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B&C Member Spotlight - George Eastman

By PJ DelHomme 

The man who brought us Kodak and revolutionized film photography was a big game hunter and Boone and Crockett Club member.


George Eastman launched the Kodak camera in 1888, just one year after Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell formed the Boone and Crockett Club. Eastman later joined the Club in 1926, becoming a big game hunter and traveling to Africa to hunt with fellow Club member Carl Akeley. Eastman’s business acumen and devotion to research and development in the field of photography put cameras in the hands of everyday people, allowing them to capture birthdays, weddings, vacations, hunting trips, and everything in between. If you’re a hunter who’s ever taken a camera afield (film or digital), it’s because of George Eastman.

A young George Eastman didn’t have it easy growing up in Waterville, New York. His father died in 1862 when George was just eight. Then, his older sister, who suffered from polio, died in 1870. At 15, Eastman quit school and got a job as an office boy, then a bookkeeper, to help support his family. He saw wealthy businessmen invest in real estate and wanted in on the action. He bought photography equipment to record potential land deals in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but the trip fell through. Left with camera gear, Eastman learned how to use it.

Inventor and Entrepreneur

As a bookkeeper, Eastman was meticulous in his paperwork. That spilled over into his passion for photography. He befriended other photographers who mentored him. After working at his bank job all day, he would experiment with bulky camera equipment, messy gelatin emulsions, and the “wet-plate process” of developing photos. This confining and labor-intensive process meant that immediately after the glass plates were coated with a solution called collodion, they had to be exposed and developed in a studio.


By 1880, the long nights paid off as Eastman had improved and refined a “dry-plate process.” These plates allowed photographers to travel outside of the studio to take photos. Eastman patented a dry-plate coating machine and began selling dry plates. He was doing so well in his side hustle that he quit his bank job in 1881.

Eastman was unstoppable once he devoted himself full-time to photography. He hired other photography brains like William Hall Walker. Together, they created a device that used paper film instead of glass plates. Eastman’s company also produced transparent, flexible film. This was the foundation on which all cameras evolved until the advent of the digital camera.

The late 1800s was a time of vertical integration, meaning businesses acquired components of the supply chain within their industry as a way to cut costs and gain control. Carnegie Steel bought the iron mines that held the ore. They also bought the railroads that transported it. Eastman began to do the same. He entered into partnerships with paper companies. He set up sales and marketing departments. He bought smaller camera companies just to obtain their patents.


Eastman introduced the Kodak camera in May 1888. It cost $25. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $800 in 2024. Even so, the camera was a hit. President Grover Cleveland had one, as did the Dalai Lama. Plenty of other folks bought one, too. In 1900, Eastman introduced the iconic Brownie camera. The price was $1—about $36 in 2024. With the lower price point, just about anyone could document their smiles. Then came Kodachrome color motion picture film and slides. Years later, in 1975, an engineer at Eastman Kodak developed the first digital camera and thus began a turbulent time for the company.

In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy, and just over a year later, it emerged as a technology company focused on imaging. With 79,000 worldwide patents today, Kodak is a leading global manufacturer focused on commercial print and advanced materials and chemicals, according to the company’s website.


George Eastman had more money than he needed, and this wasn’t lost on him. He grew up watching his mother take in boarders to help make ends meet, and this may help explain why he gave much of his money away. Philanthropy started at the company headquarters.

Eastman Kodak was among the first companies to offer sick pay, disability, and pensions. Granted, this was a time of unionization, and Eastman wasn’t blind to the times. Still, after one highly successful stock offering, Eastman gave employees one of the first corporate bonuses, along with a note that read, “This is a personal matter with Mr. Eastman, and he requests that you will not consider it as a gift but as extra pay for good work.”

By the 1920s, Eastman was one of the richest men in the world. Like his fellow millionaires and billionaires, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, he donated a healthy sum. Most of his donations went to the University of Rochester and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did not like the spotlight and made most of his donations under the name of Mr. Smith. In 1922, he founded the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. In all, Eastman donated the 2024 equivalent of $2 billion.

Eastman even found time to ride his bike, touring Europe on a bicycle more than a couple of times.

The "Kodak King" with his Kodak. Eastman made the sign himself, captivated by a village name so like that of his company. He holds the Kodak camera with which he took many of these pictures.

Big Game Hunter

George Eastman was 72 when he retired from his own company in 1925. That year, he embarked on his first trip to East Africa. He was there for seven months and met fellow Boone and Crockett member Carl Akeley, who hosted him part of the time. Eastman’s guide was the famous Professional Hunter Philip Percival, and he led Eastman as he encountered and collected numerous animal specimens—many of which were donated to the Akeley African Hall of the American Museum of Natural History. While on safari, Eastman regularly wrote letters to his secretary about his adventures. Those letters were turned into a book, Chronicles of an African Trip, which he passed out to friends and employees.

As one might imagine, Eastman enjoyed documenting his travels and hunts with photography and cinema footage. He was accompanied on his safaris by filmmaker Martin Johnson and his wife Osa. Martin and Osa again accompanied Eastman to Africa when he returned in 1928. This time, PH Percival took a steamer up the Nile to the heart of central Africa. There, Eastman chased elephants and rhinos.

George Eastman and his traveling companions. Eastman is at center. From left to right in front are Dr. Albert Kaiser, Osa Johnson, Martin Johnson (behind Osa), and, in the ten-gallon hat, the professional hunter, Phil Percival. Behind them are the unidentified gunbearers.

In this silent film footage, Eastman hunts in Africa with Osa and Martin Johnson and shoots a charging lion and a charging rhino that drops dead a few paces from camera.

Eastman was a fan of British guns, namely two Westley Richards rifles and one shotgun. He described them as “...two .470 double-barrelled elephant rifles and a 12 gauge shotgun with two sets of barrels (one 28 inches and one 25 inches) all single trigger, selective action, detachable locks.”

Closer to home, Eastman owned a hunting retreat in Halifax County, North Carolina. He called it Oak Lodge and regularly invited a handful of close friends to join him in the pines and hardwoods. They would hunt quail, turkeys, and squirrels using pointers and setters.

The lodges, wealth, safaris, and friends could not help Eastman with his physical ailments because on March 14, 1932, George Eastman took his own life. One can only surmise that watching the prolonged suffering of his family members made his decision less painful than living. His father died of a “brain disorder.” His younger sister had contracted polio and died when George was 16. In the last two years of her life, George’s mother was confined to a wheelchair. As for George, the last two years of his life were enveloped in pain, as he suffered from spinal stenosis. He had trouble standing and shuffled when he walked. Before he aimed a pistol at his heart, George Eastman left a note. It read, “To my friends, my work is done—Why wait? GE.” Eastman left his entire estate to the University of Rochester.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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