University of Rochester

EVENT: George Eastman and His University: How the Relationship Grew

July 12, 2004

A Cartridge Kodak #5 camera for taking photographs on glass plates or film ranks as the first gift George Eastman gave to the University of Rochester. His 1899 gesture to a geology professor grew into munificent donations that created the Eastman School of Music and the School of Medicine and Dentistry, and supported the continuing expansion of the University in the 20th century.

A new exhibit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Eastman’s birth on July 12 centers on his relationship with University President Rush Rhees, and then samples some of the many ways the Kodak founder and philanthropist stayed involved in the growth of the University. “Eastman’s ‘Princely Bequests’ to Rochester: Music, Medicine, and Research” is on display in The Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library through July 12, 2005.

Prominently displayed is one of the rare images of the two men together, which was taken in 1931 when Eastman was honored before a dinner crowd of more than 1,000 people in New York City. The formal white-tie occasion contrasts with what biographers say about the man who worked vigorously on the design of the interior and acoustics of the Eastman Theatre, and recruited the first dean of the medical school.

Eastman’s commitment to higher education developed later in his life. He came to realize the value of a college-trained workforce and the mission of educators, says Nancy Martin, curator of the exhibit. She points to a November 1924 reply from Eastman when a local businessman, Daniel R. Clark, refused to donate to the Greater University Fund.

“The smart and successful business men we have known were not college men,” Clark wrote. In response, Eastman began, “Fifteen or twenty years ago, I used to feel pretty much the way you do about college education.” Then he countered: “From the Kodak point of view I consider it a very highly desirable thing to have a good college here, not only to help train good men but also to make Rochester an attractive place for Kodak men to live and bring up their families. It seems to me that as a pure business proposition you ought to give the university some help.”

The ambitious effort that year to raise $10 million in 10 days succeeded, and Eastman was the largest donor to the campaign. A hardbound book listing all 13,500 contributors, in alphabetical order, is also on display—with Eastman’s name beautifully inscribed like all the others.

“People felt it was their university,” says Martin, the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian. “The campaign later had a tremendous effect on George Eastman leaving so much to the University.”

In connection with Eastman’s birthday celebration, a video tribute to him can be viewed at

The hours for the exhibit on the second floor of Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday, through Aug. 31. Times will be extended during the academic year. For more information on the exhibit, contact (585) 275-4477.

Note to editors: A few jpg images from the exhibit can be sent to you for limited use. Please call (585) 275-4128 or send your request to