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Eastman Kodak Introduces Full Color Photography

With the coming of the twentieth century and its intoxicating rhythms, many innovators intensified their search for the means to render photography in full color. George Eastman was as interested as anyone in conquering the problem. Indeed, convinced (correctly) that color photography would be mostly the province of amateurs, he dedicated himself to finding a process that not only could offer the complete spectrum of colors but would be simple to use. He eventually found one, although it would not turn out to be simple to develop.

In 1910, when Eastman established a color laboratory at Kodak Park under the leadership of MIT graduate Emerson Packard, lantern slides and hand-colored prints were enjoying tremendous popularity. Among the more successful marketers of lanterns slides were the Lumiere brothers, who a decade earlier had stunned the world with their projected motion pictures. The Lumieres offered to sell their lantern-slide operation to Eastman, but a visit to their Paris offices revealed a family operation in disarray, and Eastman, a prim bachelor with strict business standards, left in disgust.

Nevertheless, the European trip had strengthened Eastman's resolve. "I spent a good deal of time on new developments in color," he wrote of the trip, "which I hope will develop into something commercial." At Kodak Park, he instructed Packard to proceed as best he could without infringing on the Lumiere patents.

A series of efforts led by Packard and other Kodak employees resulted in the first signs of victory: a process that used red and green filters and transformed negatives directly into positives. Dubbed Kodachrome, the color process would no doubt have gone to market, but progress was stalled by the outbreak of World War I. Adding insult to injury, Eastman's Kodachrome prints received poor reviews at a March 1915 demonstration at the Royal Photographic Society and at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

At this impasse, two complete amateurs entered the story and saved the day. Leopold Damrosch Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, Jr., both sons of famous musicians, had met as schoolmates and been drawn together by their mutual interest in sonatas and the Brownie camera. After seeing an early color movie, Mannes and Godowsky became convinced that they could do better and built a three-lens camera that combined the three primary colors projected as light. This had already been done by others, but in their excitement the failures of others did not seem worth exploring.

The two went on to college and met again in New York after graduation, whereon they fell to photographic experimentation again. With the help of impresario S. L. (Roxy) Rothafel, they were able to use the projection booth at the Rialto to produce their first dark, fuzzy pictures. Soon they had surpassed the efforts of others and were photographing a part of the color spectrum on double-layered plates -- in the bathtubs and sinks of their homes.

Their parents did not approve of these scientific forays, however, and so in 1922 they turned to George Eastman for financial help. Eastman proved non-committal, but two years later, Mannes and Godowsky were able to ingratiate themselves with C.E. Kenneth Mees, director of the Eastman Kodak Research Laboratory, and with that slender entree, to receive funding from other sources.

In 1930 the Eastman Kodak Company made improvements in color-movie technology, but it still lagged behind the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation. Mees, anxious to remain at the forefront, finally agreed to hire Mannes and Godowsky. (By this time, Eastman himself, ill and five years into his retirement, was far from the action at Kodak Park.)

With the Eastman School of Music at their disposal, the duo were finally able to hit their stride, although their methods were confusing to those around them. At the school, they were known as "those color experts," at Kodak Park, as "man and God." Working in a completely light-tight darkroom, they timed their plate developing by whistling Brahms at two beats to the second, leaving their colleagues to wonder what had become of the famed Kodak efficiency ethic.

Doubts about Mannes and Godowsky increased as the Great Depression wore on. Mees, by then a vice president, could only hope for the best as he stalled other departments filled with accomplished chemists and pressured the musicians for results. Under these conditions, Mannes and Godowsky developed first a two-color film and then a three-color one, both of which could be easily used by amateurs.

The Kodachrome name was revived, and on April 15, 1935, Kodachrome motion picture film went on sale. Shortly after that, Eastman Kodak introduced Kodachrome film for color slides. The process by which this film was developed was -- and still is -- maddeningly complex, but as with everything else at Kodak, the amateur did not have to worry about that, since developing was handled by the company. Vivid color photography for everyday use had become a reality.

written by David Lindsay

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