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William Stuber


William Stuber In 1893, the Eastman company was in dire straits. Henry Reichenbach, the company's star chemist and emulsion maker, had left in disgrace, the entire country was experiencing a financial depression, and it was beginning to look as if the salad days of Kodak were over. Into this crisis stepped William G. Stuber of Louisville, Kentucky.

George Eastman first met Stuber at a photographic convention. A portrait photographer of national repute, Stuber had just returned from Switzerland, where he had spent six months studying emulsion techniques of Dr. John Henry Smith. In fact, Stuber owned a half-interest in Henry's new plate-coating machine. Ever alert to talent and rival technologies alike, Eastman invited the photographer to Rochester to interview for the position of foreman in the transparency plate department.

Stuber arrived confident of getting the job, as he brought his family with him. He was not misguided. During the interview, Eastman asked the photographer for his opinion on why Kodak film went bad after about six months. Without missing a beat, Stuber told him that it was because of the way the emulsions were handled during production. Taken aback, Eastman pressed for more and received a theory that he could test for himself. Stuber was assigned to work on emulsions a few days later.

At the time, emulsions were a particularly sore point at Kodak Park. With the departure of Reichenbach, the celluloid used for the film began to go bad, and with that, the emulsions no longer worked. Stuber would eventually solve this problem in a manner that remains a trade secret even today, and pull Kodak out of its crisis -- but not before he had paid his dues. In 1896, exasperated with his poor results, he tendered his resignation. Eastman refused to accept it and asked what his success rate was. When Stuber replied that he might get two good batches and two bad ones a day, Eastman suggested he make more batches.

Stuber's own position at the company would be a frequent source of contention. At one time or another, he was at odds with many of the key people under Eastman's employ -- after Eastman, he was the second-highest paid employee at Kodak -- and eventually with Eastman himself. Having been made president of Eastman Kodak on Eastman's retirement in 1925 (in recognition of the contributions he made to the company), he continued to carp that his contract was unsatisfactory. Yet for all that, when Eastman fell ill in 1930, Stuber still felt close enough to his employer to send him the formula for a personal "emulsion"--15 drops of iodine a day, chased down by Scotch or Rye.


written by David Lindsay

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