On Thursday, January 19, 132 year-old Eastman Kodak Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Kodak was an iconic symbol of American innovation during the 20th century and its logo, a red K on a yellow background, is known throughout the world.
Kodak, a Rochester, New York, company, was founded by an inventor, George Eastman, who in 1884 patented the idea of photographic film stored on a roll. Kodak eventually became the premier manufacturer of photographic film, at first black and white and later color. Its Tri-X black and white film was introduced around 1940 and became the choice of professional photographers. Probably its most well-known film was Kodachrome, a color film introduced in 1935 and discontinued in 2009. It was the subject of a popular song by Paul Simon which contained lyrics praising its pleasing colors, “You give us those nice bright colors, you give us the greens of summers.”
In 1888 Eastman produced an easy-to-use automatic camera for his film. An inexpensive version of the camera, the Brownie, came onto the market in 1901 and made photography accessible to the average person. The popular Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in the 1960’s. For the Apollo 11 mission, Kodak built the electronic camera that sent still pictures back from the moon in 1969.
Kodak was the first company to build a working digital camera in 1975. The device, developed by a Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson, had a 0.01 megapixel resolution and stored images on cassette tape. In 1986, Kodak developed the first practical megapixel CCD image sensor.
Kodak continued to work on digital imaging and developed one of the first digital cameras to be marketed to consumers, which was sold by Apple as the QuickTake in 1994. Kodak eventually began producing digital cameras under its own name and, by 2005, Kodak was the largest seller of digital cameras in the United States.
However, Kodak’s digital cameras failed to keep up with the competition, mainly from Japan, and they came to be perceived as lower in quality than the Canons, Nikons and Sonys that began to dominate the market. Kodak started losing money and, from 2004, was only able to earn a profit in one year, 2007. By January 2012, Kodak’s stock price, which in 1997 reached a high of $97 per share, fell to an all-time low of $.37.
Kodak is being provided with financing by one of its creditors, Citibank, and hopes to reorganize and build its new business around printers and ink. Kodak’s official statement on the Chapter 11 filing can be found out KodakTransforms.com.