George Eastman

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

George Eastman was an inventor and businessman who made photography one of the world's most popular hobbies. He started the company that makes the famous Kodak cameras and films.

Eastman was born on July 12, 1854, in Waterville, New York, where his father was the head of a business school. In 1860, the family moved to the nearby city of Rochester. The father died about two years later. Eastman had to quit school and go to work when he was 13. Even as a boy he was good at business. The first year he made $131. He supported himself, saved his money, and in a few years saved over $500.

In 1874, Eastman went to work in the Rochester Savings Bank as a bookkeeper. With his earnings, he supported himself and his mother. Some of his money was also spent on his hobby, photography.

In those days, taking pictures was not simple. Exposures were made on chemically treated glass plates instead of on film. Eastman went into business, making and selling a better kind of photographic plate.

In 1884, Eastman introduced flexible roll-up film. About four years later, the first of Eastman's Kodak cameras appeared. Loaded with film and ready to use, it sold for $25. Instead of fumbling with clumsy glass plates and tanks of chemicals, all the photographer had to do was push a button. The film could then be sent to the Eastman company for developing and printing.

Eight years later, Eastman brought out a camera that sold for only $5. Eastman's cameras made photography a favorite hobby of millions, and his company grew rapidly.

Eastman had many interests besides his company. At his Rochester home he grew flowers and other plants. He liked going hunting and camping, and he collected paintings by Van Dyck and Rembrandt.

Eastman never married, but his home was a gathering place for many friends. Especially popular were his Sunday evening dinners, usually followed by musical performances.

Eastman's love of music prompted him to found the Eastman School of Music, a division of the University of Rochester. He gave about $75 million to educational institutions, but he sometimes insisted that his identity be kept secret to avoid publicity. Eastman made large donations to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester, Hampton Institute, and Tuskegee Institute. He died on March 14, 1932.

Joanne Landers Henry
Author, George Eastman: Young Photographer

 

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