The Rise & Fall of Kodak

A Brief History of The Eastman Kodak Company, 1880 to 2012

“You press the button, we do the rest.”
— George Eastman, 1888, introducing the first simple camera.

By Andrew Hudson Published: August 29, 2012 Updated: April 20, 2018

George Eastman’s goal was “to make the camera as convenient as the pencil.” Overwhelmed by the size and weight of photography equipment he needed for a planned vacation in 1877, Eastman set about inventing ever lighter and easier gear, thereby almost single-handedly creating the field of amateur photography.

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”
— George Eastman

Eastman brought us roll film, movie film, daylight film, the 35mm format, the Brownie camera, non-flammable photographic film, and 16mm and 8mm home movies. Following his death in 1932, his company brought us Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Tri-X, 35mm slide film, color negative film for prints, Instamatic 110 film, the APS format, the carousel projector, Super 8, the PhotoCD format, and, of course, photography. All this from one company: 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.”
— George Eastman, on creating the name Kodak

The Rise of Kodak

1854BornIn Waterville, New York state, George Eastman is born.
1859RochesterThe Eastman family moves to Rochester, N.Y., the future home of Kodak.
1869WorkAfter the death of his father, George is forced to leave school at age 14 and started work as a messenger boy for an insurance firm.
1877PhotographyPlanning a vacation to Santo Domingo, George buys a camera, which was the size of a microwave and required an equally heavy tripod. He described the complete outfit as “a pack-horse load.”
1877–1879InventionFrustrated with the mess and weight of photography’s wet plates, Eastman spends three years developing a gelatin emulsion for dry plates.
1879PatentGeorge goes to London (the center of the photographic and business world) to get a patent of an emulsion-coating machine which can mass produce dry plates.
1880StartGeorge Eastman makes and sells photographic plates in Rochester, N.Y.
1881Full-timeForms the Eastman Dry Plate Company with Henry A. Strong, a family friend and buggy-whip manufacturer. Resigns as a bank clerk at Rochester Savings Bank to work full time.
1883Roll filmInvents film in rolls instead of plates. The company moves to a four-story building at what is now 343 State Street, Rochester, NY, Kodak’s worldwide headquarters.
188414 shareholdersThe partnership of Eastman and Strong is changed to a $200,000 corporation with 14 shareholders, the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. EASTMAN Negative Paper is introduced.
1885Photo filmThe first transparent photographic “film” as we know it today is introduced with EASTMAN American Film
1888KodakThe name “Kodak” is registered as a trademark and the Kodak camera is marketed with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” “This was the birth of snapshot photography, as millions of amateur picture-takers know it today” according to Kodak.
1889Movie filmKodak introduces the first commercial transparent roll film, making possible Thomas Edison’s motion picture camera in 1891. The Eastman Co. is formed from the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Co.
1891Daylight filmKodak sells its first daylight-loading camera, so a photographer no longer needs to load film in a darkroom.
1892Eastman KodakThe company becomes Eastman Kodak Company of New York.
1895Pocket photographyThe Pocket KODAK Camera is announced, with roll film and a small window for exposure numbers.
1896100,000th cameraManufactures the 100,000th KODAK camera. Introduces the first film for motion picture use.
189835mm Introduces the Folding Pocket KODAK Camera, “now considered the ancestor of all modern roll-film cameras” according to Kodak. The camera used a 2.25-inch x 3.25-inch (35mm) frame negative, which remained the standard size for decades.
1900BrownieThe first Brownie camera is introduced. Selling for $1 and using film that costs 15 cents a roll, it brings hobby photography within financial reach. “For the first time, the hobby of photography was within the financial reach of virtually everyone.” (Kodak)
1902Developing machineIntroduces the KODAK Developing Machine which allows photographers to process roll film without a darkroom.
19075,000 employeesKodak employs over 5,000 people worldwide.
1908Safety filmCreates the world’s first commercially practical safety film using cellulose acetate base instead of the highly flammable cellulose nitrate base.
1913Professional sheet filmIntroduces the EASTMAN Portrait Film, allowing professional photographers to use sheet film instead of glass plates.
192316mm moviesKodak makes amateur movie-making possible with 16mm reversal film on cellulose acetate (safety) base, the first 16mm CINE-KODAK Motion Picture Camera, and the KODASCOPE Projector.
192720,000 employeesKodak employs 20,000 people worldwide.
1928Color movies16 mm KODACOLOR Film introduced, making color available for amateur movie makers.
1929Movie filmThe company introduces its first motion picture film for sound.
19328mmThe first 8 mm amateur motion-picture film, cameras, and projectors were introduced.
1932DeathGeorge Eastman kills himself at age 77, frustrated by a progressive disability.
1935KodachromeKodachrome film is introduced and becomes the first commercially successful amateur color film.
193635mm slideKodachrome offered as 35mm slide film.
1942Color print filmIntroduces KODACOLOR Film for prints, the world’s first true color negative film
1946EktachromeKODAK EKTACHROME Transparency Sheet Film is Kodak’s first color film that photographers could process themselves
1948Safety movie filmIntroduces a 35mm tri-acetate safety base film for movie film to replace the flammable cellulose nitrate base.
1950ColoramaUnveiled the first KODAK COLORAMA Display transparency, an 18 feet high and 60 feet wide picture in New York’s Grand Central Station.
1951Brownie 8mmThe low-priced Brownie 8mm movie camera is introduced, followed by Brownie movie projector in 1952.
1954Tri-XIntroduces TRI-X Film, a popular high-speed black-and-white film.
1961Carousel projectorThe KODAK CAROUSEL Projector is introduced, with a round tray holding 80 slides.
1962$1BThe company’s U.S. consolidated sales exceed $1 billion for the first time. Its work force tops 75,000.
1963InstamaticKodak introduces a line of easy-to-use Instamatic cameras with cartridge-loading film (selling more than 50 million by 1970).
1964Tower of PhotographyNew York World’s Fair featured the Kodak Pavilion and the “Tower of Photography”" the largest outdoor color prints ever exhibited.
1965Super 8Introduced the Super 8 movie format with cartridge-loading KODACHROME II Film. The four-bulb flash debuts on KODAK INSTAMATIC Cameras
1966$4BCombined sales of all Kodak units surpasses $4 billion, and Kodak employment exceeds 100,000.
1972Instamatic 110The KODAK 110 Film Cartridge is introduced. The line was so popular that more than 25 million KODAK Pocket INSTAMATIC Cameras were produced in slightly under three years.
1973Home moviesAmateurs can make sound home movies with the introduction of two super 8 sound movie cameras and cartridge-loading super 8 film, magnetically striped for sound recording. Worldwide employment exceeds 120,000.
1975DigitalKodak invents the world’s first camera. The toaster-size prototype captures black-and-white images at a resolution of 10,000 pixels (.01 megapixels).
1976Market peakKodak commanded 90% of film sales and 85% of camera sales in the U.S., according to a 2005 case study for Harvard Business School.
1981$10BCompany sales surpass the $10 billion revenue mark. The next year, hometown payroll peaks at 60,400.
1982VR 100KODACOLOR VR 100 Film was introduced, utilizing a new T-GRAIN Emulsion Technology, which represented a major break-through in silver-halide emulsions.
1984VideoKodak enters the video market with the Kodavision Series 2000 8mm video system and introduces Kodak videotape cassettes in 8mm, Beta and VHS formats, along with a line of floppy disks for computers.
1988Employment peakGlobal payroll peaks at 145,300.
1989Disposable camerasThe one-time-use KODAK STRETCH 35 Camera produced 3 1/2 x 10 - inch prints for panoramic scenes. The one-time-use KODAK WEEKEND 35 Camera was an all-weather camera capable of taking pictures underwater down to a depth of 8 feet.
1991DCSThe KODAK Professional Camera System (DCS) was introduced, enabling photojournalists to take electronic pictures with a Nikon F-3 camera equipped by Kodak with a 1.3 megapixel sensor.
1993PhotoCDIntroduced PhotoCD for photo storage.
1994Royal GoldKODAK ROYAL GOLD Film introduced.
1996PeakKodak commands over two-thirds of global market share. Revenues reach nearly $16 billion, its stock exceeds $90, and the company is worth over $31 billion. The Kodak brand is the fifth most valuable brand in the world.
Sources: Kodak, Wikipedia, The Wall Street Journal.

The Peak

From its inception, Kodak dominated the American photography industry.As late as 1976, Kodak commanded 90% of film sales and 85% of camera sales in the U.S., according to a 2005 case study for Harvard Business School. By 1988, Kodak employed over 145,000 workers worldwide.

1996 was the peak year for Kodak. The company had over two-thirds of global market share. Kodak’s revenues reached nearly $16 billion, its stock exceeded $90, and the company was worth over $31 billion. The Kodak brand was the fifth most valuable brand in the world.


Despite helping invent and lead the photography revolution with cameras and services, Kodak never found a cash-cow to replace film. From 2003 to 2011, Kodak shed 47,000 jobs, 13 manufacturing plants and 130 processing labs. It has not made an annual profit since 2004 and its cash reserves were soon depleted.

In July 2011, Kodak started trying to sell its many patents but found no immediate buyers. On January 19, 2012, Kodak chose to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its formerly blue-chip stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

“After 132 years [Kodak] is poised, like an old photo, to fade away.”
— The Economist: The Last Kodak Moment

The Fall of Kodak

1996DC-20Introduced the DC-20 and DC-25 cameras, with 0.2 megapixels.
1996APSIntroduces the Advanced Photo System format was introduced. Features included drop-in film cartridge loading, mid-roll change enabling the film to be removed before being completely exposed, and three different picture formats (Classic, Group, and Panoramic). Unveils the campaign “Take Pictures. Further.”
2001Digital #2Kodak has the second-largest U.S. camera sales (behind Sony) but loses $60 USD on every camera sold.
2000Kodak TheaterSigns a $74 million deal for naming rights to the new Hollywood theater that will host the Oscars. Following bankruptcy twelve years later, host Billy Crystal calls it “the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater.”
2001OfotoAcquired Ofoto, Inc., a leading online photography service, later rebranding as Kodak Gallery. Launches the KODAK EASYSHARE System, a line of cameras and docking systems.
2004Leaves Dow JonesKodak begins makeover, the same year it gets ejected from the 30-stock Dow Jones industrial average. It cuts tens of thousands of jobs as it closes factories and changes businesses.
2005Digital leaderKodak ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in camera sales that surged 40% to $5.7 billion, according to BusinessWeek.
2007#4No. 4 in U.S. camera sales with a 9.6 percent share
2008PatentsKodak begins mining its patent portfolio, which generates nearly $2 billion in fees over three years.
2010#77 percent of U.S. camera sales, putting Kodak in seventh place behind Canon, Sony, Nikon and others.
2010Sues AppleKodak sues Apple Inc. and Research in Motion Ltd. before the U.S. International Trade Commission, claiming the smartphone makers are infringing its 2001 patent for technology that lets a camera preview low-resolution versions of a moving image while recording still images at higher resolutions. Global employment falls to 18,800.
2011Patents for saleKodak offers for sale its 1,100-imaging patents. Agrees to sell its gelatin business.
2012BankruptcyKodak files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Says it will stop making cameras, pocket video cameras and picture frames, and will sell its personalized imaging businesses. Sells its online photo service business to Shutterfly for $23.8 million.
Sources: Kodak, Wikipedia, CBS News (from Kodak and Associated Press research), The Wall Street Journal.

Pictures from Wikipedia

The Kodak factory and main office in Rochester, circa 1910.
Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York, United States
An original Kodak camera, complete with box, camera, case, felt lens plug, manual, memorandum and viewfinder card
A Kodak Instamatic 104
George Eastman
An advertisement from The Photographic Herald and Amateur Sportsman (November 1889).
A Brownie No 2. camera

Pictures from Kodak

A Brownie, 1900Eastman Dry Plate, 1884George Eastman and Thomas Edison, 1928George Eastman in his libraryGeorge EastmanSelf-portrait of George EastmanThe Kodak Camera, an adThe evolution of the Kodak logoNext page: Nikon D600 coming Sept 13?


Reply by Hmlohse

April 20, 2018

Sources and author of this article? I would like to cite your work in a research paper.

Reply by Anonymous

February 8, 2018

Worked for them from 1965 to 1980. The problem was inbreeding and myoptic vision. The rule, unspoken and unwritten was: If you are not wasp and from the New England states, you have no future here in any place of prominence. The Murphy’s Law rule was invented here resulting a management devoid of original thought and creative ability. They all retired wealthy and comfortable. The company, lost forever.

1. Dr. Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera offered it to Kodak. They said nobody would buy it. Somebody did.

2. The creator of the Xerox machine: same story.

3. In the early 1980s, Kodak Engineers invented the world’s first digital camera. When asked by management where does the film go and hearing, it doesn’t need any, it was shelved.

Classic case of inbred failure.

Reply by Locaste

October 1, 2017

As a twelve year EK veteran, I can say that Kodak’s entire MO was one that hinged from keeping people in bondage to them. They never quite learned how to function profitably in a competitive environment. Their culture, philosophies and attitudes up and down the chain of command continued to metastasize until the point in time where they became obvious to everyone.

When they saw the end of silver halide film coming, they jumped onto their horses and galloped into every direction. Becoming involved in competitive markets that their monopolistic attitudes guaranteed failure. Promoting people up through the ranks whose ingrained cultures provided only more of the same.

Much like cheap flashlights were a tool to sell batteries, cheap cameras were a tool to sell Kodak film. Why get involved in developing a competitive 35mm SLR camera line when you’re making so much money selling 35mm film to owners of Nikon and Canon SLR cameras? This ended with digital photography, as much as Kodak tried to stave it off.

When the increasingly sophisticated customer base was marching forward with their desire for more sophisticated, higher quality photography formats, Kodak’s response during this period was their Disc camera which was very quickly seen as junk, a worthless diversion.

When Kodak lacked an instant camera to compete with Polariod, the decision was to steal Poloroid’s technology. This resulted in a 900.4 million dollar patent infringement judgement. Beyond the monetary amount of the judgement, this case was an illustration of their attitude to the world, their customers and their employees. What an embarrassment! Re: SCOTUS: Poloroid Corp. v Eastman Kodak Company

When a customer makes the decision to purchase a Kodak high-performance copier off an existing lease, Kodak still owns that customer because it had a virtual lock on all service, repair and replacement parts for that copier. Consider the frustration and hopelessness that their customers felt. However ineffective your repair representative was, essentially, you were stuck with that person. Re: SCOTUS case: "Eastman Kodak Company v Image Technical Services"

The business model that worked up until the 1960s cultivated their death spiral in the 1970s. In summary, God stepped in and has been closing their show. Society is the profound benefactor of this ongoing collapse. We should be rejoicing in the freedom that is now evident!

"Let the redeemed of the Lord say so whom he has delivered from the hand of the adversary." Psalm 107.2 AMP.

God is great:


Reply by Sam Welbeck

November 27, 2016

They should have let go of the idea that you have to print. They had a web-based photo site called Ofoto or something, but it was to send photos to be printed. They also spent a lot in digital camera R and D - to print; and later on they spent a lot on photo printer design. They forgot their own moto "you press the button...we do the rest" - that should have translated as a picture made simply and ready to share - by ANY means. If they had kept to this they would probably have been the owners of Instagram.

Reply by Fambrogio

August 13, 2015

That reminds me of the rail companies in the beginning of last century. When the first cars began to appear in the market, they considered them an extravagant toy for rich people. How blind they were.

Reply by Anonymous

July 6, 2015

Fascinating, I learned a lot from this but it doesn’t clearly explain by Kodak failed. The Fall of Kodak section lists many of the right actions, driving invocation in digital camera, electronic photo sharing, etc. What should they have done differently?

My first digital camera was a $50 Kodak (1 MPixel?) that I bought for my son. It worked great for a while then started having trouble. By the time that we figured out it wasn’t operator or storage error, it was a couple weeks out of warranty. Kodak would fix it for $70-80 so I threw it out and never bought another Kodak camera.

Reply by Anonymous

May 26, 2015

So sad...... Other companies are in a similar position, but they don’t see it yet.

Reply by Anonymous

May 5, 2015

What a great summary, concise and accurate. Thank you!

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