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George Eastman-The Man Who Brought Photography to the Masses

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GEORGE EASTMAN

This paper is on a man who had very humble beginnings and through his ingenuity and curiosity was able to enhance the culture we live in, even today through his inventions in photography. For without his invention of the roll film, photography might be a much more difficult process than we are used to in this day and age.

Mr. George Eastman was born on July 12, 1854, in Waterville, NY. His father, George Washington Eastman, ran a business school where he taught bookkeeping and penmanship, but had to work a second job selling fruit trees and roses, which forced him to split his time between Waterville and Rochester, New York. The young George Eastman was thus raised mostly by his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, from an early age, and entirely by her after his father died in 1862. In 1870, his older sister Katie, who suffered from polio, died as well, leaving the Eastman household permanently scarred by misfortune. At the age of 15, his family had moved to Rochester and George took a job as an office boy after quitting school, to help support his family. In 1875 he started working at the Rochester Savings Bank as a Junior Bookkeeper. He was able to save money and then ventured into a career in real estate. In 1877 there was a boom in land speculation underway in Hispaniola and George had planned a trip to go there and partake in it. A friend of his convinced him that he should document the trip with a camera, so he went out and purchased his first photographic equipment. The trip ended up not taking place, but George had fallen in love with photography and wanted to learn as much about this fascinating profession as possible, so he sought out two amateur photographers in Rochester a Mr. George Monroe and a Mr. George Selden. He became their willing pupil. After getting a subscription to the "British Journal of Photography" he was inspired to make improvements in dry plate photography (which back then was far inferior to wet plate photography, where a glass plate was exposed and developed while wet). His curiosity and ingenuity resulted in him creating a formula for gelatin based paper film and a machine for coating dry plates. He then went into business selling dry plates in April 1880, in a room above a music store located in the financial district of Rochester, NY.

Eastman's business received a big boost when E & H.T. Anthony (the premier national photographic supply distributor of that time) began buying his dry plates. Eastman continued for a short time to work at the bank, but decided to resign in 1881 after his boss chose another employee for a promotion instead of himself for a job he certainly felt he deserved. Then in 1884 Eastman hired William Hall Walker (a camera inventor and manufacturer) and together they designed and invented the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, which allowed photographers to advance paper film through the camera instead of having to handle individual plates. With this invention, a whole new concept in photography was launched....a camera that anyone could use. Eastman's challenge was to make that concept clear to a public accustomed to thinking of photographic equipment as forbidding and obscure. This was probably one of the most significant advances in photography until the late 20th century with the introduction of the digital camera. In the 1880s photographers were accustomed to carting around 50-pound cameras that would yield two or three photographs an hour. A camera using the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, however, could produce up to 50 images in an hour, even though it weighed a mere two and three-quarters pounds. Suddenly, taking pictures was easy to do. That year, the roll holder went on to win gold medals at the International Inventions Exhibitions of London and Exhibition Universelle in Paris, but the initial euphoria soon wore off. Although this camera was hugely popular with amateur photographers, the paper film that was used in it gave only mediocre results, so Eastman set out to improve upon this problem and turned to Dr. Samuel A. Lattimore, the head of the chemistry department at the University of Rochester, who recommended the services of Henry Reichenbach, Lattimore's undergraduate assistant and something of an expert in the area of glass plates.

Reichenbach came to work for Eastman in August 1886, and after researching emulsions briefly he was assigned the task of finding a substitute for paper as a film base. This was easier said than done. Depending on the approach, the film would become too fragile or too thin, too greasy or too cloudy, or just plain wrinkled. But Reichenbach was patient and by December 1888, he and Eastman had produced a nitrocellulose solution in wood alcohol that seemed to show promise. Two months later, he explained to the board of directors how a precise solution, flowed over glass and allowed to evaporate, would produce a transparent, flexible film that could then be peeled off, cut into strips and inserted into cameras.

Originally, both Eastman and Reichenbach filed patents on this technology. Eastman found himself in a generous mood, however, and withdrew his patent. Reichenbach's patent was issued on December 10, 1889, by which time Kodak had been selling nitrocellulose film for three months. The effect of Reichenbach's success was palpable: that same year, a new corporation was organized, capitalized at one million dollars and called simply The Eastman Company.

In 1893, the Eastman Company was experiencing some tough times. Henry Reichenbach, the company's star chemist and emulsion maker, had left in disgrace, the entire country was experiencing a financial depression, and it was beginning to look as if the good old days of Kodak were over. Into this crisis stepped William G. Stuber of Louisville, Kentucky. Eastman first met Stuber at a photographic convention. A portrait photographer of national acclaim, Stuber had just returned from Switzerland, where he had spent six months studying emulsion techniques of Dr. John Henry Smith. Stuber owned a half-interest in Henry's new plate-coating machine. Ever alert to talent and rival technologies alike, Eastman invited the photographer to Rochester to interview for the position of foreman in the transparency plate department.

Stuber arrived, confident of getting the job, so confident that he brought his family with him. During the interview, Eastman asked the photographer for his opinion on why Kodak film went bad after about six months. Stuber told him that it was because of the way the emulsions were handled during production. Shocked, Eastman pressed for more and received a theory that he could test for himself. Stuber was assigned to work on emulsions a few days later. At the time, emulsions were a particularly sore point

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