Kodak History

On July 12, 1854 in the village of Waterville Maria Kilbourn and George Washington Eastman had a child that would change the way the world took pictures forever, and that child was George Eastman. When George was five his father sold the family nursery business and moved to Rochester where he founded the Eastman Commercial College. Shortly thereafter George’s father died and the College failed leaving George and his mother in financial despair. So because of family circumstances George had to drop out of school at the age of fourteen and find a job. His first job was as a messenger boy with an insurance firm, which paid three dollars a week. A year later George got a job as an office boy for a different insurance firm. There through his own hard work, dedication, and initiative he soon took charge of filing policies and even began to write them. With these new responsibilities his pay rose to five dollars a week.

After four years of working at the insurance firm he was hired as a junior clerk at Rochester Savings Bank where his current salary of five dollars a week tripled to more than fifteen dollars a week. Four years later George had planned to take a vacation to Santo Domingo. When a colleague of his suggested that he make a record of the trip George went out and purchased a photographic outfit with all the paraphernalia of the wet plate days. This was to be his first endeavor into the photographic world. At the time cameras were as big as today’s microwave ovens and needed a heavy tripod to support them. He also had purchased a tent to develop the pictures before the glass plates dried out. The supplies needed consisted of glass tanks, a heavy plate holder and a jug of water the entire outfit “was a pack-horse load” as George described it. Learning how to use his new equipment cost him five dollars.

After all this George never made his Santo Domingo trip but became completely engrossed in photography and seeking out ways to simplify the process. George had heard that British photographers were using their own gelatin emulsions that remained sensitive after they were dry and could be exposed at your leisure. Using a formula he got from a British magazine for emulsions, George began making his own. He continued to work at the bank during the day while experimenting in his mother’s kitchen in the evenings. After three years of continued experiments, George had developed a formula that worked. By 1880, he had patented a dry plate formula and the machine for preparing large numbers of the plates.

In 1879 George was granted a British patent on his dry plate machine. One year later he was granted an American patent. In 1880, George leased the third floor on State Street in Rochester where he began his commercial manufacturing of dry plates. One of his first purchases was a two horse power second hand engine, “‘I really needed only one horse power’, he later recalled this was a two horse-power, but I thought perhaps business would grow up to it. It was worth a chance, so I took it'” (Eastman). In 1881 George formed a partnership with Henry A. Strong called the Eastman Dry Plate Company. Later that year, George quit the Rochester Savings Bank to devote all his time to his new company. While managing all phases of the firms activities, he continued with his research to simplify photography and developing.

As his company grew, it faced financial doom at least once when his dry plates went bad in the hands of the dealers. Eastman had then recalled and replaced all of them. “‘Making good on those plates took our last dollar,’ he said. But what was left was more important-reputation'” (Eastman). In 1883, Eastman startled everyone with the announcement of film in rolls. The rolls of film were adaptable with almost every plate camera in the world. IN 1884, the company was renamed Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company with 14 share-holders. In 1888, George invented the work KODAK’ out of thin air because of his special liking to the letter K’, and had it registered as a trademark. Then in 1889, it was shortened to The Eastman Company. Then in 1892, George took use of the word KODAK’ and renamed the company Eastman KODAK Company’.

Over the years KODAK’ has made many advances in photography but have also had a few sat backs both financially and legally. In 1889, with the transparent roll of film finally perfected by Eastman and his chemists, it made it possible for the development of Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera in 1891. In 1895, the KODAK pocket camera was introduced which used the rolled film and had a small window in which you could see how many pictures were left. With the discovery of the X-ray process in 1896, KODAK entered into an agreement to supply the plates and paper for the machines. Finally in 1900, photography becomes financially accessible to everyone with the introduction of the Brownie camera, which sold for a dollar and used film at 15 cents per roll. In 1907 the company’s worldwide employment reaches 5,000 people.

The Blair Camera Factory in Rochester is renamed in 1911 to Hawkeye Works. In 1917 KODAK develops aerial cameras for US Signal Corps photographers to use during World War I. KODAK also supplies the US Navy with a cellulose acetate which is a film product used for coating airplane wings along with unbreakable lenses for their gas masks. In 1921 under and anit-trust case, the courts rule that KODAK is to divest six of the companies it has acquired and to end practicing requiring KODAK dealers to sell nothing but KODAK products. By 1927 KODAK employees were 20,000 people worldwide. IN 1932 the company introduces the first 8mm motion picture camera for amateur cinematographers. The same year at the age of 77, George Eastman commits suicide leaving his entire estate to the city of Rochester.

In 1951 the Brownie 8mm movie camera is introduced. In 1954, KODAK again has anti-trust problems because of its practice of including its processing fee into the price of the film, which is said to inhibit trade in the photo-finishing industry. Then in 1955 a consent degree forces Eastman-KODAK to sell color film without the processing fee included. The predecessor to the carousel projector is introduced in 1958 as the companies first automatic slide projector. Then in 1961 the carousel projector is introduced to the public holding 80 slides. In 1962, with Jon Glen’s orbit of the earth recorded on KODAK film, the companies consolidated US sales exceed 1 billion dollars. KODAK goes into orbit one more time in 1969 when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong take a stereo camera make by KODAK with them when they land on the moon.

That same year, KODAK gets awarded an Emmy for its development of fast color processing for television use. In 1978 the Eastman Chemical Division of KODAK introduces polyester plastic to manufacture beverage bottles. By 1981 sales surpasses the 10 billion mark. KODAK also has to pay 6.8 Million dollars to Berkley Photo, who charged the company with illegally monopolizing the photography market. In 1982 KODAK introduces a line of cameras that uses film disk instead of standard rolls. The same year KODAK pavilion opens in Disney World’s Epcot Center near Orlando, Florida. KODAK introduces video tape cassettes and floppy disks for use in personal computers in 1984. In 1986 federal court orders KODAK to stop the instant camera business.

The reprocussions of this decisions lead to the company to reduce its work force by 10 percent, While offering the KODAK ultra-life lithium power cell, the first 9-volt power batteries for consumer use. In 1987, KODAK develops a new test to detect AIDS and T-cell leukemia. In 1988, KODAK acquires Sterling Drug, a manufacturer of sterling drugs like Lysol and Bayer Aspirin. The cost of the purchase is 5.1 billion dollars. The same year they purchased IBM’s copier service and introduced the world’s fastest color copier. Evidence that Kodak’s Rochester plant has leaked toxic chemicals into Rochester’s local groundwater. In 1990, KODAK admits to the violation and is fined 2 million dollars and agrees to clean up the site. Polaroid then begins court action against KODAK for copyright infringements against the instant camera. Polaroid is awarded 873.2 million dollars in damages.

A year later, KODAK pays 437.5 million of the damages and 487 million in interest. That same year profits decreased 17 million, and employment is cut once again. In 1994 a federal court overturns the 1921 anti-trust sued against KODAK allowing them to market film without the KODAK name. They also sell their clinical diagnostic unit for 1.01 billion dollars to Johnson and Johnson while agreeing to pay a 5 million dollar fine and allotting 60 million to clean up the environmental problems caused by its Rochester plant. Sluggish US sales in 1998 propped the firm to look to China for future growth where they plan to invest over 1 billion dollars over the next four years.

In 2000, according to a recent survey, KODAK is the most popular brand of 300 in the US along with extending its sponsorship to the Olympic Games in 2008. Over the years, George Eastman took one single idea, to a small company to many ideas, with a multi-national company. Never forgetting where he came from, he donated and gave away everything he could to better the community, continue education. Since his death in 1932, KODAK has continued to flourish expanding on new ideas, and becoming the most profitable photographic company in the world.