencies carrying out his ideas, magazines, newspapers, d isplays and billboards bore the Kodak banner.
      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.
      Today, company advertising appears around the world and the trademark "Kodak," coined by Eastman himself, is familiar to nearly everyone.
      It was in 1888 that the word "Kodak" was first registered as a trademark. There has been some fanciful speculation, from time to time, on how the name was originated. But the plain truth is that Eastman invented it 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." Kodak's distinctive yellow trade dress, which Eastman selected, is widely known throughout the world and is one of the company's more valued assets.
      Thanks to Eastman's inventive genius, anyone could now take pictures with a handheld camera simply by pressing a button. He made photographers of us all.
      Benefiting the Employee
      Beyond his inventive genius, Eastman blended human and democratic qualities, with remarkable foresight, into the building of his business. He believed employees should have more than just good wages - a way of thinking that was far ahead of management pe ople 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," in which each employee benefited above his or her wages in proportion to the yearly dividend on the company stock. The Wage Dividend was an innovation, and represented a large part of the distribution of the company's net earnings.
      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.
      Camera manufacturing in the 1890's.
      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 insura nce, and disability benefit plans. With these benefits, and the Wage Dividend, employees could confidently look forward to a more secure future.
      Carl W. Ackerman, his 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."
      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 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 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 identy of mysterious "Mr. Smith" was speculated about, even finding expression in a popular M.I.T. song.
      Dental clinics were also of great interest to Eastman. 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."
      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.
      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.
      His sincere concern for the education of blacks 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.
      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, and less known of him, than any other outstanding leader of his time. He could walk down the main street of Rochester without being recognized. But having been denied pleasures in his hard-working youth and middle-age, in later years he went hunting for things he had missed, such as music, flowers and paintings, as well as outdoor life. 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.
      Being a craftsman, he liked working as a carpenter or repairman at his simple hunting lodge in North Carolina. For his many hunting and fishing trips, he thoroughly organized his camping equipment - each item was numbered, packed for space and weight, and each had to have at least two uses. Eastman was an expert cook - his recipes were as accurate as chemical formulas and he was always in charge of the camp cooking.
      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.
      The Vision of a Pioneer
      He was a modest, unassuming inventor, a technologist, an organizer, an executive with vision, a patriotic citizen, and a philanthropist.
      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.
      "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."

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