George Eastman was your average teenager. He was a high school dropout, judged "not especially gifted" when measured against the academic standards at the time. His family was poor but he took it upon himself to support his two sisters and his widowed mother, one of the sisters were severely handicapped. At the age of 14, he began his career as an office boy in an insurance company. Soon after, he was a clerk in a local bank.
When Eastman was 24, he made plans for a vacation to Santo Domingo. When a co-worker suggested he make a record of the trip, Eastman bought a photographic outfit with all the paraphernalia of the wet plate days.
The camera was as big as a microwave oven and needed a heavy tripod. In addition, he carried a tent so that he could spread photographic emulsion on glass plates before exposing them, and develop the exposed plates before they dried out.
There were chemicals, glass tanks, a heavy plate holder, and a jug of water. The complete outfit "was a pack-horse load," as he described it. Learning how to use it to take pictures cost $5.
Eastman did not make the Santo Domingo trip. However, he did become completely absorbed in photography and sought to simplify the complicated process.
He worked at the bank during the day and experimented at home in his mother's kitchen at night. His mother said that some nights Eastman was so tired he couldn't undress, but slept on a blanket on the floor beside the kitchen stove.
After three years of photographic experiments, Eastman had a formula that worked. By 1880, he had not only invented a dry plate formula, but had patented a machine for preparing large numbers of the plates. He quickly recognized the possibilities of...