“you Press The Button, We Do The Rest”


George Eastman, who was still working full-time for the Rochester Savings Bank, soon developed an emulsion formula that he thought superior to any then available and created a machine for coating glass plates with it. He began manufacturing dry plates in a loft over a music store and made about $4,000 selling them in 1879 and 1880. The next year he quit his job and went to work full-time running the Eastman Dry Plate Company.

Glass, heavy and delicate, had numerous drawbacks as a substrate for light-sensitive chemicals. Plus, a fresh plate had to go into the camera for each exposure, requiring elaborate mechanisms to avoid exposing it to light during the loading and removal. Research was under way in many places to find a replacement for glass, centering on the use of nitrocellulose, or film, which was not only much lighter than glass but could be rolled around a spool, allowing multiple exposures be-fore reloading.

Eastman and his coworkers realized that the keys to success in the photographic materials business would be film, the equipment needed to manufacture it, and the roll holder around which it would be wound. Eastman bent all his company’s efforts to developing the best in each category, patenting everything in sight as he did so.

He was soon a major player in the aborning business of photographic materials. But that was nevertheless a very small market. The average person still regarded photography as a miracle, and many of the professionals clung to the old glass plates. So Eastman decided to create a whole new market. “When we started out with our scheme of film photography, we expected that everybody who used glass plates would take up film,” he wrote much later. “But we found that the number which did so was relatively small. In order to make a large business we would have to reach the general public and create a new class of patron.”

In 1887 Eastman developed a new camera that he hoped would find a mass market. At a mere 6¾ by 3¾ by 3¾ inches, it was a small fraction of the size of the camera he had bought 10 years earlier, and it cost half as much. He named it the Kodak because he liked the letter K , wanted a name that both began and ended with it, and wanted a word that was unique and easily remembered.

Unlike that first camera of his, the Kodak came loaded with a roll of film that could take 100 photographs. Then the owner simply sent the camera and film back to Eastman, who returned it with the finished prints and a new roll of film in the camera. George Eastman had invented the photo-finishing business.

One more piece of the puzzle was needed to make photography a mass-market business. Eastman had to convince the public that it could handle what had always been a very complicated technology. He turned the trick with what is universally regarded as one of the greatest slogans in advertising history: “You press the button, we do the rest.” The new Kodak was a sensation, and George Eastman became fabulously rich.

Digital photography will never be as easy as Eastman made chemical photography, of course. There is too much you can do with it. But the first company writing software for digital cameras that takes to heart George Eastman’s most important idea for how to create a mass market—make the product easy to use—may find the world beating a path to its door.