George Eastman House

Eastman was born in Waterville, Oneida County, New York. He was the fourth and youngest child of George Washington Eastman and Maria Kilbourn, both from the bordering town of Marshall. His third sister died shortly after her birth. In 1854, his father established the Eastman Commercial College in Rochester and the Eastman family moved to Rochester in 1865. Two years later, his father died, which left the family with little income and Eastman left high school to support the family. He began working as an office boy by the age of 14.

In 1874, Eastman became intrigued with photography but was frustrated by the awkward process. It required coating a glass plate with a liquid emulsion, that had to be used before it dried. After three years of experimentation with British gelatin emulsions, he developed a dry photographic plate, patented it in both England and the US, and began a photographic business in 1880.

In 1884, he patented a photographic medium that replaced fragile glass plates with a photo-emulsion coated on paper rolls. The invention of roll film greatly speeded up the process of recording multiple images.

Eastman received a patent in 1888 for his roll film camera. He coined the marketing phrase “You press the button, we do the rest.” The phrase entered the public consciousness, and was even incorporated into a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta (Utopia, Limited). The camera owner could return it with a processing fee of $10, and the company would develop the film and return 100 pictures, along with a new roll of 100 exposures.

On September 4, 1888 Eastman registered the trademark Kodak. The letter “O” had been a favorite of Eastman’s, he is quoted in saying, “it seems a round, endless sort of letter”. He and his mother devised the name Kodak with an anagram set. He said that there were three principal concepts he used in creating the name: it must be short, you can not mispronounce it, and it could not resemble anything or be associated with anything but Kodak.

By 1896, 100 Kodak cameras had been sold. The first Kodak had cost USD $15. The pocket camera now cost $0.50. In an effort to bring photography to the masses, Eastman introduced the Brownie in 1900 at a price of just $1. It became a great success.

In 1925, Eastman gave up his daily management of Kodak, to become chairman of the board. He thereafter concentrated on philanthropic activities, to which he had already donated substantial sums. He was one of the major philanthropists of his time, ranking only slightly behind Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and a few others, but did not seek publicity for his activities. He concentrated on institution-building and causes which could help people’s health. He donated to the University of Rochester, establishing the Eastman School of Music and School of Dentistry; to Tuskegee Institute; and made major donations to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which helped build several of their first buildings at their second campus along the Charles River.

In his final two years Eastman was in intense pain. He had trouble standing and his walking became a slow shuffle. It was caused by a degenerative disorder affecting his spine. Today it might be diagnosed as spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal caused by calcification in the vertebrae. Eastman grew depressed, as he had seen his mother spend the last two years of her life in a wheelchair from the same condition. On March 14, 1932, Eastman committed suicide using an automatic pistol. He left a suicide note that read, “To my Friends, My work is done. Why wait?” His funeral was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rochester. Eastman, who never married, is buried on the grounds of the company he founded at Kodak Park in Rochester, New York.

After his death in 1932, Eastman left his house to the University of Rochester. In 1947, the house was chartered as a photgraphic museum by the State of New York. In 1989, a new building was completed on the property to display and house the Museum’s growing collection of photographs, photographic equipment, books and motion pictures.

A 14 month house restoration, completed in January 1990 at a cost of $1.7 million, was intended to present Eastman’s house as a memorial to the man who lived here. A nationwide search resulted in the recovery of many of Eastman’s belongings once thought lost or destroyed. What you see below is a small portion of the house as it stands today. I can tell you it was extremely nerve racking to take photos in a place of such renown in the study of photography. I made these very quickly just to keep the memory.

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7 Responses to “George Eastman House”

  1. Amazing photographs. You can really get the feel of the place from your images. I’d love to tour this house. It was interesting to read about how he and his mother came up with the name, Kodak. Very business savvy. I had forgotten that he committed suicide. He sure did do a lot in his lifetime. Maybe his work truly was done.

  2. Love your pictures. I would enjoy taking a trip up there. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. my favorite is the closet. It goes without saying, the others are beautiful.

  4. I like the contrast with the image that follows it. Did people actually live in such places, or did they kind of progress from one room to another? What did they do if they wanted to be cosy – curl up in a closet?
    But for grandness, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

  5. Thank you all for the wonderful comments. From my visit, I felt that Eastman was a very generous, exuberant man, heavily involved in his community and wanting to give back for all he’d received in his lifetime. He threw many parties and had a very interesting mixture of people from all walks of life, Thomas Edison being one of his many noted great friends. With his love for being surrounded by interesting people and a need to give his mother pleasure, he built this magnificent house you see here (And actually, the entire street has some of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever seen).

    He seemed to be quite eccentric and have a wonderfully modern view of things…something I greatly admire. He was extremely dedicated to his families’ survival after his father passed away and especially concerned with his mother happiness… and in the 3rd photo, the very left, top portion of the home was built specifically so she could look out those windows in the garden, from her wheel chair. Ultimately watching her debilitating physical progression had a large impact on how he chose to end his own life…feeling he had completed what he had wanted to in his lifetime.

    Interestingly, although he never married, and due to his devotion to his mother, some would draw the conclusion that he was a “Mama’s Boy”. My own interpretation was that he was a busy man, that he had special, significient people in his life and he was fulfilled by both. It was a different age and he was a unique individual.

    .

  6. Wow, that’s really cool. seems like an interesting dude. When I have a kid and he/she needs to do a 4th grade biography, I know who I’m suggesting.

    Also, I’m glad they let you take pictures. Otherwise, the irony might have killed some people.

  7. I had a middle school friend — we went separate ways by high school — whose first job out of college was with Kodak. I saw her mom about eight years ago. My friend was a VP of something. I wonder where she is now. She seemed to love the company.

    Off topic but somewhat related, I liked Polaroid’s logo — the five color bars.

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