Eastman Kodak, referred to colloquially as "Kodak," is a large multinational corporation founded in Rochester by George Eastman, with corporate headquarters in downtown Rochester, near High Falls. Kodak also maintains research facilities and some manufacturing in Kodak Park, near the City of Rochester-Greece Border on Lake Ave and Ridge Road, and other locations throughout the area. Kodak, like Xerox, was the basis of the Rochester economy for many years, until the digital camera made Kodak's consumer film products obsolete.
Although Eastman Kodak has primarily dealt with photographic products, it has ventured into other areas, such as batteries, photocopiers, medical imaging and chemicals. While many of these ventures failed, the chemical division, headquartered in Kingsport, TN, was successful enough to be spun off in 1994, and is today one of the world's leading sources of polymeric materials.
Kodak has encountered failures in its history, including
an attempt to market an instant photography system in the 1980s, which was stopped by a patent infringement suit filed by the Polaroid Company;
Disc film, a replacement to the very popular Instamatic 110 camera line, but was unsuccessful, possibly due to the complexity of the film system and the very small negative size;
APS (Advanced Photo System), designed to provide a more user-friendly system for snapshot photography. A joint effort between many large photographic companies, it failed due to the rapid growth of the digital imaging market.
It has been said that Eastman Kodak also failed to realize the potential of the digital imaging boom in the late 1990s. This is somewhat true, as Kodak did not begin to market digital cameras until the market was established. However, Kodak became the #1 seller of digital cameras in the United States, with 24% of the market share1. Kodak also applied its vast knowledge of photographic print displays to the inkjet and digital photographic printing field.
Growth in Kodak digital imaging notwithstanding, Kodak's worldwide employment base has shrunk dramatically since the 2000s2, felt especially in Rochester where Kodak had been the top employer for many years. Whole plants have been closed (such as Kodak Elmgrove in Gates) and divisions sold off (such as the Space and Aerial Imaging division, located at Kodak Hawkeye on St. Paul Street 3). Indeed, even Kodak Park, which operated much like a small city unto itself, has been greatly reduced as its intended purpose, the manufacture of film and photographic paper, has become almost obsolete. Even with the downsizing, Kodak remained the #2 employer in the Rochester area for a while, falling to #3 in 20064 and will most probably never regain the level of employment that it had in the late 1980s.
On January 18, 2012, Kodak filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was unable to sell off 1,100 digital imaging patents, which would have kept the company in solvency. It was reported that Kodak currently has 7,100 employees in the Rochester area, an immense difference from the former peak of 62,000 local employees. There are also 25,000 retirees in the area, presumably dependent upon benefits from the company. There is ongoing controversy related to the negative impact the decline of Kodak is having on Rochester. Other job sectors in Rochester (such as Wegmans and the University of Rochester) have overtaken Kodak in terms of their impact on the local economy.
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