Farewell Kodak – Tribute to George Eastman inventor of the roll film

George Eastman

It’s sad to hear that Kodak is preparing to file for bankruptcy. It really does mark the end of an era for me. I used to use Kodak film.

It was inevitable really as digital photography and now mobile photography has been sweeping the world relegating film photography to the realms of the silver print enthusiast or toy camera retro fan.

Synonymous with the phrase the “Kodak moment”, the company revolutionised photography, bringing the art to the masses.


Where did the name Kodak come from?

George Eastman said: “I devised the name myself. The letter ‘K’ had been a favourite with me – it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter.

It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ‘K.’ The word ‘Kodak’ is the result.”

George Eastman: A Forward Thinker

It was George Eastman who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film. It is he whom we need to thank for helping to make photography mainstream. His roll film also lead to the development of motion picture film in 1888 used by the world’s first filmmakers Edward Muybridge and Louis Le Prince.

Eastman was a bank clerk when he became interested in photography in his early 20s. Although he invested in some photographic equipment for his holidays he ended up not taking it (reminds me of when I leave the Canon 1D behind!). He was much less enthusiastic about the cumbersome and limiting nature of wet-plate technology than he was about the idea of photography itself.

He decided to develop an alternative photographic technology, based on an existing gelatin emulsion technique.

He continued working at the bank while inventing and experimenting during his evenings.

By 1880 he had perfected his dry-plate formula and started his photographic business full time.

Still developing his methods Eastman began looking for ways to render glass plates obsolete. The result was the first light-sensitive, gelatin-coated paper that could be rolled onto a holder.

George Eastman was forward thinking and progressive, he would probably be turning in his grave if he was aware of the companies. Persistent failure to recognise and adapt to changing market conditions. As the Wall Street Journal recently wrote: “This company failed long ago.”
Kodak Patent

The problem was that Kodak failed to see the potential of digital photography early enough. The first digital cameras were bulky and slow and took really poor quality images compared to film. The company failed to recognise the public’s hunger for digital imaging technology or the lightning speed with which technology is now developed to meet customer demand.

A true gentleman, George Eastman was a major philanthropist, establishing schools of music and dentistry and even contributing towards the construction of a second campus for MIT. His generosity didn’t stop there, however, he even provided funds for several clinics in European cities to serve those with low-incomes. He donated $625,000 to the Mechanics Institute in 1901 (that converts to a value of $16.5 million today!), now the Rochester Institute of Technology which was a huge sum of money back in 1901.

Towards the end of his life Eastman was in intense pain, he had developed a degenerative disorder affecting his spine. Having watched his mother spend the last two years of her life in a wheelchair suffering from the same condition, in addition to his own pain, he became depressed. Finally on March 14, 1932, George Eastman took his own life with a single gunshot to the heart. He left a suicide note reading: “To my friends, my work is done. Why wait?”

It is an urban myth that his body, buried in Kodak Park in Rochester, New York, is still preserved due to the amount of Kodak chemicals in the ground!

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