George Eastman Papers

Size: 12 boxes
Location: D.138 
PLEASE NOTE: All but three items are located at the George Eastman Museum, as part of the Eastman Legacy Collection. To access the collection, please contact: Kathy Connor: The three items located in the department's Individual Manuscript Collection under "E" for Eastman are: 
Letter from George Eastman to Mr. Ritter, March 21, 1918.
Letter from George Eastman to Mrs. Bayne Jones, April 8, 1929 and April 15, 1929. [both letters are photocopies, given to the department by Nick Graver.]

Related Collections:

  • D.4, the Eastman-Butterfield Collection, a set of notes, interviews and printed information gathered as the resource material for a proposed biography of Eastman;
  • D.137, the Bachmann (Lawrence) Papers, also a collection of notes and a draft of a proposed biography of Eastman; and
  • D.85, the George Eastman House Construction Papers, 1902-1906, which consists of correspondence, including some to and from George Eastman, agreements, contracts, etc., relating to the construction of the home of George Eastman at 350 (now 900) East Avenue, Rochester, New York.
  • D.139, Eastman Research Materials, is a collection of miscellaneous items, including scrapbooks, taped oral histories, photographs, and an extensive newspaper clipping file. As relevant material is acquired, it will be added to this collection.

George Eastman was born in Waterville, New York on July 12, 1854, the son of George Washington and Maria Kilbourn Eastman. His father owned a fruit tree nursery and then established Eastman's Commercial College in Rochester. At first he commuted between Waterville and Rochester, but he finally sold the nursery and moved the family to Rochester. On April 27, 1862, when George Eastman was seven years old, his father died suddenly, leaving the family with almost nothing in the way of an estate. Maria Eastman opened a boardinghouse in Rochester to support the family and to keep George in school.

Until 1868, Eastman attended Mr. Carpenter's school, one of the best private schools for boys in the city. Then, at the age of 13, he decided to leave school and find a job to help pay the family expenses. He first worked as an office boy for an insurance agent, earning a salary of $3 a week. The next year he transferred to another firm where his salary was raised to $5 a week. In 1874 he was employed by the Rochester Savings Bank as a bookkeeper.

In 1877 Eastman decided to spend his summer vacation in Santo Domingo. A fellow employee at the bank suggested that he make a photographic record of his trip. Eastman bought the necessary photographic supplies, which included a large camera and tripod, glass plates, paper, boxes for storing the glass plate negatives, a tent that could serve as a darkroom, and assorted chemicals. He then paid $5 for lessons to learn to use the equipment he had purchased. Although he never made the trip to Santo Domingo, Eastman became interested in the simplification of the photographic process after he had mastered the complicated art of wet plate photography.

As a first step in the move towards simplification Eastman experimented with the development of dry plates, glass plates coated with a gelatine emulation that would remain light sensitive even after the emulsion had dried. Using information derived in part from British photographic journals, and in part from experiments conducted at night and on weekends in his mother's kitchen, Eastman developed a marketable dry plate. He then invented a machine that coated the plates with the emulsion, opened a small factory on State Street in 1880, and began to manufacture dry plates for sale.

Eastman next enlisted the financial help of Henry Alvah Strong, a local buggy whip manufacturer and friend of the family. On January 1, 1881 the two formed a partnership and launched the Eastman Dry Plate Company. After a close brush with bankruptcy due to a defective shipment of gelatins, the company recovered and began to expand. In 1884 the business changed from a partnership to a corporation, the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company. Strong was president of the new corporation and Eastman served as treasurer.

Eastman continued his experiments on emulsions, aiming towards the development of a flexible film base. At first he used paper, but he found that the grain showed through when the picture was printed up. Eastman resolved the problem by creating a stripping film. Paper was used as a temporary support for the emulsion. After development, the paper was stripped off, leaving a thin film negative which was then mounted on glass or on thick gelatins to use in making prints. Eastman called this early flexible film Eastman American Film.

In 1888 the Number One Kodak went on the market. Loaded with enough Eastman American Film for 100 exposures, it sold for $25. The camera and exposed film were returned to Rochester, where the film was developed, prints were made, and the camera was reloaded. When the Number One Kodak was introduced Eastman coined the famous slogan, "You press the button - we do the rest." to explain his new system of photography.

Eastman continued to expand the Kodak line of cameras and to look for a transparent flexible film base. In 1889 cellulose nitrate film was introduced. This film made the development of motion pictures possible. Another significant addition was the introduction of the Brownie camera in 1900. Designed for children, the Brownie sold for $1.00 and used film that sold for 15 cents a roll and took six pictures. In 1908 safety film, with a cellulose acetate base, became available.

At the turn of the century the Eastman Kodak Company had expanded to include plants in several states, in Canada and in several European countries. By 1898 Eastman was worth a million dollars. He had moved with his mother from their simple house on Arnold Park to the Soule House on East Avenue. In 1903 Eastman began to build his own home at 350 (now 900) East Avenue. The construction of the 37 room mansion took two years, and Eastman celebrated its completion with a housewarming dinner on October 7, 1905. Eastman surrounded the house with flowers and gardens, kept his own chickens and cows, and constructed a greenhouse for the exotic orchids he enjoyed growing. He also had a large organ installed in the music room and each morning his private organist woke him with music and played through breakfast. Maria Eastman lived with her son in this home on East Avenue until her death in 1907.

In 1919 Eastman became dissatisfied with the size of the music room. He decided to have the room enlarged about ten feet. The house was divided in half, part of it was placed on rollers, and it was moved back the necessary distance. Then the gap was rebuilt. Eastman stipulated that while the work was going on he did not want his normal routine to be disturbed. Pipes were run from one half of the house to the other to provide water and electrical service.

Eastman also purchased a tract of land in North Carolina on which Oak Lodge, his hunting retreat, was built. Eastman often went with friends to Oak Lodge for short vacations. A great camping enthusiast, he also traveled through the west and to Alaska on extended camping trips. Eastman devised an efficient system for loading the camping gear onto pack horses, packaged his own pre-mixed bread and cake mixes for trips, and enjoyed doing most of the cooking on the trail himself.

As his fortune accumulated, Eastman became interested in philanthropic ventures. He contributed large sums of money to the University of Rochester, including major donations towards the construction of the Eastman School of Music and the Eastman Theatre. His interest in health care led him to provide money for the building of the University of Rochester Medical School, the construction of a dental clinic in Rochester, and for several other clinics in major European cities. He also contributed to the development of the River Campus site of the University of Rochester. Eastman also gave money to other educational institutions, including M.I.T., R.I.T., and Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. He actively participated in the Community Chest and War Chest movements in Rochester.

Near the end of his life Eastman began to suffer from a disease that caused hardening of the spinal column. The disease curtailed his activity and his doctor informed him that his condition would progressively worsen. On March 14, 1932 George Eastman altered his will, leaving the bulk of his estate to the University of Rochester. He wrote a short note and then committed suicide.

The authorized biography of George Eastman is Carl W. Ackerman's George Eastman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1930). Other biographical information can be found in Roger Butterfield's "The Prodigious Life of George Eastman," Life (April 26, 1954, pp. 154-168). The Spring 1971 issue of the University of Rochester Library Bulletin (vol. xxvi, no. 3) is completely devoted to articles about George Eastman; the Bulletin has also featured by a bibliographical essay by Karl S. Kabelac, "George Eastman: A Bibliographical Essay of Selected References," (Winter 1971-72, vol. xxvii, no. 1) pp. 33-38.

The collection of George Eastman's correspondence consists of over 700 letters. The first letter by him is dated November 20, 1864 and the last March 11, 1932. A little over half of the letters are personal ones to his mother and niece. Occasionally there are references in these letters to business affairs, especially in the early letters to his mother. There is a sprinkling of business letters, both to Mr. Eastman and to others by him. The rest of the collection is made up of 75th (1929) and 77th (1931) birthday greetings (including ones in 1929 from President Herbert Hoover and Thomas A. Edison), and "thank you" letters from friends to whom he had sent copies of his book, Chronicles of an African Trip, published privately in 1927, and of his biography, George Eastman, by Carl W. Ackerman, which was published in 1930.

The first letter to his mother was written in 1876 from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. An 1879 letter describes his first trip to London, then the photographic capital of the world, where he received his first patent. From then on through 1903 there is a flow of letters to his mother from England and the Continent with a strong concentration in the 1890s when Mr. Eastman, by then a successful industrialist, was overseeing the organization and growth of his European plants.

The 1880s correspondence is concerned with the Kodak scene in Rochester. For example, he tells of moving the firm, Eastman Dry Plate Company, to 101 State Street, describes the furnishing of his laboratory, the purchase of farm land for Kodak Park, and the development of the Kodak logo.

Mr. Eastman's last letter to his mother in the collection is 1903 (she died in 1907). After that there is a gap in the correspondence until 1912, when the first letter to his niece, Ellen (Mrs. George) Dryden appears, signed "Uncle George." These letters to Ellen Dryden are full of mentions of family affairs, his social life, and his musical interests. There are discussions of the building of Kilbourn Hall and its opening, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera. The last Dryden letter is dated March 11, 1932, three days before Eastman's death.

In addition to the personal correspondence, the collection also includes genealogies of branches of the Eastman and Kilbourn families, some of Eastman's passports, trip itineraries, souvenirs, and camp recipe books, account books, and diaries. Some correspondence belonging to George Washington and Maria Kilbourn Eastman is also to be found, as well as a journal kept by Maria Eastman.

There are also items relating to Eastman's philanthropic pursuits, recollections of Eastman written by friends after his death, and correspondence related to the centennial celebration of Eastman's birth (1954), including correspondence related to the issuing of a George Eastman 3¢ commemorative stamp. The next to last box houses a newspaper clipping file containing some biographical information and clippings related to the centennial celebration.

Over 4,000 negatives and photographs form an addition to the Eastman (George) Papers. Some of the prints date back to the 1880s while others are modern copies made from old negatives. A database of the images is now available.

There are a number of formal portraits of George Eastman in the collection, but there are also pictures of Eastman with friends, on trips, at Oak Lodge, his hunting retreat in North Carolina, and on safari. These casual snapshots provide insight into Eastman's personal life. They show him clowning with friends, relaxing, cooking, and engaged in other activities he enjoyed while away from his work at the Eastman Kodak Company.

Pictures of the interior and exterior of his house at 350 (now 900) East Avenue, built between 1903 and 1905, offer the opportunity to see what portions of the house and gardens looked like while Eastman lived there and before any major changes were affected by others. Included with the photographs of the house are several that were taken in August of 1919, when the house was being enlarged. Photographs of other residences in which Eastman lived, notably the Waterville home where he spent his early childhood, the house on Arnold Park, and the Soule House, also located on East Avenue, appear in the collection.

Other photographs include pictures of Eastman's parents, George Washington and Maria Kilbourn Eastman, and of his niece Ellen (Mrs. George B.) Dryden and her family.

Of more general interest are the many photographs of Rochester, of Kodak factories, and of early Kodak workers. Portraits of Kodak directors and presidents who have run the company since Eastman's death in 1932 can also be found in the collection.

Other prints include both close-up studies and group photographs of the 1934 dedication ceremony during which the marble cylinder located at the entrance to Kodak Park, and under which George Eastman's ashes are buried, was unveiled. Prints of the various centennial celebration activities that occurred in 1954, including the presentation of the George Eastman 3¢ Commemorative Stamp, and the transference of Eastman's boyhood home in Waterville, New York to the gardens at 900 East Avenue complete the collection.

Gift of the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1976.

Box 1: Correspondence, 1864-1921

  1. Correspondence, 1864-1881
  2. Correspondence, 1882-1889
  3. Correspondence, 1890
  4. Correspondence (carbon letters), 1864-1890
  5. Correspondence, 1891
  6. Correspondence, 1892
  7. Correspondence, 1893-1895
  8. Correspondence, 1896
  9. Correspondence, January-September, 1897
  10. Correspondence, October-December, 1897
  11. Correspondence, January-October, 1898
  12. Correspondence, November, 1898-December 1899
  13. Correspondence, 1900
  14. Correspondence, 1901-1902
  15. Correspondence, 1903
  16. Correspondence, 1904-1911
  17. Correspondence, June 16-30, 1907 (condolence letters on the occasion of Maria Eastman's death)
  18. Correspondence, 1912- 1914
  19. Correspondence, 1915
  20. Correspondence, 1916
  21. Correspondence, 1917
  22. Correspondence, 1918-1920
  23. Correspondence, 1921

Box 2: Correspondence, 1922-1938 Folder:

  1. Correspondence, 1922-1923
  2. Correspondence, 1924
  3. Correspondence, 1925-1926
  4. Correspondence, 1927
  5. Correspondence, August 17-22, 1927, "thank you" letters for copy of Chronicles of an African Trip
  6. Correspondence, August 23-September 7, 1927, "thank you" letters for copy of Chronicles of an African Trip
  7. Correspondence, September 8-October 2, 1927, "thank you" letters for copy of Chronicles of an African Trip
  8. Correspondence, October 3, 1927-June, 1929, "thank you" letters for copy of Chronicles of an African Trip
  9. 75th Birthday greetings, July 1-10, 1929
  10. 75th Birthday greetings, July 11, 1929 (A-L)
  11. 75th Birthday greetings, July 11, 1929 (M-Z)
  12. 75th Birthday greetings, July 12, 1929 (A-B)
  13. 75th Birthday greetings, July 12, 1929 (C-G)
  14. 75th Birthday greetings, July 12, 1929 (H-L)
  15. 75th Birthday greetings, July 12, 1929 (M-R)
  16. 75th Birthday greetings, July 12, 1929 (S-Z)
  17. 75th Birthday greetings, July 13-16, 1929
  18. 75th Birthday greetings, July, 1929, undated
  19. 75th Birthday greetings, July 17-December, 1929
  20. Correspondence, January-April 3, 1930, "thank you" letters for copy of biography by Ackerman
  21. Correspondence, April 4-18, 1930, "thank you" letters for copy of biography by Ackerman
  22. Correspondence, April 19, 1930-June 1931, "thank you" letters for copy of biography by Ackerman
  23. 77th Birthday greetings, July 1-11, 1931
  24. 77th Birthday greetings, July 12-15, 1931
  25. Correspondence, January 1928-March 11, 1932
  26. Correspondence, undated and miscellaneous
  27. Correspondence, Martin Johnson/Audley Stewart, 1932-1938

Box 3: Death Correspondence


  1. Suicide note verification
  2. Memorial service
  3. Condolence letters, March 14, 1932
  4. Condolence telegrams, March 14, 1932
  5. Condolence letters, March 15, 1932
  6. Condolence telegrams, March 15, 1932
  7. Condolence letters, March 16, 1932
  8. Condolence telegrams, March 16, 1932
  9. Condolence letters, March 17-18, 1932
  10. Condolence telegrams, March 17-19, 1932
  11. Condolence letters, March 19-31, 1932
  12. Condolence letters, April 1932
  13. Letters to and from Ellen (Mrs. George) Dryden, 1932-1935
  14. Obituary articles
  15. Miscellaneous correspondence about death
  16. Kodak Park Memorial, 1934
  17. Waterville memorial

Box 4: Genealogy


  1. Genealogy, general
  2. Genealogy, general
  3. Genealogy, Ballard family
  4. Genealogy - will of John Eastman, April 26, 1564
  5. Genealogy - photograph of tombstone of the Reverend George Eastman, d. April 25, 1870
  6. History and Genealogy of the Eastman Family of America, compiled by G. S. Rix, 1901
  7. The Puritan Ancestors in America of Georgia Ann Eastman (Mrs. William Morris Bennett), 1929
  8. Genealogy - Harvey Eastman
  9. Silhouette and miniature - E. H. Eastman (1812-1839)
  10. Genealogy of the Philip Eastman (1644-1714) Branch of the Eastman Family
  11. A Memorial of Zebina Eastman by His Family (d.1833)
  12. Family of Lydia Kilbourn, with photographs
  13. Genealogy of the Thomas Kilbourn (1771-1837) Branch of the Kilbourn Family
  14. History of the Tilton Family in America, by F. T. Tilton, volume 1, numbers 5, 6
  15. Genealogy - letters to George Eastman
  16. Miscellaneous genealogy letters

Box 5: Family/Personal


  1. Eastman Commercial College
  2. George W. Eastman letters, 1825-1847 (copies and originals)
  3. George W. Eastman letters, 1829-1849 (all copies) .
  4. Maria Eastman - bank account book, 1903-1907, blank stock application for Eastman Kodak Company
  5. Maria Eastman letters, 1890-1903
  6. Maria Eastman - journal, ca 1890-1902
  7. Maria Eastman - will, 1907
  8. George Eastman - diaries, 1919-1929
  9. George Eastman - accounts (bills, receipts), 1876-1918
  10. Kilbourn loan, 1892
  11. George Eastman - undated accounts
  12. George Eastman - biographical information
  13. Oak Lodge architectural plans
  14. Soule House - History by Marguerite E. Hubbell
  15. Dinners given in honor of George Eastman
  16. Dinners given in honor of George Eastman
  17. Dinners given by George Eastman
  18. Awards presented to or offered to George Eastman
  19. Membership certificates

Box 6: Passports/Trips (Domestic and Foreign)


  1. Passport, 1913
  2. Duplicate passport application, 1916
  3. Passport, 1916
  4. Passport, 1920
  5. Passport, 1921
  6. Passport, 1926
  7. Trip itineraries
  8. The Yacht "Virginia" Log, 1913
  9. Sierras Map, July-August, 1917
  10. British Columbia trip account by Marion Macomber, August 17-September 28, 1919
  11. Souvenir, Japan trip, 1920
  12. Letters to Miss Whitney, 1926 (African Chronicles)
  13. Letters to Mrs. Hutchison, 1928-1930 (re: Africa trip)
  14. Vancouver trip diary written by Dr. Whipple (?)
  15. Camping recipes
  16. Supplies lists and trip companion lists

Box 7: Accounts/Eastman Kodak Company


  1. Accounts, 1868-1871
  2. Leather "journal" cash book, 1868 - on
  3. Receipts, 1880
  4. Accounts, Order Book, 1880
  5. Account Book, 1881
  6. Accounts (Bills), 1888
  7. London Order Book, 1889
  8. Account Book (Salaries), 1893-1896
  9. Account Book, 1897
  10. Accounts, 1876-1918
  11. Eastman Kodak Company - Stocks
  12. Eastman Kodak Company - Patents
  13. Eastman Kodak Company - Pamphlets

     14. Kodak Park events/picnics

     15. Eastman Kodak Company - Catalogues, booklets

    16. Eastman Kodak Company - Miscellaneous

Box 8: Philanthropies


  1. Two programs - Exercises and Dinner on the Occasion of the Dedication of a Tablet to Mr. George Eastman - by the Rochester Dental Society, January 9, 1932
  2. Dental Clinic Dedication Ceremonies - invitations
  3. Annali di Clinica Odontoiatrica e cello Istituto Superiore "George Eastman" April 1932
  4. Annali di Clinica Odontoiatrica d dell'Istituto Superiore "G. Eastman" Numero Speciale per l'Inaugurazione dell'Istituto Superiore de Odontoiatrica George Eastman, 1933
  5. Centennial History of Dentistry in Rochester, by Harvey J. Burkhart, D.D.S., LL.D., 1934. Also included in folder: illustrated notecard
  6. Eastman Dental Clinic, Stockholm book, April 25, 1936
  7. Meharry Medical College Dedication of New Educational and Hospital Building
  8. Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology)
  9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  10. University of Rochester
  11. University of Rochester Medical School
  12. Eastman School of Music and Eastman Theatre
  13. Eastman Theatre
  14. Tuskegee Institute

Box 9: Recollections of George Eastman

Folder 1:

Folder 2:

Folder 3:

Folder 4:

Folder 5:

Folder 6:

Folder 7:

Folder 8:

Folder 9:

Folder 10:

Folder 11:

Folder 12:

Folder 13:

Folder 14:

Folder 15:

Folder 16:

Folder 17:

Folder 18:

Folder 19:

Folder 20:

Box 10: Centennial, Stamp, Articles Folder:

  1. Centennial, 1954
  2. Centennial, 1954
  3. Centennial, 1954
  4. Centennial, 1954
  5. Commemorative Stamp
  6. Articles, 1900-1931
  7. Articles, 1932-1949
  8. Articles, 1950-1955
  9. Articles, undated
  10. Articles, foreign

Box 11: Newspaper Clippings Folder:

  1. Biographical
  2. Death and memorials
  3. Centennial
  4. Miscellaneous

Box 12: Miscellaneous Folder:

  1. Chamber of Commerce
  2. Film script - "The Auction"
  3. Inventory of George Eastman's negatives
  4. Automobiles
  5. Cartoons of George Eastman
  6. Edison File
  7. Edison Picture File
  8. Fireworks
  9. Lewis McKenzie Turner poetry
  10. City of Rochester
  11. George Eastman House - International Museum of Photography
  12. Miscellaneous - letter and pictures from A. B. Eastwood to George Eastman


What follows is a listing of the subject headings for the slide and print collections of photographs within the collection. The photograph database onilne is available here.

Box 1:

  • G.E. Photo Portraits
  • G.E. Portraits
  • G.E. Bust
  • G.E. Photos
  • Relatives - Eastman
  • Relatives - Dryden
  • Friends
  • Kodak Directors and Officers
  • Kodacolor Party, 1928
  • Rochester Laundry Company
  • Kodak Park and Office Buildings
  • Kodak Cameras
  • Philanthropies
  • G.E. Funeral [There are no slides that correspond to these prints]
  • Memorials
  • 900 East Ave. (George Eastman House) - Exterior and Gardens
  • 900 East Ave. (George Eastman House) - Interior
  • Homes

Box 2:

  • Oak Lodge
  • Autos
  • Syracuse Horses, Rockefeller Group
  • Camping Equipment
  • Trips (Misc., 1890-1910)

Box 3:

  • Trips (1911-1930)
  • Miscellaneous Photo Portraits [There are no slides that correspond to these prints]
  • Miscellaneous