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Famous People of the Finger Lakes

George Eastman (1854-1932)


George Eastman (1854-1932)George Eastman was born in Waterville in Oneida County but, at an early age, moved to Rochester where his father opened a college. At the age of 14 George left school, taking on a variety of clerical jobs to support his mother and two sisters when his father died unexpectedly.


When in his early 20s, Eastman purchased a camera to take pictures on a vacation he planned to take with his mother to Santo Domingo. The trip never happened, but the camera was the element that sparked Eastman's life-long interest in photography.


The camera Eastman had purchased was heavy and awkward. He began to experiment with a simpler way to develop negatives. Working in his mother's kitchen, he spent three years experimenting with gelatin emulsions. In 1880, he patented a dry-plate coating machine. The next year, with financial backing from Henry Strong, Eastman and Strong started the Eastman Dry Plate Company.


In 1884, as an alternative to the heavy, awkward glass negatives, Eastman patented and produced a rollable film and renamed his company the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. Four years later, he introduced the Kodak camera, which cost $25. Its small size and ease of use made it immediately popular. The camera came equipped with a 100-exposure roll of film. Users sent the entire camera back to Kodak for processing. The word Kodak was an invention of Eastman's. The story goes that he liked the letter k and wanted a short, strong-sounding word that began and ended with that letter. Hence, the name Kodak.


In 1892, Eastman changed the name of his company again to the Eastman Kodak Company. Eight years later, Kodak produced the first Brownie camera. It cost $1. A roll of film was 15 cents.


The success of the Eastman Kodak Company made George Eastman a wealthy man. During the early 1900s, Eastman donated millions of dollars to a wide variety of educational and arts institutions, he created the Community Chest in Rochester, which later became the United Way, and he created the first employee profit-sharing program in America.


When Eastman died, he left most of his estate, including his 50-room mansion, to the University of Rochester. The mansion is now the International Museum of Photography and Film. The mansion, the museum's historic collections, and the grounds are open to the public. For more information about George Eastman, check out the museum's Web site.


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Photo courtesy of the George Eastman House.








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