Today we celebrate the birthday of George Eastman, which is a bit like saying today we celebrate photography.
George Eastman (born 12 Jul 1854; died 14 Mar 1932) was an American inventor and industrialist who is considered by many to be the father of modern photography. Founder of the Eastman-Kodak Company, he invented roll film in 1884, which, after various improvements and refinements, resulted in the famous Kodachrome film in 1935. Eastman also developed the Kodak camera (1888) – the first camera designed specifically for his roll film, and the single photographic innovation that probably played the biggest role in expanding photography from a specialist field to a populist hobby for everyday people. Thanks to these and other photographic innovations, Eastman’s legacy looms large over the last century of photography.
Besides being a great innovator, Eastman was also a major philanthropist. He established, among others, the Eastman School of Music as well as schools of Dentistry and Medicine at Rochester University. He also funded clinics serving low-income residents in various European cities.
Amazingly, George Eastman’s life ended in suicide (he suffered chronic pain in the later part of his life due to a degenerative spinal problem), but even this dark tale has a silver lining of dry wit – he left a suicide note reading, “To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?”
The Eastman-Kodak company was a dominant player in the photographic market throughout the 20th century, at one stage in the mid 70s claiming a 90% market share of photographic film sales in the US. The name “Kodak” became so synonymous with everyday, amateur photography that the company tagline, “A Kodak moment”, entered the common lexicon as any moment or event that is special enough to be captured on film.
While large volumes has been written about George Eastman and his Eastman Kodak Company, I thought I’d leave the last word to musician Paul Simon and his 1973 ode to Kodachrome:
Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away!