George Eastman - Early Life

Early Life

Eastman was born in Waterville, New York to George Washington Eastman and Maria Eastman (née Kilbourn), the youngest child, at the 10-acre farm which his parents bought in 1849. He had two older sisters, Ellen Maria and Katie. He was largely self-educated, although he attended a private school in Rochester after the age of eight. His father had started a business school, the Eastman Commercial College in the early 1840s in Rochester, New York, described as one of the first "boomtowns" in the United States, with a rapid growth in industry. As his father's health started deteriorating, the family gave up the farm and moved to Rochester in 1860. His father died of a brain disorder in May 1862. To survive and afford George's schooling, his mother took in boarders.

Maria's second daughter, Katie, had contracted polio when young and died in late 1870 when George was 16 years old. The young George left school early and started working. As George Eastman began to experience success with his photography business, he vowed to repay his mother for the hardships she had endured in raising him.

In 1884, Eastman patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable; he had been tinkering at home to develop it. In 1888 he perfected the Kodak camera, the first camera designed specifically for roll film. In 1892, he established the Eastman Kodak Company, in Rochester, New York. It was one of the first firms to mass-produce standardized photography equipment. The company also manufactured the flexible transparent film, devised by Eastman in 1889, which proved vital to the subsequent development of the motion picture industry.

He started his philanthropy early, sharing the income from his business to establish educational and health institutions. Notable among his contributions were a $625,000 gift in 1901 (equivalent to $17.5 million in present day terms.) to the Mechanics Institute, now Rochester Institute of Technology; and a major gift in the early 1900s to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which enabled the construction of buildings on its second campus by the Charles River. It opened this campus in 1916.

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