People & Events
William Walker first appeared in Rochester in 1880 as a supplier for amateur photographers and soon teamed up with Charles Forbes, a former mentor and partner of Eastman's. A man with a quick mechanical mind, Walker was selling his own dry-plates within three years. More important, he developed a small camera for amateurs called "Walker's Pocket Camera." With this device, Walker beat Eastman to the goal of a camera with interchangeable parts. But Walker had no aptitude for business, and he stopped manufacture in 1883, leaving his company to be reformed as the Rochester Optical Company without him. In the meantime, Eastman had recognized Walker's talents and, in the beginning of 1884, offered him a position as a partner.
At the time, Eastman had become convinced of the need for a totally different approach to photography -- instead of dry plates, he imagined a rollable substance that was flexible and lighter than glass. While he pursued an emulsion that would work on such a substance, Walker worked on the roll holder and the machinery that would apply the emulsion to the film. But Walker quickly revealed a difficult side to his personality. He would give up hope at the slightest setback and "stamp around the room, letting himself go completely." Worse, he began to express resentment toward his employer for his own shortcomings.
In the end, Eastman and Walker designed the roll holder together, while Eastman, working alone, devised a method of making the "gelatin paper dry plates" to be used in it. These two advances amounted to a new system: the paper film was wound around a wooden spool, then stretched onto a take-up spool. This mechanism was fitted in turn inside a brass-tipped mahogany case, which attached to the back of the camera instead of the usual glass-plate holder.
The Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, patented on May 5, 1885, was a great leap forward for photography. Not only did it have 17 interchangeable parts, making mass production feasible, but its very nature meant that the general public could entertain the notion of using it. In the 1880s photographers were accustomed to carting around 50-pound cameras that would yield two or three photographs an hour. A camera using the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, on the other hand, could dispatch up to 50 images in an hour, even though it weighed a mere two and three-quarters pounds. Suddenly, taking pictures was easy to do.
That year, the roll holder went on to win gold medals at the International Inventions Exhibitions of London and Exhibition Universelle in Paris, but the initial euphoria soon wore off. Eastman's paper film was grainy, and photographers largely rejected it. And on a more personal level, Walker's temper tantrums were becoming increasingly severe.
Hoping to make the best of the situation -- Eastman had to deal with Walker because Walker was a major stockholder -- Eastman sent the inventor to head the London office in 1885. For a time, this move seemed to solve the problem. Indeed, in 1889, when Eastman made a trip to Europe with his mother, Walker introduced him to George and Josephine Dickman -- who would later become, respectively, an invaluable business partner and Eastman's most intimate friend.
Even across the ocean, however, Eastman and Walker continued to come to loggerheads. Walker understood photography, but it was becoming all too clear that he knew nothing about running a business. As the European operation slipped out of control, Eastman had no choice but to fire the brilliant inventor and replace him with the suave and worldly George Dickman.
At first, Walker howled in protest, but finally he accepted the pronouncement. In later years, when he was no longer "vexed and angered beyond endurance" over circumstances at the workplace, he chanced on Eastman at Niagara Falls and urged him to invest in a Buffalo paper concern. Eastman declined, but held out an olive branch nonetheless: he took Walker's invalid daughter Gertrude and her English governess on a train ride to visit his mother. Walker, the perennial complainer, was pleased.
written by David Lindsay