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Eastman, George

George Eastman

Born: July 12, 1854
Waterville, New York
Died: March 14, 1932

Rochester, New York
Inventor and founder, Eastman Kodak Company

George Eastman took a passion for photography and turned it into a new industry, producing easy-to-use film and cameras for people around the world. Eastman's own inventions fueled his first efforts. He then bought patents from other inventors and hired talented researchers to continue his work. His company's brand name, "Kodak," ultimately came to represent the finest quality in all branches of photography.

"The past and continued prosperity of our company is not due to the value of a patent or an invention. Many competitors make the same kinds of goods we do. We have to depend upon quality, which requires painstaking research, constant scrutiny, and improvement of the smallest details."

Inventor and Manufacturer

George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854, in Waterville, New York. His father George, a teacher, started a small business school in nearby Rochester. The rest of the Eastman family, which included Eastman's two older sisters, did not settle in Rochester until 1860. Two years later, Eastman's father died, and his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, took in boarders to help pay the family's bills. After seven years of school, Eastman dropped out at age fourteen to work for an insurance company. Ten years later, he became a bookkeeper at the Rochester Savings Bank. His flair for numbers and details carried over to his private life; Eastman kept a careful record of all his expenses and worked hard to save money.

Eastman, however, was not all business. He liked to travel, and in 1877 he planned a trip to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. A co-worker suggested he take photos of the trip, and soon after Eastman bought his first camera. At the time, photography was still a fairly recent development, and taking pictures was not easy. Photographers had to cover glass slides with a solution of silver and other chemicals; more chemicals were used to develop the image. This work had to be done in the dark, so photographers taking pictures outdoors had to bring along tents.

Early in 1878, Eastman read about a new process that used a dry glass plate instead of a wet one. Although he had never studied chemistry, he began experimenting and created his own dry plate. Biographer Elizabeth Brayer quotes Eastman's reaction to his successful invention: "At first I wanted to make photography simpler merely for my own convenience, but soon I thought of the possibilities of commercial production."

Eastman designed a machine to apply the chemicals to the glass plate, then traveled to London with his invention. He hoped to patent the device there, sell the rights to the patent, and use the money to start his own business. The patent came in 1880, but in the meantime, he received a U.S. patent and began making dry plates in a rented room, while keeping his day job at the bank.

George Eastman paid a little more than $94 for his first camera and photographic equipment. Most of his knowledge about his new hobby came from reading photography magazines.

The First Kodak Moments

Eastman's first customers were local professional photographers, several retail stores, and some amateurs. Everyone saw that his process produced affordable, good-quality dry plates. Eastman kept improving his coating machine and turned to local investors so he could grow his business. Henry Strong, a buggy-whip manufacturer, decided to invest in the new technology. He and Eastman became partners, and the Eastman Dry Plate Company opened on January 1, 1881. Eastman left the bank later that year to concentrate on his new business.

The next year, as Eastman made plans to build a modern new factory, he struggled to fix a problem with the chemicals used on the dry plates. After hundreds of experiments and a trip to London, Eastman found the solution, but in the meantime he had been forced to close the factory. Still, the company survived the shutdown, and Eastman continued to look for ways to improve his product. He and his research assistant developed rolls of film on paper, and later, plastic roll film. Eastman also built a small device that would hold the roll film in almost any existing camera.

Eastman had hoped photographers would switch from dry plates to roll film, but not many did. He realized he needed to create a new market for the film by putting cameras in the hands of people who had never taken pictures. The key to this was his company's new camera, the Kodak. Affordable and easy to use, the Kodak was the world's first portable camera. The success of the camera and roll film led Eastman to add "Kodak" to his company's name, and made him one of the most successful business owners in the United States.

Photography's Goliath

With Eastman Kodak's success, Eastman invested in new research to stay ahead of the competitionwhen there was competition. The company held several key patents, and Eastman was prepared to go to court to protect any challenges to his dominance. He wanted his company to be the world's largest manufacturer of photographic equipment, and he sometimes used questionable tactics to boost sales. Eastman Kodak would not let retail stores sell certain Kodak goods below a set price or carry competitors' products.

Despite his legal problems with the U.S. government, George Eastman eagerly supported U.S. war efforts during World War I (1914-18). He developed unbreakable glass lenses that were used in gas masks, and his company designed a special camera for taking pictures from planes.

Going into the 1900s, Eastman faced a legal challenge to his patent on roll film. Later, in 1913, the U.S. government charged Kodak with being an illegal monopoly. More lawsuits came, and Eastman settled out-of-court on several claims. In 1921, the company agreed to sell several businesses to satisfy the U.S. government. In public, Eastman seemed upset by the monopoly settlement. In private, however, he had a different reaction. Elizabeth Brayer records his comments to a former Kodak employee: "as a matter of fact, the Company is not likely to be much damaged."

Time for Leisure and Charity

Eastman never married and devoted most of his life to his business. At his factory, he was a tireless worker, but he also found time to travel and enjoy a social life. Eastman hosted and attended lavish parties, and his trips took him around the world. At first, he would leave the company for only a few weeks at a time, but by the 1920s, Eastman's typical vacation lasted six months. The telegraph, and later, the telephone, let him stay in touch with Rochester when important issues arose.

Eastman did not spend his photographic fortunes just on himself. As early as 1886, he made a significant contribution to a Rochester technical college, and his generosity grew as Kodak did. Although Eastman once claimed he did not believe in higher education, he made large donations to the Mechanics Institute of Rochester (later called the Rochester Institute of Technology) and the University of Rochester. Including the money he left in his will, Eastman's total donations to the University of Rochester totaled $50 million. Using the name "Mr. Smith," Eastman gave $20 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) over many years. He also donated to several colleges for African Americans.

Eastman's philanthropy spread to the arts and social services as well. His donations to the University of Rochester helped build the Eastman School of Music and a medical school. He set up a program in his hometown to provide dental care to needy children, then duplicated the program in several European cities. During the 1920s, Eastman was listed as the fifth-largest individual donor in the United States, and by his death he had given away about $100 million.

The Final Days

By 1924, Eastman had reduced his involvement in Kodak and given away most of his shares. He began looking for new people to take control. "I'm trying to organize it," he wrote in a letter quoted in the Brayer biography, "so people will say after I'm gone that the old man was not the whole thing after all."

George Eastman enjoyed riding bicycles, which were still a relatively new invention when he made his first Kodak camera. He rode to work every day and sometimes took his bike with him on his travels. Eastman thought brakes were dangerous, so he dragged his feet on the ground when he wanted to stop.

In 1930, Eastman began feeling the effects of a nerve disorder, which limited his mobility. By 1932, with his health failing, he committed suicide with a pistol. Eastman had lived a full and rewarding life, giving others joy through his wealth, and through the power of pictures that easily captured memories of life's most important moments.

For More Information

Books

Brayer, Elizabeth. George Eastman. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Swasy, Alecia. Changing Focus: Kodak and the Battle to Save a Great American Company. New York: Times Books, 1997.

Periodicals

Chakravarty, Subrata N., and Ruth Simon. "Has the World Passed Kodak By?" Forbes (November 5, 1984): p. 184.

"Eastman Kodak Spins Out Wireless R & D Firm." Electronics Weekly January 16, 2002): p. 5.

"Kodak's Photo Op." Time (April 30, 2001): p. 46.

Moore, Thomas. "Embattled Kodak Enters the Electronic Age." Fortune (August 22, 1983).

Ryan, Michael. "Kodak's Big Moment." Ziff Davis Smart Business for the New Economy (July 1, 2001): p. 79.

Serwer, Andy. "Kodak: In the Noose." Fortune (February 4, 2002): p. 147.

Taylor, Alex, III. "Kodak Scrambles to Refocus." Fortune (February 1, 2002): p. 34.

Web Sites

Eastman Kodak Company. [On-line] http://www.kodak.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).

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Eastman, George

EASTMAN, GEORGE


George Eastman (18541932) became fascinated with the hobby of photography in the 1870s, while working for a bank in Rochester, New York. At the time, taking and developing photos was a clumsy, cumbersome, time-consuming business limited to those who had the patience and the ability to deal with the expensive mechanical processes involved. When he failed to receive a promotion he believed he deserved, Eastman, still in his twenties, decided to quit banking and devote himself full-time to his all-consuming hobby.

Working in the kitchen of his widowed mother's boarding house, Eastman investigated the problems presented by photography's heavy plate-glass negatives, which required an immediate dipping in silver nitrate and processing on the spot. He began to experiment with various emulsions used to coat the "wet plates" on which most photographs of the time were taken. In his extensive reading on the subject Eastman came upon a formula for "dry plates" printed in an English almanac. The formula offered the opportunity to reduce the size and weight of the glass plates then in use. By 1880 Eastman had developed a gelatin dry plate that did not need to be immediately processed.

Eastman took out patents in England and the United States on his "method and apparatus for coating plates for use in photography," and he set himself up in business as the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company to manufacture these dry plates. In 1884 he began searching for a way to produce a transparent and flexible film. The first commercial film, which his company began to produce a year later, was cut in narrow strips and wound on a roller device.

In 1888 Eastman introduced the first Kodak camera, a simple, hand-held box loaded with a 100-exposure film. Correctly guessing that "Kodak" would be pronounced the same in every language, Eastman coined the word, which had no meaning. He reportedly chose "Kodak" because the letter "K" was the first letter of his mother's maiden name, Kilbourne, and he thought it was "strong and incisive." To acquire his patent in England, Eastman also needed to use a word not then existent in the English language. Leaving nothing to chance, Eastman also chose Kodak's eyecatching yellow packaging.

From the beginning, Eastman intended the Kodak camera for amateur photographers. It was made to be sent back to the factory for processing after its film was used. At $25 a roll, however, the film itself was too expensive for most U.S. citizens at that time. By 1896 Eastman was producing a smaller version of his original camera, and it sold for a much more affordable $5. Four years later he introduced the first of a long line of Brownie cameras, intended for use by children; the price tag: one dollar.

A brilliant marketer, Eastman promoted his cameras with the slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest," and began to sell cameras to millions worldwide. He adopted the strategy of constantly making improvements on cameras and film. This allowed him to introduce new and improved products well ahead of his competition.

In 1889 Eastman introduced transparent film. That same year, responding to a request by Thomas Edison (18471931) to come up with film for Edison's newlyinvented movie camera, Eastman's chemists designed celluloid 33mm film, which remains the world standard today. Eastman incorporated his company in 1892 under the name Eastman Kodak Company.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Eastman began to buy out his competitors whenever possible. By 1927 Eastman Kodak controlled the U.S. market in cameras, plate cameras, printing paper, and motion-picture film. Eastman spent much of his later career embroiled in legal disputes related to his monopolistic activities and his alleged use of other inventors' ideas without proper acknowledgment. Although no longer a monopoly, Eastman Kodak retained its leadership in the photographic industry throughout the twentieth century.

George Eastman recognized early the value of retaining loyal employees. In an era when workers' rights were being defined by growing union activities, Eastman independently created many employee benefit programs. In 1910 he began to establish a profitsharing program for all employees, and in the next decade he offered other progressive employee benefits.

Meanwhile, he had become one of the nation's wealthiest men. In 1905 he built a 50-room mansion in Rochester, New York. It included such amenities as a huge conservatory filled with plants and flowers, in which the lifelong bachelor breakfasted each day to organ music played on a full pipe organ by his private organist.

As the years went on, Eastman became a generous philanthropist, eventually giving away more than $100 million. Although he had left school at age thirteen, his largest gifts were to academic institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester (and its Eastman School of Music) and the predominantly black Tuskegee Institute. In 1932, at age 77, stricken with a crippling spinal disease, Eastman took his own life.

See also: Eastman Kodak



FURTHER READING

Adams, Susan. "As Convenient as a Pencil." Forbes, November 30, 1998.

. "Photography and Lemon Pie in Rochester." Forbes, November 30, 1998.

Breyer, Elizabeth. George Eastman: A Biography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1996.

Chandler, Alfred D. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977.

Collins, Douglas. The Story of Kodak. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990.

"George Eastman," [cited April 12, 1999] available from the World Wide Web @ www.invent.org/book/book-text/indexbyname.html/.

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Eastman, George

George Eastman

Born: July 12, 1854
Waterville, New York
Died: March 14, 1932
Rochester, New York

American inventor, industrialist, and businessman

By mass-producing his inventions, the American inventor and industrialist (one who owns or manages an industry) George Eastman promoted photography as a popular hobby. He also donated large sums to educational institutions.

Early years

George Eastman was born in Waterville, New York, on July 12, 1854. His father, George W. Eastman, ran a business college in Rochester, New York; his mother, Maria Kilbourn, took care of young George and his two older sisters. His father died when he was seven, two years after the family moved to Rochester. His mother was forced to take in boarders to add to the family's small income. George was educated in Rochester public schools but dropped out at age thirteen to work and help his mother. He advanced from messenger to bookkeeper in the Rochester Savings Bank by 1877. He was always careful with money, spending it only on his hobby, amateur photography. When photographic chemicals among his cameras and supplies ruined his packed clothes on a trip to Mackinac Island, he became disgusted with the wet-plate process of producing photographs.

Hobby becomes a business

In the 1870s American photography was still time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. Equipment included a huge camera, strong tripod (a three-legged stand), large plateholder, dark tent, chemicals, water container, and heavy glass plates. Eastman experimented using dry plates. He was the first American to contribute to the improvement of photographic methods by coating glass plates with gelatin, a gummy substance, and silver bromide, a chemical. In 1879 his coating machine was patented in England, and in 1880 he received an American patent for it. He sold his English patent and opened a shop to manufacture photographic plates in Rochester. To do away with glass plates, Eastman coated paper with gelatin and photographic chemicals. The developed film was stripped from the paper to make a negative. This film was rolled on spools. Eastman and William Walker created a lightweight roll holder that would fit any camera.

Amateurs could develop pictures after Eastman substituted transparent (see-through) film for the paper in 1884. Flexible film was created by Hannibal Goodwin of New York and a young Eastman chemist, Henry Reichenback. The long patent battle between Goodwin and Eastman was the most important legal dispute in photographic history. A federal court decision in August 1913 favored Goodwin. Goodwin's family and Ansco Company, owners of his patent, received five million dollars from Eastman in 1914.

In 1888 Eastman designed a simple camera, the Kodak (a word created by Eastman; it has no meaning), which was easy to carry and made focusing and adjusting the light unnecessary. With a hundred-exposure roll of film, it sold for twenty-five dollars. After taking the pictures and sending the camera and ten dollars to the Rochester factory, the photographer received his prints and reloaded camera. Eastman's slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest," became well known.

Growth and new developments

Eastman expected that photography would soon become more popular, and in 1892 he established the Eastman Kodak Company. This was one of the first American firms to mass-produce its goods and to maintain a chemical laboratory. By 1900 his factories at Rochester and at Harrow, England, employed over three thousand people, and by 1920 that number increased to more than fifteen thousand. Eastman, at first treasurer and general manager of the company, later became president and finally board chairman.

Daylight-loading film and cameras soon made it unnecessary to return the cameras to the factory. Eastman's old slogan changed to "You press the button, we do the rest, or you can do it yourself." A pocket Kodak was marketed in 1897, a folding Kodak in 1898, noncurling film in 1903, and color film in 1928. Eastman film was used in Thomas Edison's (18471931) motion pictures; Edison's incandescent (glowing with intense heat) bulb was used by Eastman and by photographers specializing in "portraits (photographs of people) taken by electric light."

Eastman's staff worked on other scientific problems as well as on photographic improvements. During World War I (191418) his laboratory helped build up America's chemical industry to the point where it no longer depended on Germany. Eventually America became the world leader.

Later years

Eastman cared about his employees; he was the first American businessman to grant workers shares in the profits made by the company. He also gave away large amounts of his huge fortune to the University of Rochester (especially the medical school and Eastman School of Music), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute, Rochester Dental Dispensary, and several European dental clinics.

George Eastman remained a bachelor all of his life. After a long illness, he committed suicide on March 14, 1932, in Rochester. He had written to friends, "My work is done. Why wait?"

For More Information

Ackerman, Carl W. George Eastman. New York; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1930.

Brayer, Elizabeth. George Eastman: A Biography. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Holmes, Burnham. George Eastman. Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1992.

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George Eastman

George Eastman

By mass-producing his inventions, the American inventor and industrialist George Eastman (1854-1932) promoted photography as a popular hobby. He was also a benefactor of educational institutions.

George Eastman was born in Waterville, N.Y., on July 12, 1854, and educated in Rochester public schools. He advanced from messenger to bookkeeper in the Rochester Savings Bank by 1877. Frugal with money—his only extravagance amateur photography—he spent his savings on cameras and supplies and went to Mackinac Island. When photographic chemicals ruined his packed clothes, he became disgusted with the wet-plate process.

In the 1870s American photography was still slow, difficult, and expensive. Equipment included a huge camera, strong tripod, large plateholder, dark tent, chemicals, water container, and heavy glass plates. Eastman experimented with dry-plate techniques. He was the first American to contribute to photographic technology by coating glass plates with gelatin and silver bromide. In 1879 his coating machine was patented in England, in 1880 in America. He sold his English patent and opened a shop to manufacture photographic plates in Rochester. To eliminate glass plates, Eastman coated paper with gelatin and photographic emulsion. The developed film was stripped from the paper to make a negative. This film was rolled on spools. Eastman and William Walker devised a lightweight roll holder to fit any camera.

Amateurs could develop pictures after Eastman substituted transparent film for the paper in 1884. Flexible film was created by Hannibal Goodwin of New York and a young Eastman chemist, Henry Reichenback. The long patent dispute between Goodwin and Eastman was the most important legal controversy in photographic history. A Federal court decision on Aug. 14, 1913, favored Goodwin. Goodwin's heirs and Ansco Company, owners of his patent, received $5,000,000 from Eastman in 1914.

In 1888 Eastman designed a simple camera, the Kodak (Eastman's coined word, without meaning), which was easy to carry and eliminated focusing and lighting. With a 100-exposure roll of celluloid film, it sold for $25.00. After taking the pictures and sending the camera and $10 to the Rochester factory, the photographer received his prints and reloaded camera. Eastman's slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest," was well known.

Anticipating photography's increased popularity, in 1892 Eastman incorporated the Eastman Kodak Company. This was one of the first American firms to mass-produce standardized products and to maintain a chemical laboratory. By 1900 his factories at Rochester and at Harrow, England, employed over 3,000 people and by 1920 more than 15,000. Eastman, at first treasurer and general manager, later became president and finally board chairman.

Daylight-loading film and cameras eliminated returning them to the factory. To Eastman's old slogan was added "or you can do it yourself." A pocket Kodak was marketed in 1897, a folding Kodak in 1898, noncurling film in 1903, and color film in 1928. Eastman film was indispensable to Thomas Edison's motion pictures; Edison's incandescent bulb was used by Eastman and by photographers specializing in "portraits taken by electric light."

Eastman's staff worked on abstract problems of molecular structure and relativity, as well as on photographic improvements. During World War I his laboratory helped make America's chemical industry independent of Germany, and finally the world leader.

Concerned with employee welfare, Eastman was the first American businessman to grant workers dividends and profit sharing. He systematically gave away his huge fortune to the University of Rochester (especially the medical school and Eastman School of Music), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute, Rochester Dental Dispensary, and European dental clinics.

After a long illness the lonely, retiring bachelor committed suicide on March 14, 1932, in Rochester. He had written to friends, "My work is done. Why wait?"

Further Reading

The best biography of Eastman is Carl W. Ackerman, George Eastman (1930). Robert Taft, Photography and the American Scene: A Social History, 1839-1889 (1938), places Eastman in perspective in the evolution of photography. Mitchell Wilson, American Science and Invention: A Pictorial History (1954), is also helpful. □

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Eastman, George

George Eastman, 1854–1932, American inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist, b. Waterville, N.Y. By mass production of his photographic inventions, Eastman enormously stimulated the development of photography as a popular hobby. He invented a dry-plate process and established (1880) a factory at Rochester, N.Y., for making the plates; he devised a roll film and the Kodak camera (1888) to use it, as well as a process for color photography (1928). The Eastman Kodak Company, founded in 1892, was one of the first firms in America to establish a plant for large-scale production of a standardized product and to maintain a fine chemical laboratory; its progressive welfare program included a profit-sharing plan. Eastman's philanthropies were estimated at over $100 million: the principal recipients were the Univ. of Rochester and the Eastman School of Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tuskegee and Hampton institutes, Rochester Dental Dispensary, and dental clinics in several European capitals. In 1932 after a long illness Eastman committed suicide.

See biographies by C. W. Ackerman (1930, repr. 1973) and B. Mitchell (1986).

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Eastman, George

Eastman, George (b Waterville, NY, 1854; d Rochester, NY, 1932). Amer. industrialist. In 1880 developed process for making dry plates for photocopy and in 1884 founded Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co. In 1892 this became Eastman Kodak Co. Gave more than 75 million dollars to scientific and cultural organizations, founding Eastman Sch. of Mus. of Univ. of Rochester, NY, in 1919.

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Eastman, George

Eastman, George (1854–1932) US photographic inventor and manufacturer, who created the basic materials for still and motion picture photography. He introduced innovations in photographic technology during the late 1800s and founded the Eastman Kodak Company (1892).

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