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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Kodak

In 1884, George Eastman patents paper-strip photographic film. It was the first film in roll form to prove practicable, an innovation that came about after he had been tinkering at home to develop it. In 1888, Eastman developed a camera that he called "Kodak" that could use the film that he had developed. He incorporated his company under the name Eastman Kodak in 1892.

So how did Eastman come up with the name Kodak? "I devised the name myself. The letter "K" had been a favorite with me - it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter. It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with 'K. ' The word 'Kodak' is the result." That was it.

Eastman sold his camera pre-loaded with enough film for 100 exposures. When a customer finished taking all of the pictures, they mailed the camera back to Kodak in Rochester with $10 payment. The company would process the film, make a print of each exposure, load another roll of film into the camera, and then send the camera and prints back to the customer. He had created a business model where no other film could be used, nor another photograph processing company used, which led Eastman to create the advertising slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest."

George Eastman was also known as a progressive leader in his day. He attempted to counter unionization efforts by providing better benefits that many companies at that time, including a profit sharing program. Eastman was also proactive in promoting women to higher level positions, including Florence McAnaney who was his head of personnel.

By 1930, Eastman Kodak was listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which lasted until 2004. Sadly, in 1932, George Eastman took his own life with a gunshot. The suicide note he left behind, he wrote, "To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?"

Eastman Kodak continued to grow through the twentieth century but lost market share as it focused on its traditional photography business and resisted efforts to produce lower cost or digital alternatives. Although it was Kodak that developed the first handheld digital camera in 1975, they soon dropped the product because they felt that it would dilute their traditional business, photographic film.

When Fuji Film entered into the US market, Kodak believed that consumers would reject their lower cost alternatives, even going as far as to turn down sponsorship of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, allowing Fuji to step in. As customers migrated from Kodak, the company filed a petition with the US Commerce Department, accusing Fuji of unfair business practices and poor quality. In 1998, the World Trade Organization summarily dismissed all of Kodak's claims.

By 2012, the one time leader in photographic film filed for bankruptcy protection, ending trading on January 19th at a share price of $.36. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2013 and since that time has been involved in a variety of businesses, both direct and licensed, including blockchain currency and pharmaceuticals.


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