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Colin Harding, on:
the importance of the emulsion

Colin Harding Q: What happened to the emulsions after Reichenbach was fired in late 1891?

Reichenbach was summarily dismissed from the company for his treacherous activities. Eastman, of course, had to find a new emulsion maker, and quick. And he turned to a chap called Monroe. At first, everything seemed to be going splendidly. No problems. But then after a few months, complaints started coming in that the new films were losing their sensitivity. People were sending film back saying it wasn't working. What was wrong? And as the months went by, this problem built up, until Eastman had to make the decision to actually stop film production because problems were so great.

Q: Was this same problem happening in Britain? Why was it not just a local problem?

The problem with the emulsions wasn't confined to Rochester. Over at the new factory in Harrow, the chemist there, Crone, was also discovering that people were sending film back, complaining it was insensitive, complaining there were spots on the emulsions. And of course the reason for this is that even though they were separated by thousands of miles, they followed the same formula and the same conditions and recipes for making the emulsion. So any problems that were found in Rochester were bound to be echoed in the Harrow plant.

Q: Tell me about Reichenbach and emulsion making as a science versus an art.

The thing to bear in mind at this time is that making a photographic emulsion was not an exact science. It was much more of an art, a black art. Equivalent would be like baking a cake, that you could have exactly the same ingredients, but two cooks could make the same cake and it would taste totally different. The same with emulsion making. There were so many variables. The raw materials, the conditions, the temperature, humidity, water, all these things could combine to greatly affect the final product. And this was the problem that Eastman faced. He knew there was a problem, but he couldn't put his finger on what was the problem, what had caused the problem. Things had changed. A number of things had changed since Reichenbach's departure. Of course, he had a different emulsion maker. That was one thing. The actual raw material he used, the dope, the nitrocellulose, came from a different supplier. Also of course, to solve the problem they had earlier with static discharge, Reichenbach and Eastman had added certain chemicals, certain ammonium salts, to the emulsions. All of these things or a combination of all of them could have resulted in the problems. The problem that Eastman had, of course, was finding out which one had caused the problem, and thus finding the way to solve the problem.

Q: How did they eventually figure out what went wrong with the emulsion?

Well, because there were so many variables, the only thing they could do was effectively go back to the drawing board, go back to square one, and start from scratch, eliminating all the possible variables one at a time. This, they did. But of course it took time. And it took them right away through ‘93 into ‘94 before they managed to get successful emulsion back on the market. By this time, of course, the gap had been leapt into by other manufacturers, such as the Blair Company. And so the damage done to Eastman was considerable. And indeed, at the time, they were in severe financial problems. And it was really only the fact that the company had diversified into film and into paper production as well as film production that saw them through this difficult period. And indeed, if it wasn't for the success of Solio paper, they might well have gone bust.

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