Say “Cheese”: Did Money Make George Eastman Smile for the Camera?

I don’t think so, but I think accomplishment did.

My hubby, daughter and I took a tour of the George Eastman House yesterday and it was wonderful. Beautiful mansion, manicured gardens, and a very good story about a socially awkward man-turned-millionaire, albeit having a sad ending.

Eastman revolutionized photography; he made it easy for ordinary people to take pictures, capture moments, and enjoy recalling those moments later (to the chagrin of some of my readers, I can hear the band Nickleback’s song lyric, “Look at this photograph, every time I do it makes me laugh…”); that’s what George Eastman did for us.

Of course the path to success did not run smooth and he certainly had his share of failures. But he plugged on…a high school drop-out and son of a successful business man (who died when George was 7 and left him, his two siblings, and mother penniless), he observed how other people made money and followed in their footsteps. In fact, the reason he got into photography was because of real estate.

While working as a bookkeeper at a bank, he observed that most of the wealthy clientele owned real estate. He wanted in on it, too. So he wanted to take some pictures of the property he planned to buy and, to do so, bought $49 worth of photography supplies (camera, tripod, glass plates, chemicals etc) to take his own photographs (I think he had control issues). It was so cumbersome he thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” There was. He developed “dry plates”; the chemicals required to develop the image could be dried onto the glass plates, allowing the photographer more time to capture the right image and make the whole process considerably less messy. (I get the sense Mr. Eastman was a “fuss budget,” as my Grandma used to say.)

Trial and error and more trial and and error (and lawsuits) followed until he had the right team and product: A camera that used film that (gotta love this) his company would develop for you. The rest, as you’d say, is history.

The documentary we watched showed various photographs of Mr. Eastman throughout his life. Sometimes he looked pleased (I cannot say happy), and other times …less pleased. Almost all pictures indicated a deep meloncholy, to me at least. He looked abysmally lacking in joy, despite his wealth.

Now don’t get all “See, I told you money can’t make you happy,” because, despite what people say they believe, truth is money makes us all a little happy. (Just ask my daughter whose dog walking enterprise is making her quite cheerful as a result of her new found abundance.) And walking around the beautiful home and gardens brought me joy; so I was happy, even if it was someone else’s money I was enjoying. Money does, in fact, allow us to buy beautiful things. It won’t buy us beauty, but beautiful things. Like photographs.

So back to George Eastman. He lived well, entertained friends (although never married), traveled extensively (this is an elephant he caught on safari) and was quite philanthropic.

At 77 he was concerned that the loss of his faculties (as a result of age and disease) would prove too great for this control-loving man and he shot himself in the heart. His farewell note read something to the effect of, “My work here is done. Why wait?”

Truth of the matter is: Money provides a measure of control in our lives. Illness and age take that control away, despite how much money we have.

George Eastman is an example of how important purpose is – to not only our survival but to our joy. Once one loses purpose, one loses life.

About Amy Jo Lauber

I help people who are overwhelmed take control & make good financial decisions with confidence and experience peace and abundance. Are you ready to say goodbye to working hard but not having anything to show for it? Go to "Let's Talk" tab to schedule your complimentary initial consultation and take the first step on the path to financial empowerment.
This entry was posted in Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Say “Cheese”: Did Money Make George Eastman Smile for the Camera?

  1. Pat H says:

    Very good story Amy Jo. Thank you for sharing your insight into this man’s life, and his example, which is important for all of us. I always say it’s great having something to look forward to, like a purpose, or a goal, or a fun event. I believe it does lengthen ones life and the joy we experience while living it. Great pictures too.

  2. Thanks Pat, it’s really a nice tour, and good for a little day trip to get out of dodge.

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