The name Eastman Kodak doesn’t mean a lot to most travelers today, but there was a time when planning your dream vacation included packing your Kodak.
Kodak was synonymous for camera and George Eastman is the man to thank for it.
Who Was George Eastman and What Was a Kodak?
A native of upstate New York born in 1854, George Eastman was a tinkerer and entrepreneur. But he was also a bird watcher and lover of all things nature. He was fascinated with photography, which in the late 19th century was a cumbersome, expensive endeavor. Eastman toted those heavy boxes on tripods and glass plates on his first trip to the Dominican Republic in an effort to photograph the wildlife he loved. Not surprisingly, he then decided there had to be an easier way.
George began tinkering with emulsion in his mom’s kitchen sink. By 1888 we had an inexpensive lightweight camera that anyone could use. In a few years, he created the Brownie camera just for kids to encourage them to get out and document their world.
The George Eastman Home in Rochester
So, that’s who George was. By 1905, he had more money than God, so he built this magnificent 15 bedroom house in Rochester NY, where the company is also headquartered.
You learn some nice things about George when touring his home. Believing that “music is a spiritual necessity,” the house is equipped with a 66 pipe Aeolian Organ. Each morning at breakfast, a live organist filled the mansion with music.
The estate has eight gardens. If you were a female guest at his home, each morning you would receive a live, fresh orchid. Aaahhh. The gardens are still well-cared for and beautiful today.
As you might expect, the Eastman house includes a theater that plays old movies shot on Kodak film. Big names from Hollywood come here to study historical film techniques made possible by George Eastman.
Eastman Kodak Makes the World a Better Place
George Eastman was the kind of guy who made the world better with his invention and the money he made from it. He gave away boatloads of money to his employees in the earliest forms of profit sharing. He gave to schools, dental clinics, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Tuskegee Institute. He founded the now prestigious Eastman School of Music.
Some estimates say that he gave away as much as $100 million dollars in his life time.
An avid cyclist throughout much of his life, George began noticing decreased mobility in his legs in his late 70s. Doctors attributed it to spinal stenosis. On March 14, 1932, as the organist provided music throughout his home, George Eastman took his own life, leaving a note that read “My work is done. Why wait?”
Why George Eastman is Important
If you care anything about photography more than what your iPhone can do, you probably know about Kodak film and maybe own a few antique Kodak cameras. We do. We have a display case filled with a dozen or so.
But everyone has something to learn from a visit to George Eastman’s home in Rochester. Hopefully it encourages people to think outside the box, to find a way to improve some of the tools we use in every day life, how to be just a little creative. And hopefully it teaches you to share with others and leave the world a better place than you found it.
Learn About the History of Photography