Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Montage of images and link description. The Wizard of Photography Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience

People & Events
Eastman Markets the Kodak Line

Eastman's marketing career essentially began in 1885, when he introduced the Eastman-Walker Roll Holder, which allowed a series of exposures to be advanced through the camera. With this invention, a whole new concept in photography was launched -- a camera anyone could use. His challenge was to make that concept clear to a public accustomed to thinking of photographic equipment as forbidding and obscure.

Eastman's first stroke was perhaps his most brilliant. A brand name, as he saw it, "must mean nothing. If the name has no dictionary definition, it must be associated only with your product." To this end, he coined and trademarked the term Kodak, which was easy to remember and difficult to misspell.

First used in December 1887, the name caught on like wildfire. In almost no time, Kodak was being used as noun, verb, and adjective alike. People who used the product came to be known as Kodakers, and the letter K became fair game for anyone who could figure out how to incorporate it into a name: Kola, Kristmas, Kolumbus Day. The Kodak Kid and Kodak Komics sprouted up, as did *Captain Kodak*, a novel for young adults by Alexander Black. A bogus Kodak Company set up shop in Florida, and countless others kept Eastman's legal department busy chasing down infringements of the trademark.

The name was an auspicious start, but it was hardly the only strategy that Eastman marshaled. From the very beginning, he recognized that the lifeblood of his business lay in children, who would keep photographers interested long after the novelty of the camera had worn off. The early Kodak ads show this wisdom at work, as he took pains to depict family events in connection with his product. A one-time amateur painter, he even showed a certain flair for design in these ads, running them in big-block print with elegant line drawings at a time when the typical ad was busy with information. According to tradition, it was also Eastman who hit upon the idea of the bright yellow packaging that even today stands out on shelves full of merchandise.

After the blush of success, however, it became obvious that Eastman was stretching himself too thin, so he began casting around for someone to take over the job of advertising for the company. He found exactly the right man in Lewis Burnell Jones, a graduate of the University of Rochester then working for a Syracuse newspaper, whom he hired in March of 1892. Dapper and lanky, Jones became a mainstay at the Eastman company for the next four decades.

Jones showed his innate understanding of where the photography business was headed when he told an interviewer that "it was the charm of photography not just this little black box that must be sold to the public." Indeed, he did not even need instructions in the company plan. One day, Eastman called him into his office and asked him why his copy was so good. When Jones ventured that it was because it had been written for the public and not for the boss, Eastman told him: "From now on I don't want to see any ads until they're printed." With this agreement, the public came to read slogans such as "If it isn't an Eastman it isn't a Kodak," "Picture ahead! Kodak as you go!" and the hard-sell "The snapshot you want tomorrow you must take today."

Perhaps the most effective advertising technique to come out of the Eastman company, though, involved not words but an image: the Kodak Girl. It was Eastman, the perennial bachelor, who sprung this idea (though he borrowed it, admittedly, from the Gibson Girls campaign) on the public in 1888, when he outfitted an outdoorsy young woman in a striped dress and had her picture taken with a camera in her hand. At first, the Kodak Girls were rendered in line drawings, but in 1901, with improvements in half-tone, printing, photography, the first photographically illustrated Kodak Girl appeared in a newspaper ad.

An independent-minded traveler, the Kodak Girl was conveniently both a photographer and a photographic subject, and over the years many a boy (and man) became a secret admirer, while countless girls copied her look. As late as the 1960s, the tradition lived on, as models trimmed out in striped suits descended on the beaches of England, snapping pictures of whomever happened to be there. By this time, of course, Eastman's advertising campaign had become so thoroughly engrained in people's minds that no one had to be informed of its meaning. Taking pictures of beautiful girls with Kodak cameras in their hands, who were taking pictures themselves, was simply something that everyone did.

written by David Lindsay

previous | return to people & events list | next

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide
The American Experience | Kids | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe

©  New content 1999-2000 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: