George Eastman Puts M.I.T. and Rochester on the Map

  • Education
  • 1912

As founder of the camera manufacturing and supply company Eastman Kodak, and the inventor of many of the central processes of modern photography, George Eastman was well acquainted with the rocketing importance in modern life of technical expertise. In the early dog-eat-dog days during the birth of photography, Eastman had gone to a little commuter school known as Boston Tech to hire crucial engineers on several occasions. When his business boomed, he returned the favor by anonymously donating $20 million, beginning in 1912, to create today’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He built the university an entirely new campus, where it now resides, and launched its transformation into the world-leading educational institution it is now.

In his hometown of Rochester, New York, Eastman was even more munificent in building up the University of Rochester. He donated $51 million to the institution during his lifetime, creating its medical school among many other things, in the process vaulting it into the top tier of scientific and technical universities. Eastman also did more than any other American to improve dental education and medicine, and to bring oral health care to everyday people.

In addition to these contributions to technical education, Eastman single-handedly built one of the top schools of music in the world (see the 1921 entry on our companion list of Arts achievements). And, inspired by Julius Rosenwald, he became the largest contributor in the U.S. to the education of African Americans during the 1920s.