Paper On Life Of George Eastman

2559 words - 11 pages

"George Eastman"George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Company, made photography accessible to millions of people by mass manufacturing easy-to-use cameras and photographic products. Eastman innovations like cellulose roll film; the daylight-loading camera; and the Brownie, the worlds first snapshot camera made photography the 20th century's dominant art for and communication medium.A dedicated philanthropist, Eastman gave much of his fortune to establish hospitals, clinics, universities, museums, and performing arts centers. He created the first profit sharing plan, and provided employees with health and retirement benefits in an era when such policies were rare. Sadly, the man who presided over one of the most influential industries in the world committed suicide in 1932.George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854 in Waterville, a rural community in upstate New York. In 1859 his father, George Sr., sold his nursery business and moved his wife Maria, and young George to Rochester. Here, George Sr. established the Eastman Commercial College. He struggled for nearly a decade to launch the institution, but it was to no avail. He died quite suddenly and the foundering college collapsed. George Jr., then 14, and his mother were nearly destitute.George left school to work fulltime. He earned $3.00 a week as a messenger boy for an insurance company. Eager to advance, he learned to write and file policies. His tenacity was rewarded wit ha raise to $5.00 a week. The paltry sum barely covered expenses for him and his mother, but George was determined to succeed. Each night, after long days at the office, he studied accounting. These difficult years instilled a rigorous work ethic in Eastman. Yet he also gained a profound empathy for the poor. Throughout his lifetime he labored to ease the burdens of the disadvantaged.At 19, his years of self-education paid off. The Rochester Savings Bank hired Eastman as a junior clerk for $15.00 a week. For the first time in his working life, he could afford more than the bare necessities. More importantly, he could afford to dream.Although he was a model employee, Eastman grew restless. After five years at the bank, he longed for a break from the gloomy monotony. In 1878 he read about the exotic island of Santo Domingo and was instantly infatuated. Golden beaches surrounded by coconut palms and warm lapping seas seemed just the antidote for his despair. A workmate suggested he invest in a wet-plate camera outfit so he could record his journey. Eastman thought this was a splendid idea and rushed out to purchase one.The camera and assorted darkroom equipment he lugged back to his mother's home was cumbersome and bulky. The camera alone was a big as a sea chest, and needed a heavy wooden tripod for support. Additionally, Eastman would have to carry pounds of chemistry equipment and a portable darkroom tent wherever he wanted to take photographs. The arrangement hardly seemed suitable for a paradise vacation to Santo Domingo.As Eastman became increasingly obsessed with his new hobby, he went on local expeditions to the countryside, carting what he called a "pack-horse load" of glass plates, plate holders, chemicals, developing tanks, and water. The Santo Domingo holiday was gradually forgotten as his fascination with photography grew. Ironically, the more he learned, the more photography frustrated him.Invented by British sculptor Fredrick Scott nearly 30 years before, collodion wet plates were the global standard. Although the method rendered brilliant negatives of stunning clarity on glass plates, collodion emulsions were exceedingly fragile and unstable. Plates had to be coated on the spot, exposed while still wet, and developed before their ether based emulsions evaporated. Surely there was an easier way to create photographs. Ever the student, he devoured photography journals in search of new methods and ideas. It was in a British magazine that he read an article, which changed the course of his life.Dr. Richard Leach Maddox, and English physician, was unhappy with the limitations wet plates photography imposed on his photo micrographic studies. In 1871 he invented the gelatin-bromide dry plate. Maddox's emulsions were stable and easy to store, so they could be developed long after exposure. While this was a benefit to the doctor's research, his emulsions were significantly less sensitive than wet plates and needed longer exposures. For this reason, photographers did not readily adopt them. Still, a few zealous amateurs tinkered with Maddox's formula and eventually, dry plate exposure time dropped to fractions of a second, allowing handheld cameras to be used for the first time.Eastman experimented with the Maddox based formulas and began making his own adaptations. He turned his mother's kitchen into a makeshift laboratory, working long hours after full days at the bank. Sometimes he became so exhausted he slept fully clothed on the floor next to the stove.During the course of those solitary nights, Eastman's passion for photography fused with his career ambitions. He believed that a reliable, ready to use emulsion could make him a fortune. In 1879 he filed his first patent for a dry- plate formula. That same year, he obtained an English patent on a machine for coating dry plates with emulsion (the U.S. patent was registered in 1880) and began part-time commercial production on the third floor of a building on State Street in downtown Rochester. Eastman invested $125.00 for a used two horsepower engine, even though his endeavor barely merited one horsepower."I though perhaps business would grow up to it," Eastman said. "It was worth the chance, so I took it."At first, his gamble paid off. E&H.T. Anthony, the nation's biggest distributors of photographic supplies, was impressed with Eastman's uniform, high quality products. They contracted to purchase large quantities of his dry plates. Eastman quit the bank and labored all through the winter of 1881 to fill stocks for Anthony's busy spring season. Just as the Eastman Dry Plate Company was taking off, disaster struck.Reports of defective plates began pouring in from Anthony's customers. Apparently, the gelatin emulsions had lost almost all of their sensitivity. Eastman carefully retraced his methods, testing 450 different mixtures of emulsion before isolating the problem. Then he replaced Anthony's stock, and sent fresh, problem-free plates to each and every unsatisfied customer."Making well on those plates took our last dollar," Eastman recalled. "But what we had left was more important, reputation."The company flourished. Anthony's sold Eastman plates to growing legions of loyal customers. Meanwhile, the man from Rochester continued to improve his products. He made emulsions that were rugged, durable, and increasingly sensitive. His plates were prized by professional photographers who valued their ability to endure extreme temperatures, and store for long periods.Success drove Eastman to work harder than ever before. Despite the strides he made to make photography easier and more accessible, most would be photographers shied away from expensive cameras and required chemistry."The idea gradually dawned on me," Eastman said, "that we were starting out to make photography and everyday affair." He wanted nothing less, he said, than "to make the camera as convenient as the pencil."In the early 1880's Eastman began working with William H. Walker to create a new kind of photography. Their first priority was to replace the gelatin dry plate with more flexible and economic medium. For this, they studied Englishman William Fox Talbot's long forgotten collotypes. Talbot had pioneered paper negatives in the late 1830's. Although collotypes were crude and grainy, Eastman and Walker believed Talbot might have had the right idea. Using new gelatin emulsions they were sure they could produce viable paper negatives.In 1885 Eastman patented a machine for coating rolls of paper with emulsion. The paper rolls were secured in cameras with a specially designed holder. After exposure and development, the negatives were made transparent by dipping them in castor oil. Although convenient, paper images offered poor resolution, and had none of the glass plate's sharpness and tone.The improved the process by coating the paper with one layer of insoluble sensitized gelatin, and a second layer of plain, soluble gelatin. After the images were exposed and developed, the soluble layer was dissolved in a warm bath, while the image layer was peeled away. These gelatin pictures were adhered to a sheet of heavy gelatin, and sealed with a coat of collodion. The result was a strong, flexible film from which brilliant, clear prints could be made.Eastman proudly unveiled the new "American film," expecting photographers to embrace it a passionately as they had embraced dry plates. Yet few photographers knew about or purchased flexible film. Eastman began a homespun advertising campaign. Writing the copy himself, he purchased space in national newspapers and magazines. His extravagant strategy received abundant attention, and film sales increased.In spite of elevated public presence, photography remained an intimidating craft for most people. Certainly, everyone delighted in seeing photos of them and loved ones, but few were interested in the training and expense. In 1886 Eastman patented the prototype for a simple box camera that anyone could use, in theory anyway. Equipped with a roll of forty-eight 4"x5" exposures, it was designed to make photography a matter of childish ease. Yet with its "alligator shutter," and uncertain focusing lens, the camera did not work very well at all. Undiscouraged, Eastman reconfigured the instrument.In 1888 he introduced the camera brand that has become synonymous with photography: the Kodak portable box camera. The Kodak No.1 married technical simplicity with marketing savvy. The company's first slogan, penned by Eastman himself, elegantly summarized the dawn of a new era: "You press the button, we do the rest."The Kodak No. 1 was outfitted with a simple lens and a paper roll of 100 pictures. Fledgling photographers did not need to bother with camera settings, focus or development. After exposing the film, the entire camera was shipped back to Eastman's factory. The film was developed, the camera reloaded, and mailed back to the customer with mounted prints.Eastman wanted his camera's name to be instantly remembered and recognized. Attracted to the authoritative 'K' sound, he played with combinations of vowels and consonants. Eventually, this abstract game of Scrabble led to the trademark that is still recognized around the world, Kodak. Soon, the Kodak name was bannered on all Eastman's products. In 1892 Eastman changed the name of his company to Eastman Kodak. In another clever marketing stroke, he introduced eye-catching yellow packaging. These innovations are among the earliest and most successful examples of marketing through product recognition.The Kodak No. 1 earned Eastman global recognition. A stream of innovations began to pour from the State Street factory. In 1889 the company replaced paper negatives with flexible celluloid film, paving the way for the first motion pictures. In 1890, Darragh de Lancey, a young MIT-trained engineer, developed a method to coat celluloid with continuous emulsion. The process dramatically increased Kodak's manufacturing output.In 1900 Eastman introduced the product that forever established Kodak's presence in the public image: the Kodak Brownie camera. Selling for one dollar each, the Brownie could be afforded by almost anyone. As the new century dawned, the poor young man from Rochester was a millionaire many times over, and the leader of an industry that would transform the modern world.Although Eastman was a shrewd global competitor, and one of the richest men in the world, he never forgot the hard-working laborers who made his fortune possible. Nor did he forget the sting of poverty that defined his early years. In 1899 Eastman began giving employees bonuses. He followed this later with Wage Dividends, an early form of profit sharing, and gave shares of the company stock to loyal employees. Eastman established a host of progressive employee benefits including retirement annuity, life insurance, and disability benefit plans.As Eastman entered his middle years, he spent more time outside of the company, devoting considerable energy and resources to charities. One of his most far reaching contributions was an "anonymous" $20 million gift to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He helped created the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Medicine and Dentistry, and established children's dental clinics in cities around the world.An avid patron of the arts, Eastman frequented plays and operas. He often had a string quartet serenade him during breakfast. Collecting works of art from around the globe, his mansion eventually gave rise to the George Eastman House Museum of Art. To nurture the arts in Rochester, he created a theater, a symphony and the Eastman School of Music. He gave an estimated $100,000,000 to different foundations, institutions, and social causes.For all of his influence, Eastman was an intensely private man. Never marrying, he found solace and comfort in the wilderness. Though he adventured in far flung regions of Africa and North America, Eastman's happiest hours were spent at his hunting lodge in North Carolina.In his later years he developed a degenerative spinal disorder. Despite all of the healing made possible by his contributions to medicine, nothing could be done for his disease. Unable to work, he became increasingly despondent. With a last burst of energy, he methodically arranged his affairs and provided for many of his bequests. On March 14, 1932, having written over 200,000 letters in his lifetime, the 77-year-old Eastman put pen to paper one last time."My work is done," he wrote. "Why wait?" Shortly after writing those words he committed suicide.It is difficult to tangibly measure the ongoing legacy of George Eastman. It has been estimated that in 1996 people around the world have taken some 65 billion photographs. This does not include the thousands of miles of film shot each year by the motion picture industry. And a figure can only hint at the thousands of businesses, from neighborhood photo labs to digital magazines published on the web, that rely on commerce in photographic imagery. George Eastman's inventive genius lives in in every click of a camera shutter, amd every image captured on film. His influence lingers in the electronic matrix of digital imaging systems, and in the minds of all those who would capture a fleeting moment from an ever-changing world. He was a kind soul who gave generously to the human race; furthering music, encouraging education, supporting scientific research, promoting health care, benefiting employee goodwill and loyalty. Without a doubt, George Eastman made the world a better place to be.


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