History of George Eastman House
International Museum of Photography and Film
George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film combines the world’s
leading collections of photography and film with the stately pleasures of the landmark Colonial Revival
mansion and gardens that George Eastman called home from 1905 to 1932. The Museum is a National Historic
Landmark. Mr. Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, is heralded as the father of modern photography
and the inventor of motion picture film.
The Eastman House, the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the world’s oldest film archives,
opened to the public in 1949. World-renowned for its photograph and motion picture archives, the Museum
is also a leader in film preservation and photograph conservation, educating the top archivists and
conservators from around the world.
Mr. Eastman (1854–1932) built his home at 900 East Avenue between 1902 and 1905. He created a
unique urban estate complete with 10.5 acres of working farm land, formal gardens, greenhouses,
stables, barns, pastures, and a 35,000-square-foot, 50-room Colonial Revival mansion with a fireproof
structure made of reinforced concrete.
Mr. Eastman’s house presented a classical facade of decorative craftsmanship. Beneath this exterior
were such modern conveniences as an electrical generator, an internal telephone system with 21 stations,
a built-in vacuum cleaning system, a central clock network, an elevator, and a great pipe organ, which
made the home itself an instrument, a center of the city’s rich musical life from 1905 until Eastman’s
death in 1932.
Mr. Eastman’s will bequeathed his estate to the University of Rochester for 10 years. His close
friend Rush Rhees, then president of the university, resided here until 1935, succeeded by the Valentine
family. Following World War II, the university transferred the estate to a board of trustees, which formed
to establish a museum of photography, attracting precious artifacts from around the world to a center of
study, care, and exhibition.
The George Eastman House Museum of Photography was chartered in 1947. Today the Museum’s full
name is George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. The Museum’s mission
from the outset was to collect, preserve, and present the history of photography and film. The Museum
opened its doors to a diverse public audience in 1949, displaying its core collections in the former
public rooms of Eastman’s house.
The Museum’s original collections–including the Medicus collection of Civil War photographs
by Alexander Gardner, Eastman Kodak Company’s historical collection, and the invaluable,
massive Gabriel Cromer collection from France–attracted significant additions over the next
40 years. Entire archives, corporate collections, and artists’ lifetime portfolios have
been donated to the Eastman House, as well as a staggering assemblage of rare motion pictures
By 1984, the Museum’s holdings were considered among the world’s finest.
However, with the collections growing at a rapid pace, the Museum increasingly suffered
from its own success. With an increasing number of materials to store, protect, and study,
space and financing became critical.
Between 1985 and 1988, more than $30 million was raised for capital improvement and collections care.
Eastman Kodak Company led the way, challenging the public with an endowment gift worth more than $17 million.
Public contributions of $12.5 million provided for the construction of a state-of-the-art archives building,
including a study center and exhibition galleries. The archives building is 73,000 square feet of climate-
controlled vault, archival, research, and gallery space, much of it built below ground, with restored
historic gardens above.
For the first time in its history, the Museum had attained physical and financial security for its
precious materials and the ability to offer unlimited access for a range of audiences. The new facility
opened to the public in January 1989, and now houses more than 400,000 photographs and negatives; 23,000
films and more than 5 million film stills; 43,000 publications; and more than 25,000 pieces of
Also as part of the capital improvements, nearly $2 million was devoted to an exacting restoration
of Mr. Eastman’s house and grounds. Using vintage photographs and other historical evidence, more
than 85 percent of the original furnishings and virtually all of the complex decorative interior were returned
or restored during the three-year process. Reopened to the public in January 1990, the Eastman House is a
biographical treatment of Eastman’s estate as a reflection of his unique life. Four of Mr.
Eastman’s formal gardens have been restored, and the remaining areas of the grounds will be restored
or adapted to Museum’s needs.
Other museum programs and facilities were significantly improved during this period. Second floor galleries
in the mansion document Mr. Eastman’s life and times; the Discovery Room, a popular hands-on education
department program, enjoys expanded facilities in a wing of the second floor; a lecture hall has been
renovated as a multimedia theater in memory of General Edward Peck Curtis; and the Dryden Theatre, a
motion-picture venue with 535 seats, was renovated in order to continue its tradition of film exhibition,
specializing in restored film classics.
In 1996, the Museum opened the Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in nearby Chili, N.Y. One of only four
film conservation centers in the country, the facility houses the Museum’s rare 35 mm prints made on
In 1997, the Eastman House launched the first school of film preservation in the United States to teach
restoration, preservation, and archiving of motion pictures. The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation
is supported by a three-year $365,000 grant from The Louis B. Mayer Foundation.
The Eastman House celebrated its 50th anniversary as a museum in 1999. That year the Museum opened the new
George Eastman Archive and Study Center, making the complete collection of Mr. Eastman’s personal and
business artifacts more accessible to researchers and visitors.
Also in 1999, the Eastman House, a world leader in photograph conservation, launched the Mellon Advanced
Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. This was made possible by way of a $2.18 million grant from
the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Eastman House will train the top photograph archivists and conservators
in the world, enrolling about 24 Fellows during the six-year program.
The year 2002 witnessed restoration projects for the Dryden Theatre and the house. A $3 million
three-phase plan to restore the 51-year-old Dryden Theatre began with a restoration of the original
lobby. Additional phases, to take place in the next few years, will update the projection booth
and restore the auditorium, including improved seating, sound, and screen. The first restored bedroom
opened at George Eastman House in August 2002. The bedroom of Maria Kilbourn Eastman, the mother of
George Eastman, features original furniture, artifacts, and a restored bathroom and walk-in