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Who is George Eastman?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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George Eastman is an American inventor who made significant advances in photography. He is credited with creating many photographic innovations such as easy to use cameras, film and dry plates. His inventions earned him quite a bit of money through the years and he generously donated funds to universities, charities, public institutions and business development projects.

George Eastman was born 12 July, 1854 in Waterville, New York. Also in 1854, his father, George Washington Eastman, opened Eastman's Commercial College in Rochester, New York. In 1860, the Eastman family moved to Rochester to be closer to the College, but George Washington Eastman died unexpectedly in 1862. Young George, his two sisters and his mother did not have much money to live on and George Eastman ended up quitting school at age 14 to support the family. He first had a job in an insurance company as an errand boy and then worked for the Rochester Savings Bank as a junior clerk.

When he bought a camera at age 24 in anticipation of going on a vacation that didn't end up occurring, he found himself interested in the ideas behind photography. He thought that the camera was heavy and expensive for what it did and he began experimenting with gelatin emulsions as an alternative way to develop negatives. It took him three years of trying various procedures in his mother's kitchen to get the results he was looking for.

George Eastman eventually invented and patented a machine that developed negatives using a dry plate coating process. This process allowed the photographs to have a quicker developing time than the former wet method of developing photographs. The Eastman Dry Plate Company was created in 1881 and George Eastman had a financial partner named Henry Strong. Four years later, the company name was changed to the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company as Eastman's company had invented and patented rolled film.

It wasn't until 1892 that the word, Kodak, became a part of George Eastman's company, as that year the company name was changed to the Eastman Kodak Company. Eastman had invented the name Kodak for his camera after spending some time trying to come up with a strong-sounding name for the product. The original Kodak camera was marketed in 1888 and sold for $25.00 US Dollars (USD). It had 100 exposures and the consumer sent the camera to Eastman Kodak for developing. George Eastman's easy to use Brownie camera came out in 1900 and sold for $1.00 USD. The film for the Brownie cost 15 cents per roll.

George Eastman gave over $100 million USD to schools, parks, hospitals and charity programs. He founded a charity group called Community Chest in Rochester that was later the United Way. He also started America's first employee profit-sharing program. Eastman worked long hours and when he retired he traveled on safari trips in Africa. After he was diagnosed with a terminal spinal disease, George Eastman took his own life on 14 March, 1932.

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