Real Gladiator: George Eastaman
Written by Gianni Franco www.giannifranco.com
Welcome to the 3rd article in the Living Loving Rochester, NY Series
In January 1881, at age 26, George Eastman founded the Eastman Dry Plate Company, which was the precursor to Eastman Kodak, incorporated in 1892. A major investor in the company was Henry A Strong, who came to be the first President of Kodak and a major philanthropist throughout Rochester, NY.
The name, Kodak, was coined by George in 1888. There’s no particular meaning attached to the name. George just liked the sound and look of the letter K. Personally, I would’ve used the name KADAK, because it forms a palindrome, which means it’s the same backwards or forwards. Very odd that George didn’t think about that option.
George gave away one third of his company to his employees in 1919 in the form of stock. He also added an employee benefits program when labor laws and employee wellness didn’t exist. He added Eastman Savings and Loan, ESL, in 1920, to help employees qualify for mortgages.
George was concerned about equality in society and donated his wealth to make certain everyone, no matter race, color, or creed, received a fair opportunity. He donated millions to the Institutes of Hampton and Tuskegee, the University of Rochester, and MIT. He donated funds to help start the first dental clinics for all ages in Rochester, and subsequently oversaw the Eastman Dental Clinics open in Rome, Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, and London.
He and his mother loved music and the arts so much that he opened the Eastman Theater in 1922. He dedicated Kilbourn Hall to the memory of his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, who passed away in 1907. Kilbourn Hall is considered one of the finest chamber music halls in the world. It is part of the world renowned Eastman School of Music, which George founded in 1921.
On March 14, 1932 George Eastman committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot to the heart. His suicide note read, “To my friends, my work is done. Why wait?” His funeral was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Rochester. There has never been a definitive reason as to why he committed suicide, only varied speculation, typical of most suicides.