First Arriving Network
First Arriving Network

Morning Lineup – January 21

Saturday Morning – One Last Kodak Moment

Unless you have been buried under a snowbank for the last three days, you have heard or read somewhere that Kodak has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday.  Chapter 11 provides certain protections from creditors allowing a company to reorganzie itself and (hopefully) get back into a profitable situation.  This is going to be a very tough task for the former photography giant whose only valuable assets right now are some patents for imaging and related chemical processes.

This has to bring some nostalgia and disappointment to almost everybody because the monsterous company founded by George Eastman 131 years ago was a major part of our lifestyles for so many decades.  Eastman Kodak was primarily a photographic film and developing producer and truly led the world in both innovation and sales success.  Spotting an untapped market out there in ordinary households, the created and marketed a low-cost and easy to use box camera, the Brownie, that suddenly made family photos quick and inexpensive, not to mention the vacation memories that were now able to be saved in albums.

In the 1960's they upgraded the everyday camera with the introduction of the Insta-Matic, a much smaller camera that used pre-packaged film cartidges instead of requiring the tedious and risky threading of unexposed film onto spools in the back of the Brownie.  As the leading producer of 35 mm. film used by motion picture studios and the growing slide picture photo market, they were on top of the world raking in the dough and employing more than 145,000 people.  In their home base of Rochester, New York, where their plants covered block after block of space, they had 62,000 local residents employed there.

Their focus on growth was always in the film business, not in the cheapo cameras that were merely the delivery devices to keep people buying more film.  So when in 1973 Steve Sasson, one of their research engineers invented, built and showed them the world's first digital camera, the corporate offices treated it like the plague and told him to get it out of there because it would kill their film industry….their only reason for existance.  He did, and in 1978 Sasson and his supervisor Gareth Lloyd filed for and received United States Patent 4,131,919 for the device.  It was issued in their names and not in Kodak's.  That was the fatal Kodak moment that started them down the path to this week's bankruptcy.

Steve Sasson displays his original prototype
digital camera in this 2009 (digital) photo.

The rest, as they say, is history.  Completely ignoring the possibility that just maybe non-film photography could become dominant, Koday was left at the gate as the digital revolution swept by them.  Today only 6,000 Rochester residents work in the remnants of their factory complex.  They are still making some film and processing chemicals for some specialty uses, and focusing heavily on electronic imaging systems, but it's hard to catch up when the industry is changing so drastically from week to week.  George Eastman left a major legacy in the history of American industrialism, but it will soon be only a memory.  Too bad.

We had better turn our memories toward getting this equipment checked out now.  I'm going to start some more coffee thanks to another industy giant, Bunn-O-Matic.  See you back in the day room.

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