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Two rare rolls of early Kodak film acquired by the George Eastman Museum


Only known box of Kodak Film (1888) and one of only three known boxes of Transparent Kodak Film (1889) make major impact on museum’s technology collection


Rochester, N.Y., July 11, 2016—The George Eastman Museum recently purchased the only known box of Kodak Film for use in the Kodak camera (sometimes called American Film), introduced by the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1888, and one of only three known boxes of Kodak Transparent Film, introduced in 1889 for use in the Kodak camera. Now a part of the museum’s internationally renowned technology collection, these unopened boxes of film complete the Eastman Museum’s holdings related to the original Kodak camera—adding to its examples of the camera, case, shipping box, and sample images.

“These two rolls of film make a critical contribution to the Eastman Museum’s holdings of photographic technology—considered the leading collection of its kind in the world,” said Bruce Barnes, Ron and Donna Fielding Director, George Eastman Museum. “Given their importance and rarity, these boxes of film are not only among of the most significant objects in our technology collection, they are also extremely important to the evolution of photography and the history of Rochester, New York.”

Introduced in 1888, the Kodak camera sold for $25, including factory-loaded film to take one hundred 2½-inch-diameter circular pictures. After the photographs were taken, the still-loaded camera was returned to Rochester, New York, and for a fee of $10, the film was developed, prints made, and a new roll of film inserted before the camera was sent back to its owner. The company adopted the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”—penned by George Eastman—and Kodak snapshots became a cultural phenomenon.

“The debut of Eastman’s American Film and Transparent Film in the late 1880s was the beginning of snapshot photography, and a turning point for the company and the city of Rochester,” said Todd Gustavson, Technology Curator, George Eastman Museum. “We have always kept an eye out for film manufactured in the late 1880s to complete our collection of objects related to the first-generation Kodak camera. We jumped at the chance to bring these two boxes home to Rochester.”

Eastman Kodak Company’s roll film
Roll film represented the beginning of Eastman Kodak Company’s business model, one of the most successful and profitable for much of the twentieth century. Eastman’s American Film, which had a paper substrate, was first introduced along with the Eastman-Walker roll holder of 1885 and marketed to professional photographers, though they did not embrace it. Undaunted, Eastman decided to offer the film and a new camera, the Kodak, to amateur photographers. Eastman’s Transparent Film, which had a nitrate substrate, was for a time sold alongside the American Film, which was discontinued in about 1900. Although American Film for the Kodak camera was listed in the company’s catalogs, it was not often sold separately.

Eastman’s Transparent Film was the flexible photographic material used by most people experimenting with early motion pictures. Thomas Edison’s assistant W. K. L. Dickson used Kodak Transparent Film (which was 70 millimeters wide), slit in half to 35mm and then perforated, as the flexible medium to store images to be presented in the Edison Kinetoscope, the first 35mm motion picture viewing device.

The acquisition of these two rolls of film were funded by donations from Steven Sasson, the inventor of digital photography and a trustee of the George Eastman Museum, and Robert and Lynne Shanebrook. Robert Shanebrook is the author of Making Kodak Film. Both boxes of film are currently on display at the George Eastman Museum. For more information about the museum’s technology collection, visit eastman.org/technology.