George Eastman

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George Eastman
Born(1854-07-12)July 12, 1854
DiedMarch 14, 1932(1932-03-14) (aged 77)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
Resting placeAshes buried at Eastman Business Park (Kodak Park)
OccupationBusinessman, inventor, philanthropist
Known forPhotography pioneer, Founder of Eastman Kodak
Net worthUSD $84.9 million at the time of his death (approximately $1.6 billion in 2020) [1]
Parent(s)George Washington Eastman (1815–1862) and Maria Kilbourn (1821–1907)
George Eastman Signature.png

George Eastman (July 12, 1854 March 14, 1932) was an American entrepreneur who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and helped to bring the photographic use of roll film into the mainstream. Roll film was also the basis for the invention of motion picture film stock in 1888 by filmmakers Eadweard Muybridge and Louis Le Prince, and a few years later by their followers Léon Bouly, William Kennedy Dickson, Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and Georges Méliès.


He was a major philanthropist, establishing the Eastman School of Music, and schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of Rochester and in London Eastman Dental Hospital; contributing to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the construction of several buildings at the second campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the Charles River. In addition, he made major donations to Tuskegee University and Hampton University, historically black universities in the South. With interests in improving health, he provided funds for clinics in London and other European cities to serve low-income residents.

In his final two years, Eastman was in intense pain caused by a disorder affecting his spine. On March 14, 1932, Eastman shot himself in the heart, leaving a note which read, "To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?" [2]

The George Eastman Museum has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Eastman is the only person represented by two stars (both in film stars) in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in North side of the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard and the other one in West side of the 1700 block of Vine Street, recognizing the same achievement, that he developed, bromide paper, which became a standard of the film industry. [3] [4]

Early life

Eastman's boyhood home from Waterville, relocated to the Genesee Country Village and Museum GeorgeEastmanBoyhoodHomeFrontViewOblique.JPG
Eastman's boyhood home from Waterville, relocated to the Genesee Country Village and Museum

Eastman was born in Waterville, New York [5] as the youngest child of George Washington Eastman and Maria Eastman (née Kilbourn), at the 10-acre (4.0 ha) farm which his parents had bought in 1849. He had two older sisters, Ellen Maria and Katie. [6] He was largely self-educated, although he attended a private school in Rochester after the age of eight. [6] In the early 1840s his father had started a business school, the Eastman Commercial College in Rochester, New York. The city became one of the first "boomtowns" in the United States, based on rapid industrialization. [6] As his father's health started deteriorating, the family gave up the farm and moved to Rochester in 1860. [6] His father died of a brain disorder in May 1862. To survive and afford George's schooling, his mother took in boarders. [6]

The second daughter, Katie, had contracted polio when young and died in late 1870 when George was 15 years old. The young George left school early and started working to help support the family. As Eastman began to have success with his photography business, he vowed to repay his mother for the hardships she had endured in raising him. [7]


U.S. patent no. 388,850, issued to George Eastman, September 4, 1888 George Eastman patent no 388,850.png
U.S. patent no. 388,850, issued to George Eastman, September 4, 1888

In 1884, Eastman patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable; he had been tinkering at home to develop it. In 1888, he developed the Kodak camera ("Kodak" being a word Eastman created), which was the first camera designed to use roll film. He coined the advertising slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest" which quickly became popular among customers. [8] In 1889 he first offered film stock, and by 1896 became the leading supplier of film stock internationally. [9] He incorporated his company under the name Eastman Kodak, in 1892. [10] As film stock became standardized, Eastman continued to lead in innovations. Refinements in colored film stock continued after his death.

In an era of growing trade union activities, Eastman sought to counter the union movement by devising worker benefit programs, including, in 1910, the establishment of a profit-sharing program for all employees. [10] Considered to be a progressive leader for the times, 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.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

George Eastman never married. He was close to his mother and to his sister and her family. 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. He was also an avid traveler and had a passion for playing the piano. [6]

The loss of his mother, Maria, was particularly crushing to George. Almost pathologically concerned with decorum, he found himself unable for the first time to control his emotions in the presence of his 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 continued to honor her after her death. On September 4, 1922, he opened the Eastman Theater in Rochester, which included a chamber-music hall, Kilbourn Theater, dedicated to his mother's memory. At the Eastman House he maintained a rose bush, using a cutting from her childhood home. [7]

Later years

Eastman in 1917 George Eastman 7.jpg
Eastman in 1917

Eastman was associated with the Kodak company in an administrative and a business executive capacity until his death; he contributed much to the development of its notable research facilities. In 1911 he founded the Eastman Trust and Savings Bank.

He was one of the outstanding philanthropists of his era, donating more than $100 million to various projects in Rochester; in Cambridge, Massachusetts; at two historically black colleges in the South and in several European cities. [11] 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.

Time cover, March 31, 1924 TIMEMagazine31Mar1924.jpg
Time cover, March 31, 1924

In 1925 Eastman gave up his daily management of Kodak to become treasurer. He concentrated on philanthropic activities, to which he had already donated substantial sums. For example, he donated funds to establish the Eastman Dental Dispensary in 1916. He ranked slightly behind Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and a few others in his philanthropy, 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." [12]

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, George Riddell, 1st Baron Riddell. Donations of £50,000 each had been made by Lord Riddell and the Royal Free honorary treasurer. On November 20, 1931, the UCL Eastman Dental Institute 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. It is now a part of University College London. [13] In 1929 he founded the George Eastman Visiting Professorship at Oxford, to be held each year by a different American scholar of the highest distinction.

Eastman also funded Eastmaninstitutet, a dental care clinic for children opened in 1937 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Infirmity and suicide

Memorial at Kodak Park in Rochester. Eastman's ashes lie beneath the Georgia marble monument. GeorgeEastmanMonumentEastSide.JPG
Memorial at Kodak Park in Rochester. Eastman's ashes lie beneath the Georgia marble monument.

In his final two years, Eastman was in intense pain caused by a disorder affecting his spine. He had trouble standing, and his walk became a slow shuffle. Today, it might be diagnosed as a form of degenerative disease such as disc herniations from trauma or age causing either painful nerve root compressions, or perhaps a type of lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal caused by calcification in the vertebrae. Since his mother suffered the final two years of her life in a wheelchair, [7] she also may have had a spine condition but that is uncertain. Only her uterine cancer and successful surgery are documented in her health history. [6]

Eastman suffered from depression due to his pain, reduced ability to function, and also since he had witnessed his mother's suffering from pain. On March 14, 1932, Eastman died by suicide with a single gunshot through the heart. His suicide note read, "To my friends, my work is done – Why wait? GE." [2]

Raymond Granger, an insurance salesman in Rochester, was visiting to collect insurance payments from several members of the staff. He arrived at the scene to find the workforce in a dither. At least one chronicler said that fear of senility or other debilitating diseases of old age was a contributing factor. [14]

Eastman's funeral was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester; his coffin was carried out to Charles Gounod's "Marche Romaine" and buried in the grounds of the company he founded, at what is now known as Eastman Business Park. [15]


Eastmanistitutet 2008f.jpg

Being an astute business man, Eastman 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. [16]

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. [17]

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"). He was one of the major philanthropists in the United States during his lifetime. [18] [11] 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. (Students rub the nose of Eastman's image on the plaque for good luck.) Eastman also made substantial gifts to the Tuskegee Institute and the Hampton Institute in Alabama and Virginia, respectively. [19]

Security Trust Company of Rochester was the executor of Eastman's estate. [20] His entire estate was bequeathed to the University of Rochester. [21] The Eastman Quadrangle of the River Campus of the University of Rochester was named for him. [22]

Eastman had built a mansion 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. In 1949, it re-opened after having been adapted for use as the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark, [23] and is now known as the George Eastman Museum,

Eastman's boyhood home was saved from destruction. It was restored to its state during his childhood and is displayed at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. [24]


Honors and commemorations

George Eastman
commemorative issue, 1954 George Eastman stamp 3c 1954 issue.JPG
George Eastman
commemorative issue, 1954
A first day cover honoring George Eastman 1954 USPOD George Eastman 1954 First Day Cover.jpg
A first day cover honoring George Eastman 1954
Meridian marker and Eastman memorial UniversityOfRochesterMeridianMarker.jpg
Meridian marker and Eastman memorial


An often repeated urban legend recounts that photographer and musician Linda McCartney (née Eastman, first wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney) was related to the George Eastman family, but this is false. Her father was of Russian Jewish ancestry and changed his surname to Eastman before becoming known as an attorney. [28]

At least one biographical film has been made about George Eastman. It was an independent production made in the 1940s, apparently never preserved and mostly lost to time, titled either The Life of George Eastman or George Eastman: Some Scenes From His Life. The film, aired on television for a time into the 1960s, ends with his development of the all-color negative film. [ citation needed ] In 1981, the short film The Lengthened Shadow of a Man about Eastman was made, [ citation needed ] the title of which comes from the T. S. Eliot poem 3. Sweeney Erect. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Film format

A film format is a technical definition of a set of standard characteristics regarding image capture on photographic film, for either stills or filmmaking. It can also apply to projected film, either slides or movies. The primary characteristic of a film format is its size and shape.

35 mm movie film Motion picture film gauge, the standard

35 mm film is a film gauge used in filmmaking, and the film standard. In motion pictures that record on film, 35 mm is the most commonly used gauge. The name of the gauge is not a direct measurement, and refers to the nominal width of the 35 mm format photographic film, which consists of strips 1.377 ± 0.001 inches (34.976 ± 0.025 mm) wide. The standard image exposure length on 35 mm for movies is four perforations per frame along both edges, which results in 16 frames per foot of film.

Kodak American photographic and film company

The Eastman Kodak Company is an American public company that produces various products related to its historic basis in analogue photography. The company is headquartered in Rochester, New York, and is incorporated in New Jersey. Kodak provides packaging, functional printing, graphic communications, and professional services for businesses around the world. Its main business segments are Print Systems, Enterprise Inkjet Systems, Micro 3D Printing and Packaging, Software and Solutions, and Consumer and Film. It is best known for photographic film products.

The following list comprises significant milestones in the development of photography technology.

Roll film

Rollfilm or roll film is any type of spool-wound photographic film protected from white light exposure by a paper backing, as opposed to film which is protected from exposure and wound forward in a cartridge. The term originated in contrast to sheet film. Confusingly, roll film was originally often referred to as "cartridge" film because of its resemblance to a shotgun cartridge.

Brownie (camera)

The Brownie was a series of cameras made by Eastman Kodak. Introduced in 1900, it introduced the snapshot to the masses. It was a basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2 1/4-inch square pictures on 117 roll film. It was conceived and marketed for sales of Kodak roll films. Because of its simple controls and initial price of $1 along with the low price of Kodak roll film and processing, the Brownie camera surpassed its marketing goal.

Autographic film System for roll film launched by Kodak in 1914

The autographic system for roll film was launched by Kodak in 1914, and allowed the photographer to add written information on the film at the time of exposure.

History of Rochester, New York

This article documents the history of Rochester, New York, in western New York State. Settlement began in the late 18th century, and the city flourished with the opening of the Erie Canal. It became a major manufacturing center, and attracted many Italians, Germans, Irish and other immigrants, as well as a dominant group of Yankees of New England origin. The Yankees made Rochester the center of multiple reform movements, such as abolitionism and women's rights. It was famous as the center of the American photography industry, with headquarters of Eastman Kodak. In the 1970s it became fashionable to call the industrial cities along the Great Lakes 'rustbelt cities' following the move away from steel, chemical and other hard goods manufacturing. Rochester, with the presence of Ritter-Pfaulder, Bausch and Lomb, Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Gannett and other major industries, defied the trend for many decades following WWII.

Hannibal Goodwin American inventor in film development

Hannibal Williston Goodwin, patented a method for making transparent, flexible roll film out of nitrocellulose film base, which was used in Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, an early machine for viewing motion pictures.

Leopold Godowsky Jr. was an American violinist and chemist, who together with Leopold Mannes created the first practical color transparency film, Kodachrome.

Steven Sasson

Steven J. Sasson is an American electrical engineer and the inventor of the self-contained (portable) digital camera. Sasson is a 1972 (BS) and 1973 (MS) graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in electrical engineering. He attended and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School. He has worked for Eastman Kodak since shortly after his graduation from engineering school.

Ansco American photographic company

Ansco was the brand name of a photographic company based in Binghamton, New York, which produced photographic films, papers and cameras from the mid-19th century until the 1980s. In the Late 1880s ANSCO's predecessor, Anthony and Scovill, bought the Goodwin Camera & Film Company. Hannibal Goodwin invented the flexible photographic film, which should have made Anthony Scovill the leader in the amateur photography business. But George Eastman copied the patented process and immediately set out to compete against Anthony Scovill. The ruthless behavior of Eastman nearly drove the now named ANSCO out of business, but a settlement in 1905 saved the company from bankruptcy. Eastman Kodak got away cheaply on this legal proceeding. In 1928 AGFA merged with ANSCO to allow it to compete in the worldwide photographic market like its competitors, Kodak and Zeiss. This joint company added many AGFA cameras and accessories to its sales in the USA as a result. In the months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US Government seized AGFA-ANSCO. This now government-run business continued to survive as a hostile alien property. During this period, the organization was renamed GAF. Throughout the postwar period the concern sold rebadged versions of cameras made by other manufacturers, including Agfa and Chinon. A Minolta-built Ansco model was the first 35 mm camera in space and their film was used in space, too.

George Eastman Museum Museum in Rochester, New York

The George Eastman Museum, the world's oldest museum dedicated to photography and one of the world's oldest film archives, opened to the public in 1949 in Rochester, New York.

Photostat machine

The Photostat machine, or Photostat, was an early projection photocopier created in the decade of the 1900s by the Commercial Camera Company, which became the Photostat Corporation. The "Photostat" name, which was originally a trademark of the company, became genericized, and was often used to refer to similar machines produced by the Rectigraph Company.

Eastman Business Park, formerly Kodak Park, is a large manufacturing and industrial complex in the city of Rochester, New York, in the United States. The complex is run by Eastman Kodak and is located 3 miles (5 km) north of downtown Rochester and 4 miles (6 km) south of Lake Ontario. The complex runs parallel to New York State Route 104 and Mount Read Boulevard for most of its length. Also part of the complex is the Kodak Center performing arts center and conference facility.

Anthony Bannon

Anthony Bannon was the seventh director of the George Eastman Museum. He officially retired in May 2012 after 16 years at the Eastman Museum, the longest tenure in the museum's history. During his tenure, Bannon launched programs in photo and film preservation, acquired the Technicolor and Merchant Ivory Productions archives, and established an online presence for the museum's classic images. Bannon is now the executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the campus of State University College at Buffalo, where he had already served as director prior to joining the George Eastman Museum in 1996.

Loyd A. Jones

Loyd Ancile Jones was an American scientist who worked for Eastman Kodak Company, where he was head of its physics department for many years. During World War I, he was also a major contributor to the development of naval camouflage.

Cirkut (camera)

The Cirkut is a rotating panoramic camera, of the type known as "full rotation". It was patented by William J. Johnston in 1904, and was manufactured by Rochester Panoramic Camera Company starting in 1905; during that same year, the company was acquired by the Century Camera Co.. Manufacture of the camera continued through 1949.

You Press the Button, We Do the Rest Kodak slogan

"You Press the Button, We Do the Rest" was an advertising slogan coined by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, in 1888. Eastman believed in making photography available to the world, and making it possible for anyone who had the desire to take great pictures. Until then, taking photographs was a complicated process that could only be accomplished if the photographer could process and develop film. With his new slogan, Eastman and the Eastman Kodak Company became wildly successful and helped make photography popular.

Kodak Panoram Late 19th century panoramic roll-film camera

The Kodak Panoram camera was a roll-film swing-lens panoramic camera made in Rochester, New York, USA by Eastman Kodak between 1899 and 1928.


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Further reading

Business positions
New office Treasurer of Eastman Kodak
Succeeded by
Title last held by
Henry A. Strong
President of Eastman Kodak
1921 – April 7, 1925
Succeeded by
William G. Stuber
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Raymond Poincaré
Cover of Time Magazine
March 31, 1924
Succeeded by
George V