One-hundred and twenty-six years ago, on September 4, 1888, George Eastman, who transformed photography from an expensive hobby into a popular pastime, registered the “Kodak” trademark for his new box camera.
Born in Waterville, New York, in 1854, the self-educated Eastman patented the first practical film in roll form in 1884 and four years later perfected the Kodak camera, the first such device designed for roll film. It went on sale for the first time in 1889.
He said the Kodak name had no meaning, explaining, “I devised the name myself. The letter ‘K’ had been a favorite 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.”
He founded the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester in 1889 and coined the famous advertising slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest.” One of the first firms to mass-produce standardized photography equipment, it also made the flexible, transparent film, invented by Eastman, that was vital in the development of the movie industry.
He was also a leading philanthropist, donating more than $75 million to several institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Tuskegee Institute, the Eastman School of Music, and a school of medicine and dentistry at the University of Rochester in 1921.
In his last two years, he suffered intense pain caused by a degenerative disorder affecting his spine. He grew depressed; his mother had spent her final years in a wheelchair due to the same illness. He had difficulty standing, and his walking became a slow shuffle
Eastman died by suicide on March 14, 1932, with a gunshot to the heart, leaving a note that read: "My work is done. Why wait?" His funeral was held at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, and he was buried on the grounds of the company he founded at Kodak Park. His $95 million net worth totaled 1/600th of the US gross domestic product.
His former home at 900 East Avenue in Rochester was opened as the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in 1949. In 1954, the 100th anniversary of his birth, Eastman was honored with a stamp from the U.S. Post Office.
In 1976, the Eastman Kodak Company had a 90 percent market share of photographic film sales in the United States. But in 2012, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced it would no longer make digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames for consumers, and would focus instead on the corporate digital imaging market.