Looking through a nostalgia magazine the other day, I came across a half-page “1956 Advertising Flashback.” It was an ad for a Kodak Argus slide projector with a two-tone-green carrying case and rectangular aluminum slide magazines. The ad grabbed my attention because my parents bought one of those sometime between 1956, when it came out, and 1959, when our family and another family took a trip “out West” together. For many years afterward, we kids enjoyed viewing for hours the slides taken during that trip.
Interestingly, the ad announced that the slide projector, carrying case, and aluminum slide magazines sold for only $66.50. No doubt, that was a lot of money back then, but today it seems like a steal. My parents must have been “in high cotton” about that time because I also remember that they not only bought that slide projector and took the Western vacation but also built our house and bought a brand new 1957 Chevrolet (“Coral, not pink!” Dad used to remind us).
But that ad also set me to thinking about the entrepreneur who made at least some of those memories possible–George Eastman, the inventor of both roll film and the box camera that allowed anyone to become a photographer, and at a reasonable price.
Eastman was born July 12, 1854, in Waterville, New York. He died eighty-four years ago today, on March 14, 1932. Starting out as a simple, primarily self-educated farm boy, he grew into one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his day, having a net worth of approximately $94 million by the end of his life. And he amassed that fortune not on the backs of the people but by putting into the common man’s hands, financially within his grasp, the ability to make and record personal and family memories for generations to come.
In 1884, Eastman patented the process for making the first roll of transparent film. He then invented the camera that was made specifically to use roll film. He advertised his new camera with the slogan “You press the button; we do the rest.” The camera came to the purchaser preloaded with enough film for a hundred individual exposures. When the photographer had exposed the entire roll, he sent the whole camera to Kodak in Rochester, where they developed the film, made prints of the photos, inserted new film into the camera, and returned all of that to the customer.
By 1892, Eastman had founded Eastman Kodak Company and was mass producing not only roll film but also cameras and other photographic equipment. Because of his roll film, his company was more a business partner than a competitor for all of the other camera companies in the nation. After all, they used his film. His roll film made possible Thomas Edison’s 1891 motion picture camera and the whole movie industry. In recognition, Eastman has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But Eastman didn’t just make money; he gave a lot of it away, too. His donations made possible the founding of the Eastman School of Music and the schools of dentistry and medicine at Rochester University. He also gave large amounts to the Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes, black colleges in the South. Within his own company, he discouraged unionization by providing a paternal atmosphere in which he took care of his employees, including making them part owners of the company through a dividend program, thereby giving them a personal stake in the company’s success. He never sought recognition for his generosity.
Sadly, without God as his Savior and suffering a painful back problem late in life, Eastman saw no use in continuing to live, so he committed suicide in 1932. He left a note reading, “To my friends: My work is done. Why wait? GE.”
No man, however, can know when his life’s work is done. Only God knows that. As long as one has life–and that whether easy or hard–one must assume that God has something for him to do.
Every time you look at a photograph, you should thank God that George Eastman used his God-given talents to develop the technology that makes it possible for you to preserve and enjoy years later the memories that it captured. And then go out and record your own memories by living your God-given life to help others and glorify Him.