Vision and Obsession: George Eastman's Life and Times

Vision and Obsession: George Eastman's Life and Times

Vision and Obsession: George Eastman's Life and Times

September 18, 2004–January 9, 2005

DescriptionThe Remarkable George Eastman: Vision & Obsession

Experience the story of Kodak founder George Eastman like never before, with a groundbreaking exhibition this fall at George Eastman House. The Remarkable George Eastman: Vision & Obsession, on view Sept. 18 through Jan. 9, 2005, explores Eastman’s enormous impact on Rochester and the world, as the father of popular photography and one of the greatest philanthropists of the 20th century.

The exhibition reveals the character of a remarkable man and the dramatic scope of his influence, through interactive media, never-before-seen artifacts, and recreations of his Kodak office and his early experiments and photographic laboratory. Insight will be shared regarding his relationships with women, family, and famous colleagues, and his hobbies of camping and hunting. Visitors also will witness a creative presentation of Eastman’s patents and inventions, displayed chronologically on a factory assembly-line —from his dry-plate coating device and film roll holder to the Kodak and Brownie cameras and motion picture innovations. Also illustrated will be Eastman’s marketing genius, evidenced by inspired advertising campaigns and product names, notably the world-famous brand name Kodak, plus the Brownie camera that was marketed to adults and children alike.

"George Eastman is a fascinating model," said Dr. Anthony Bannon, director, George Eastman House. "He had the wisdom to conceive, the courage to create, the energy to announce and distribute and the compassion to share. We are honored and invigorated to foster his legacy at George Eastman House and to present this groundbreaking exhibition."

Eastman Kodak Company is the presenting corporate sponsor of The Remarkable George Eastman: Vision & Obsession. Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Citizens Bank are the major corporate sponsors of the exhibition, with additional support provided by Mr. and Mrs. Wolf Ettinger and the Eastman House Council.

The Remarkable George Eastman

Eastman is heralded as the founder of Kodak and the father of popular photography and motion picture film. Yet he remains unrecognized compared with the fame of fellow industrialists such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, although Eastman, too, revolutionized business and industry. Eastman also was among the top five philanthropists of his day, but his name does not ring with the resonance of his contemporaries —Vanderbilt, DuPont, Carnegie, or Rockefeller.

The exhibition’s introduction features "man on the street" interviews regarding "Who was George Eastman?" and a display where you can test your knowledge about Eastman and his career, plus a timeline of his life and accomplishments

The Time was Right

"Rochester . . . America’s first Boom Town." — Historian Blake McKelvey

George Eastman emerged in a time not unlike our own. Technology and new channels of information redefined the way the world functioned. Reconstruction after the Civil War, industrialization, mass production, and the ethics of the Protestant Revival produced a cultural and economic climate ripe for a man such as Eastman. His practical intelligence and genius for marketing allowed him to position himself at the center of enormous change and possibility.

The time period in which Eastman evolved, personally and professionally, is illustrated by artifacts and inventions that define the society and culture at Eastman’s birth contrasted with the innovations that evolved during his lifetime. Also contrasted will be a setting from Eastman’s father’s prominent business school of the mid-1880s and Eastman’s revolutionized business environment of the early 20th century.

Perfectibility of Everything

Vision and obsession drove Eastman in every aspect of his life. His pragmatic foresight and practical nature, accompanied by an obsessive concern for detail, fueled his quest to succeed. His vision defined his objectives, but his obsession with detail provided the motivational energy required to achieve his colossal enterprise. Naturally inquisitive and passionate about detail, Eastman filled his days striving to improve his life, his company, and eventually the community at large.

Visitors will learn about Eastman’s character and relationship to his family and friends. The exhibition mirrors Eastman’s childhood home against the grandeur of his mansion; displays early original portraits of his family with a graphic presentation of the Eastman family tree up to the present day; offers an interpretive presentation of his personal library, giving visitors insight into Eastman’s private and public concerns; and evokes a discussion of his motivation for taking his own life.

Turning Silver into Gold

"What we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but . . . we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair, to make the camera as convenient as the pencil." — George Eastman

George Eastman was an understated man but a titan of industry. He was a medium of his times, and he gave vision to a modern world through photography and motion pictures. From bank clerk to industrial giant, he revolutionized, democratized, and dominated the information technology of his day. Marketing to women, children, and an emerging middle class, he established a set of values that still resides in today’s consumer culture.

Visitors will learn how Eastman created a worldwide model for corporate practice and made photography and motion pictures part of everyday life. Visitors will experience a recreation of his laboratory as a microcosm of the industrial complex he created at Kodak Park; stories surrounding his earliest experiments in perfecting flexible roll film; the evolution of advertising and marketing ephemera from the earliest days of his business enterprise to contemporary times; and film footage of George Eastman and Thomas Edison introducing an early color motion-picture process, Kodacolor, in 1928.

The Labor of Leisure

"What a man does in his working hours determines what he has, but what he does in his leisure hours determines who he is." — George Eastman

Eastman lived and shared his success in the manner of his day, with his actions and interests characteristic of what was expected of a man of stature during his time — the building of his mansion; his second home, the hunting cabin Oak Lodge in North Carolina; his many hunting trips; his love of music; entertaining friends; and hobbies that ranged from beekeeping to playing bridge.

Artifacts illustrate that Eastman chose to enjoy the fruits of his labor, through examples of hunting trophies from his many expeditions to Africa, Alaska, and other locations around the world; personally customized camping equipment; home movies of his trips and home life; personal photographs; and a glimpse of how he entertained his many famous associates, friends, and family. Visitors will also learn the truth about the persistent rumors surrounding this wealthy and modest man — such as why he never married or why he took his own life at age 77.

Philanthropy with Purpose

"If a man has wealth, he has to make a choice . . . he can keep it together in a bunch and then leave it for others to administer after he is dead. Or he can get into action and have fun, while he is still alive. I prefer getting it into action and adapting it to human needs, and making the plan work." — George Eastman

In his time Eastman was ranked among the country ’s top five philanthropists. He gave away more than $100 million (about $2 billion today) in his lifetime, to education, health care, medical research, the arts, and hundreds of charitable organizations. Eastman’s adopted hometown of Rochester benefited most from his generosity, with the University of Rochester receiving close to half his fortune. Eastman’s plan was for Rochester to be "the best city in which to live and raise a family."

He religiously kept in a small polished oak box a detailed accounting of his contributions, from the dollar tip to the shoeshine boy to the millions he donated to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tuskegee University, and Hampton Institute, to name but a few of the universities that benefited from his financial support. Eastman was the country’s largest supporter of African-American education in the 1920s. Visitors to the exhibition will learn about Eastman’s ethical philanthropic legacy, including discovering the story behind the generous MIT supporter known as "Mr. Smith," revealed after his death to be Eastman himself.

Eastman ’s success and fortune allowed him the privilege of conducting his philanthropy with purpose and to stamp his time and our own with the indelible mark of his worldview and values.

Eastman Kodak Company is the presenting corporate sponsor of The Remarkable George Eastman: Vision & Obsession; Citizens Bank is the lead corporate sponsor; and Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield is the major corporate sponsor of the exhibition, with additional support provided by 3D Energy, Brite Computers, Mr. and Mrs. Wolf Ettinger, and the Eastman House Council.

Media sponsors are Democrat and Chronicle, 10NBC, WHAM-1180AM, and WXXI-TV.

Review and updating of the museum's collection data is ongoing.
Inclusion of an object in this database does not guarantee its availability for loan.
For permission to use images from the online collections, please contact Image Rights and Reproductions.