Compass

Oct. 14, 1884: Eastman patents photographic film

Compass

(Photo: George Eastman with an early Kodak camera in 1890 by Frederick Church, via Wikimedia Commons)

Few inventions have had a bigger impact on travel than the portable camera. And that wouldn’t have been possible without the flexible, lightweight film that George Eastman patented in 1884.

Photography began decades earlier, but until the advent of film, it required heavy (not to mention breakable) glass plates. Seeking a way to “make the camera as convenient as the pencil,” Eastman invented a roll of coated paper that could fit into a small box. That box, which Eastman created in 1888 and called the Kodak camera, launched a billion-snapshot revolution into the way people recorded their lives.

These days, travelers can pay homage to the inventor and his creations at the George Eastman House in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. The oldest museum of photographic history, the house now showcases one of the world's largest and best collections of photographs and equipment.

The original film wasn’t perfect: With a paper backing that had to be removed before photos could be developed, it was hard to process. The next incarnation was highly flammable. By the early 20th century, though, safer film was widespread in cameras and, eventually, video recorders (interestingly, the oldest surviving motion picture was captured on film on another Oct. 14, in 1888).

Thus, Eastman was partly responsible for a new era in which people felt compelled to share their travel snapshots with family and friends, a practice that has only grown in the digital era.

View Comments