Who Was George Eastman?

The word Kodak is instantly recognizable to everyone in the world. What is less recognizable is the name of the man who invented the camera and the film it used, both in public hands as well as in Hollywood. George Washington Eastman, Jr., like so many other inventors of great things, overcame huge obstacles to make his cameras and film. He built a massive home in the University Ave neighborhood. http://hannaproperties.com/locations/university-ave-nota-rochester/ He was also a philanthropist, using his money for the benefit of children in America and Europe. However, that’s not all there was to the man.

The Family Life of George Eastman

It’s surprising to us today to read how many people were self-educated or had at least some schooling in the 1800s and early 1900s. Survival was the paramount concern in those times. Physical health suffered, therefore, and families pulled together to make ends meet. The Eastmans lived on a farm in Waterville NY, where George and his two sisters were born. Eastman Sr. had established a college in Rochester, then a “boomtown”, called the Eastman Commercial College. When his health began to fail, the family left the farm and moved to Rochester. George Eastman Sr. died there.

George Jr. left school and worked to help his mother and his surviving sister. One of his older sisters, Katie, died from polio when he was 15. His mother turned their home into a boarding house to make ends meet. George went to work in a bank to help the family. In his off times, he tinkered with the first cameras and worked to develop a roll of film that would fit into the camera. He finally hit on the winning formula and patented it.

Meanwhile, George’s mother’s health was failing. She suffered from a spinal problem that put her in a wheelchair the last years of her life. Maria, his mother, was uneasy accepting George’s gifts and attempts to help her. When she died, Geroge opened a theater in her name, the Kilbourn Theater complete with chamber music hall.

The Beginnings of the Camera

George wanted to go to Santo Domingo and decided to photograph the trip. He bought all the equipment. It was all so big and heavy that he decided to skip the photography and not go at all. He then devoted himself to designing a camera (and the film that went in it) that the average person could not only operate but afford, too. He and William Hall Walker developed the first camera that held rolled film. It was the beginning of Eastman Kodak.

George gave most of his money away. He established dental clinics in America and Europe, so that children could have healthy mouths. He established profit sharing and stock options in his company for his employees. The Rochester Institute of Technology, MIT and two black colleges in the South received a lot of George’s money. George donated around $100 million of his money during his lifetime. When he deemed he had done enough, he committed suicide. His legacy still stands today.