“Kodaking” – The Lense of George Eastman and case study of Kodak Company

By Wanyu Zhang

For my final post of this class I want to have a case study of Kodak Company, from the historical lense to flashback the past, current and the future of Kodak company’s impact to the world. By far the most significant event in the history of amaetur photography was the introduction of the Kodak #1 camera in 1888. Invented and marketed by George Eastman (1854 – 1932) Upon that time, the Kodak was a simple box camera that came loaded with a 100-exposure roll of film, so when the roll was finished, the entire machine was sent back to the factory and reloaded then returned to their customer when the first roll was being processed.George Eastman was successfully made photography accessible to millions of casual amateurs with no particular professional training, technical expertise or aesthetix credentials. The famous advertising campaign with the memorable slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” was published in many places. The word after Eastman first camera had a tremendous changed and huge impact on people’s life, there was the first step of a 20-year quest that would lead him to his most iconic camera – the Brownie. Basically it changed many American families themselve to recall their family history and memory. I’m also interesting in the the relationship between the customer who but Kodak camera and how they treated to these magical small boxes, some amateaur photographers reacted to the snapshop craze by forming organizations dedicated to promoting photography as a fine art rather the pop art. However, since the development of  camera has always way beyond than people’s expect , in the mid-1960s, the idea of a “snapshot aesthetic” began to get currency in art photography vase.

Section 1: Who is George Eastman and why he changed the world with “film”

“ He was a high school dropout, judged ‘not especially gifted’ when measured against the academic standards of the day. He was poor, but even as a young man, he took it upon himself to support his widowed mother and two sisters, one of who had polio.”

This is the first paragraph from Kodak homepage that introduced their company’s founder, like many “heroes” in various industries, they never follow the traditional trajectory to lead them to be success, they’re special and usually they used to have a tough life experience. With very fe exceptions, they’re kind from the humanity side. That young man may has no idea based on his invented on 19 century, people from all over the world can “storeage” their memory though the magic box, it’s also from that moment until to current, the definition of camera is significantly beyond the original concept and like Eastman promise from his first goal to make photography “as convenient as the pencil”. History can be changed by any people who persistently intended to change, when Eastman at 24 years old, he got interested to the giant camera and try to make some improvement of the structure of  the photographic emulsion, he learned from others but make the real action by himselves. After 3 years again and again experiment, finally by 1880, he had not only invented a dry plate formula, but had patented a machine for preparing large number of the plate. That is the iconic and symbolic step for the entire photography industry, because only the “tools” become handy and compact, people will have chance to bring that to everywhere and never feel this is a heavy burdens. And this is the power of icon, or we can say is a cultural icon has officially launched to daily life.

Eastman always believes and want to achieve a goal which is to simplify photography, so from the very beginning to found his own company in 1901, he build his business on 4 basic principles: 1. A focus on the customer  2. Mass production at low cost  3. Worldwide distribution  4. Extensive advertising. Apparently, the reason behind the huge success of Kodak make the above 4 reasons being closely related. Mass production could not be justified without wide distribution. Distribution can be successful should has strong bonding with strong advertising skills. And the original desire with to fulfilling customer needs is never change, because Eastman profoundly believed this is the only way to corporate success.

Even people may do not familiar the name and story of George Eastman but I’m pretty sure there is no name has been more closely tied to pictures than Kodak, this yellow and red logo it’s like a tattoo engraving to everyone’s memory. So when the section title I chose for Eastman changed world do not exaggerate at all. And the key of his success is “making photography a popular leisure-time activity for the masses were his development of roll film and the inexpensive box camera” Not surprisingly, there are tons of historical milestones of Kodak was made by Eastman.

photo-of-1888-and-1889-boxes-of-kodak-film“Kodak introduced the first commercial transparent roll film in 1989”


“In 1990, the KODAK BROWNIE camera brought photography within financial reach of consumers. The camera sold for $1 and film was 15 cents a roll.”


Introduced in 1935, KODACHROME Film became the first commercially successful amateur color film. Initially offered in 16 mm format for motion pictures, formats for 35 mm slides and 8 mm home movies followed in 1936.”

“KODAK CAROUSEL projectors – introduced in 1961, the projectors had a round tray that held 80 slides for easy viewing.” 

Section 2: Kodak and American Family – “A focus on the customer”

During my research on Kodak and American family after WWII, is the time when Kodak began marketing their extremely inexpensive snapshot cameras and Kodak’s advertising always urged families to capture the moments in the lives of postwar family at home or on vacations. Many young people themselves often bought these affordable cameras or received them as presents, that’s why we can found so many photographic evidence of their family and daily lives.  (see more photos )

camera-kodak-instamatic-fade-19-57-swscan02188-copy“ The idea gradually dawned on me, “Eastman later said, “that what we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but that we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair.” I think as a Businessman he really knows his customers need and as an inventor he challenged all the “impossible” things. Eastman never stopped to create the newer and better equipment for his customers, so all his experiments were directed to the use of a lighter and more flexible support than glass. This is Eastman American Film was in introduced – the first transparent photographic “film” as we know it today. Meanwhile, the first film advertisements in 1885 also stated that “shortly there will be introduced a new sensitive film which it is believed will prove an economical and convenient substitute for glass dry plates both for outdoor and studio work” which emphasized the new
chapter of the photography world. Because the system of photography using roll holders was immediately successful.images It’s more customized for the users based on their daily based needs. It’s gradually become an American phenomenon and let Americans the tembraced it, it encourages them were leaving home and striking out further and further west that people could have something to think about and reflect that to remember people by this technology. 
According to the Kodak Homepage and George Eastman House information, we can easily found how Eastman put customer at the first place and always based on this idea to develop all kinds of technology. “Eastman’s solution was to coat the paper with a layer of plain, soluble gelatin, and then with a layer of insoluble light-sensitive gelatin. After exposure and development, the gelatin bearing the image was stripped from the paper, transferred to a sheet of clear gelatin, and varnished with collodion – a cellulose solution that forms a tough, flexible film.” It’s hard to imagine all the chemical process happened thought how many times of experiments. Eastman absolutely transparent roll film and the roll holder or we can see he changed the entire direction of his work and established the fundamental on the success of amateur photography. The new era comes to people without any boundary.

    Section 3: Kodak = Affordable – “Mass production at low cost”

Kodak is way much beyond than a camera or film in people’s memory, the other reason was because of the price, it’s perfect fit to any middle class family in America. Eastman believed in order to make a large business they would reach the general public. Therefore, time back to 1888, it was Eastman put down the foundation for making photography available to everyone. Pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures, the camera could be easily carried and handheld during operation.In 1888, Eastman was issued a landmark U.S. patent No. 388,850 for his box camera. On the same date, he registered the trademark name: Kodak. The Eastman Kodak company was formed on April 24, 1888. This design was the first Kodak mass-produced camera, and brought photography to the mass market. As described in its advertising, the operation was simple: “Pull the String, Turn the Key, Press the Button. e83fb63c633b5fccd8cc2a3cc6226844” I have to say that’s one of the best advertisement I’ve ever seen, just make me thinking about the effort that Eastman made for people, he made complicated to simple which is one of the most things in the world. Now anyone could take pictures of family events, indoor and outdoor scenes, and vacations, without needing special skills. Only 22-ounces in weight, it required no tripod or table for support. It used a fixed-focus lens which was fast enough to take practically instantaneous exposures. Its roll film was enough to take 100 pictures, each 2½ inches diameter, that was brilliant and a big step for human’s history, even he was not the first people who invented the first camera or develop the skill and at the first time, but without all the chemical and technical miracle, it’s impossible to let people who do not have any special skills to love that. After 1888, almost every year the Eastman team developed some new kinds of camera or film to support and encourage peoppalmer-cox-cigar-label-19-1crople who love to take photos.  At February of 1900, the very first Kodak Brownie camera was introduced to the public and the price was only cost $1 allowed virtually anyone to afford. That showed this genius businessman mind of Eastman, because he lets the super cheap camera to expand the business term of film, he “push” the market from expensive cameras to the lower price exception can still out of the rewp1431f3fd_05_06ach of most middle and lower class working families. The cost of camera is low but the team also guaranteed the quality was effective and reliable. Exactly like the name of this camera, Eastman intended to marketed with children in mind because the name of Brownie  was taking from the popular Palmer Cox Brownie. At the same time the film was also affordable, even for 1900. 1 dollar can buy a Brownie, 6 exposure roll of transparent film at $0.15, paper negative film at $0.1 and $0.4 for processing which included the printed images and postage. Eastman was devoted to mass production of his cameras, international distribution, and meeting customer needs and he finally making photography truly accessible to the amateur masses.

Section 4: Kodaking – “Extensive advertising”

Kodak’s high-profile advertising campaigns established the need to preserve ‘significant” moment in family or any moment that people enjoyed. They were all labeled to “Kodak Moment”, just like the concept of everyday life. If we go through back to see tons of Kodak’s retro ads, we can found many similarities, always has famous Kodak girl,_35 young kids, simply slogan or the illustration of Kodak new products. As we seen, women Kodak cast in the leading role because Eastman knew how to market for women, because they know the mom, wife, daughter’s role in a family. They are the major group who enjoy to take the snapshot to record their family moment. However, women just present who took the photos, because the other half of the Kodak moment required a context, like the birthday parties, family holidays, sport games and so on. Kodak also played an important role in converting travel to tourism, the common sense we had now which is if you haven’t took any photos from your trip who will knows you went to that and photos was all about preserving memories for that sentiment, who love doing that? Women. Because by the 1970s, more than 60% of photos in the US was took by women.the-kodak-camera-century-1889The product’s first advertising slogan, “You press the button – we do the rest,” reflected this process.

The name “Kodak” had no meaning; Eastman created the brand name for reasons he summarized in his British patent application: “First. It is short. Second. It is not capable of mispronunciation. Third. It does not resemble anything in the art and cannot be associated with anything in the art except the Kodak.” In 1892 he renamed his firm the Eastman Kodak Company. Kodak cameras were not cheap at $25 apiece – about the equivalent of $400 today – so at first few Americans could purchase them. Yet the novel product, supported by extensive and appealing advertising, grew in popularity especially from the 1890s onward.

Advertising was a major budget item for the company and a cornerstone of Ged56b4dde0f6db3eaa3dc820cf2beab66orge Eastman’s business success, making Kodak a household word while many competing brands failed to gain a permanent market share. Eastman created an advertising department and hired a manager in 1892. A well-known icon, the Kodak Girl, began to appear in magazine and poster advertising in 1893. By the end of the century, the company was spending a phenomenal $750,000 annually on promotion. A famous slogan first used in 1905 proclaimed, “If ik0265t isn’t an Eastman, it isn’t a Kodak;”
in that same year the eminently recognizable yellow box appeared as film packaging. In some advertisements and other texts the word “Kodak” was used as a verb (“Kodak as you go,”
was one advertising headline) but this usage did not a become permanent fixture in the English language.

Kodaking is obviously a fake verb word but after explored the history and all kinds of archives of Kodak Ads, it’s pretty touching from many sides. Even I can tell the history of American life back to 19 and 20 centuries. If compare sharing experience on social media by those snapshots, do we lose something authentic? I hope the answer was YES.

Section 5: Conclusion – My Kodak Memory  

One of the best childhood memory on 90’s was to play with my Olympus film camera, I like the feeling of each click. Every time when I finished one roll of film than send it back to a photo store processed the Kodak films made me so exciting and mix a little bit pressure. When my mom brings the white paper bag and inside full of my photos, it’s really does satisfied an ameturar photograher’s mind to celebrate some my best shots. The texture and color of a film photo has never changed. The family album and old photos seem the only object make me has homesick, thanks to Kodak. And I have to say, Eastman not only changed the American life but also globally impact many families too.    

Reference :

Eastman Kodak Company 

George Eastman Museum

Duke University Digital Collection – Eastman Kodak and Its Early Advertising: More About the Ellis Collection and Kodak

O’Barr, William M. Culture and the Ad: Exploring Otherness in the World of Advertising. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1994.

West, Nancy M. Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.

2012, Arthur Molella March 15. “This Kodak Moment.” National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Insitution Mithsonian Insitution, 08 Nov. 2016.