The impressive, successful, and worldwide enterprise that is Eastman Kodak Company recorded its history meticulously. Now millions of pages of original documents and photographs are in the hands of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Rush Rhees Library for safekeeping and research.
"This is an enormous trove that hasn't yet been tapped," says Nancy Martin, the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian at the University of Rochester. "People who never would have had the chance to view and use these documents can—and to great advantage."
The gift from Kodak is historically significant and important to anyone who wants to know firsthand about the company. For generations of Rochesterians whose lives are intertwined with Kodak, the records also are an affirmation of the human contributions to a business begun in 1880, Martin points out. "What you see in the photographs and documents are a tremendous tribute to Kodak workers throughout the 20th century."
"Preserving Kodak's heritage through the gift of our historical records to the University of Rochester Library is important not only to Kodak and the University, but it is important far more broadly as an archive vital to understanding the growth of photography," says Michael P. Morley, chief administrative officer and executive vice president of Eastman Kodak Company. "Kodak is proud of its 124-year heritage as the primary driving force behind the science of imaging enjoyed today by people the world over."
As Martin continues to open boxes and keep an inventory, she has found "absolutely fascinating" materials about the role of Kodak during World War I and II, and the growth of the company abroad, for example. Just a partial list of subject categories includes speeches, serial publications, annual reports, and files on topics such as cafeteria operations and picture contests. The archives are open to the public.
Labeled as the History of Kodak Collection and the History of Photography Collection, a summary of the gift described it as a record of "the growth of technology; the founding and growth of a world-famous company and brand; [and] the management style of an innovator and humanitarian who set a standard which great people follow today." The gift also includes a sizable reference book collection.
In the last few years, Martin and Richard Peek, director of the Department of Rare Books, had talked with Kodak contacts about the archives coming to the University. "Nancy realized the enormous research potential of the Kodak archive and was instrumental in bringing it to the University," says Peek.
At the end of January, the collections arrived at Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus. Kodak's History of Advertising Collection was delivered to George Eastman House and the International Museum of Photography and Film about the same time. "It's an ideal situation for our students and other researchers to use our collections and also those at George Eastman House," says Martin.
"Any company large or small is looking toward the future," Martin says of Kodak's decision to send the archives to a research library. "Sadly, some companies put their history on the back burner or even throw it away. Kodak acted very responsibly with this gift to be sure these materials stayed in Rochester."
The University library already holds Kodak founder George Eastman's papers, personal correspondence and photographs, and related collections. Martin expects many surprises in this latest gift. "These collections have some organization to them," she says, "but we have to acclimate ourselves to them, and the preservation issues are not small."
A company built on cameras and film understands the demands of storage and care for historical records. Some aerial views of Kodak Park are discolored and need restoration; thousands of photographs are glued to paper that is causing damage and deterioration, says Peek.
Some select pieces will be included in a library exhibit marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of George Eastman this year. Once more of the material is reviewed, the Department of Rare Books is considering an exhibition in 2006.