A lot of famous people have called Rochester their home at one time or another. George Eastman was one of them. As an inventor and entrepreneur, Eastman was responsible for turning Rochester from a shipping and agricultural center into a manufacturing town that made photography a hobby every consumer could enjoy.
Eastman was also a well-known philanthropist. Much of his philanthropy was tied to higher education as evidenced by his contributions to building the Eastman School of Music, two dentistry schools in Rochester and London, the well-known Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Hampton University, Tuskegee University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Eastman's history in the Rochester area is encapsulated in the house that bears his name. The George Eastman House on East Avenue is a National Historic Landmark and a museum showcasing his influence on both photography and film.
George Eastman's Early Life
George was born in the small central New York village of Waterville. Born to farming parents George and Maria Eastman in 1854, he had two older sisters. He educated himself at until finally being sent to school at some point after his eighth birthday. Eastman and his family remained on the Waterville farm until 1860.
It was then that the family moved to Rochester. George's father was in deteriorating health, and it was decided that the family could no longer manage the farm. Moving to Rochester was a logical decision inasmuch as Eastman's father had started a business college in the city some 20 years earlier.
George's father died just two years after their move to Rochester. His mother then took in boarders to pay for George's schooling. Unfortunately, the younger of the two Eastman daughters died in 1870 of polio. This led Eastman to leave school and start work. He began a photography business that did quite well right from the start.
Eastman's Impact on Rochester
Eastman's early success was due in part to his knack for inventing. In 1884 he patented rolled film after having tinkered with it for years. Just four years later he introduced the Kodak Black camera. By the time the 1890s rolled around, Eastman was the largest supplier of film in the world. He went on to start the Eastman Kodak company in 1892.
History paints Rochester as one of America's first boom towns due largely to what Eastman accomplished with Kodak. As one of America's first tech companies, Eastman Kodak went on to become a dominant force in film production, photography, camera manufacturing, and digital imaging.
Eastman's impact on labor relations cannot be ignored either. He managed to keep unions out of Eastman Kodak not by fighting them, but by treating his workers like family. At its peak, Eastman Kodak was to Rochester's labor market what companies like Apple and Google are to their respective markets today.
The legacy of George Eastman is still alive the Rochester area. The city and surrounding area owe a lot to the man who made Kodak a household name.
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