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The death of George Eastman (1932)

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The man behind Kodak

George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, and often called “the father of photography” was many things — a clever inventor, a shrewd businessman, and in his later years a generous philanthropist.

After he gave up his daily management of Kodak to become its treasurer, he spent much of his later years returning a good portion of the fortune he had amassed to the community. He made large donations to the University of Rochester, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Rochester Institute of Technology — the latter naming a building on campus after him in recognition for his generosity.

Unfortunately, Eastman was plagued by chronic pain in his final years, most likely from what modern doctors would diagnose as lumbar spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal.

Whatever the root cause, it gave him difficulty standing and reduced his walk to a slow, painful shuffle. As Eastman had seen his mother confined to a wheelchair during her final years from the same condition, he grew depressed.

A handwritten farewell

Finally deciding to take matters into his own hands, Eastman took his life with a single gunshot to the heart on March 14, 1932 at the age of 77, leaving a suicide note which read simply:

“To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?”

The handwritten note above and his death certificate (shown below) are both on display at George Eastman House museum in Rochester, New York.

George Eastman was cremated, and his ashes buried on the grounds of Kodak Park (now known as Eastman Business Park) in Rochester, New York — on the site of the empire he created.

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