Monday 19 October 2015

George Eastman: Camera Magnate was Methodical Self-Educator

"The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.  I selected a limited number of recipients because I wanted to cover certain kinds of education and I felt that I could get results with those named quicker and more directly than if the money were spread." (George Eastman)

Millionaire businessman George Eastman was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He lost his father at 7 and was forced to become the man of the household.  His adversity, however, seemed to drive him forward.  He amassed a fortune with the Eastman Kodak Company, which rather than spending on himself, he chose to invest in education.

George Eastman's parents were both born and raised in abolitionist households.  They believed in the importance of education.  Eastman's father founded a college which would serve as a prototype for America's first business schools.  Tragedy struck when he died, leaving his seven year old son to be the head of the household.  George's mother took in boarders, but he felt badly that she had to cook and clean for these strangers.  Tragedy struck again when George's sister fell ill with polio and died at 16.  

At 13, George quit school to start making money to support his family.  He worked both as a messenger boy and as an insurance salesman.  Following in his father's footsteps, he took a job at a bank where he would work all day, six days a week.  Evenings he spent tinkering with his new purchase, a camera.  George would work well into the night, experimenting with photo emulsions.  He would take catnaps, waking himself at regular intervals to stir the emulsions.  George was constantly trying to educate himself.  

George opened a camera and photography supply business which dominated the market by the turn of the last century.  He amassed a fortune which simply sat in a bank account, accumulating pennies for interest.  George decided to donate his money to the cause of education.  He built one of the best music schools in the world, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  He donated upwards of $20 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and more than $50 million to the University of Rochester.  And in keeping with his abolitionist roots, he supported the cause of black education, donating to the Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute.  These donations were often done anonymously as George was not one for self-aggrandizement. 

Eastman relaxing in his library courtesy

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