A Sad Kodak Moment

Like many photographers, I grew up beholden to the great color palette and brilliant results of Kodachrome 25 and the easily pushable, low-light capabilities of Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film. These iconic products are but two of Kodak’s remarkable achievements that come to mind as we ponder the recent Chapter 11 filing of the company that invented the hand-held camera and was one of the world’s most notable brands for over a century.

The saga began in 1880 when a 26-year-old bank clerk by the name of George Eastman began commercial production of photographic dry plates in a rented loft in Rochester, NY. A year later he quit his day job to pursue the dream full time, and in 1884 he launched the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company with 14 shareholders and $200,000.

In 1888 Eastman trademarked the brand “Kodak” and the company unveiled a hand-held camera with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest.” Two years later Kodak created a mass market for photography with the introduction of a Brownie camera that sold for $1 and used film priced at 15-cents per roll. Eastman died in 1932, two years before Kodachrome was introduced.

In 1962 Kodak’s U.S. sales topped $100 billion and the company had some 75,000 people on the payroll. A year later, the successful line of cartridge-loading Instamatic cameras was launched. Other developments included Kodak’s first single-use camera in 1987, and their first pocket-sized, consumer digital camera in 1996. Of course there were occasional stumbles along the way, like the ill-fated line of Kodak Disk cameras, films and processing equipment.

In 1988 Kodak’s global employment peaked at 145,300. Subsequently, the company divested of its Health Group, portions of its Office Imaging division, its digital printer and copier operations, and its digital camera manufacturing operations. By 2007 Kodak’s local payroll fell below 10,000 and a year later the company began selling its patent portfolio. In 2009, the once-proud company posted a $137 million fourth-quarter loss and announced pans to cut 4,500 more jobs. That same year the company discontinued Kodachrome after 74 years of production.

Then, in a sad announcement on January 19 of this year, Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. CEO Antonio Perez said the Chapter 11 filing was initiated “to bolster liquidity in the U.S., monetize non-strategic intellectual property, fairly resolve our legacy costs, and enable the company to focus on its most valuable business lines.”

As Perez pointed out, “the people of Kodak have risen to challenges before. We all hope the company is successful in their transformation so they can once again write some indelible chapters in the history of our industry.

jsandstedt's picture

It's truly a sad day but, after producing the first digital SLR, how could this pioneering company fail to grasp its significance? You will note that Fuji still makes film and both film and digital cameras.

Oh, by the way, when I started shooting with Kodachrome, the ASA was 10.

dddschack's picture

Please check your facts. I doubt that Kodak sales in 1962 were $100 billion. The entire US budget that year was about $100 billion!!