On the last day of December, 1880, when George Eastman signed the papers to give birth to the company which would eventually be named "Kodak," no one knew just how big it would become. Kodak's slide has been a gradual one.
A high school dropout with a vision, George Eastman invented a flexible rollable film and introduced cameras that used it. With the slogan, "You press the button, we'll do the rest," Eastman built a company 131 years ago, which would not only revolutionize film and photography, but drive a city's image and economy.
"The 20th century Rochester was Kodak City, no doubt about that," said Elizabeth Breyer, who was granted unprecedented access to Kodak's archives. The result of five years of research – a 600 page Eastman biography.
"Well, he was a Renaissance man. I didn't realize that. When you think of innovators or inventors you think of one track, like Edison, but he was into all kinds of things," Breyer said.
Eastman's film made Thomas Edison's motion picture camera work, the origins of a company that would grow to over 60,000 employees in Rochester at it's height; but the news that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy protection surprised no one.
"I wanted to cry this morning. I really did," said John Larish. He retired in 1985. He remembers a Kodak which was much more than a company.
"Kodak was involved in many many things, sports, entertainment, and they had these things all for their employees," Larish said. "They took very good care of their employees."
"Either you had a family member who worked at Kodak, or a neighbor or friend. It was the employment base for the city of Rochester," said Maggie Brooks, (R).
Brooks, the Monroe County Executive, covered Kodak for years as a former TV reporter, when everything the photo giant did was a big story in town.
"I remember the day when 62,000 people worked at the company. You could go in the morning and see people flood into the building. We called it the factory gates, and if you wanted community reaction as a reporter, you would go to the factory gates and take the pulse of people who worked at Kodak, because they had such a powerful presence," said Brooks.
"I've been here all my life, really and it's an important part of this community," said Tom Richards, (D), Rochester mayor.
Richards says that legacy is important as the current Kodak works through financial struggles.
"I think we can't look at Kodak as just the business. We have to look at Kodak as it's had its impact on the community and much of what it did in this community remains," said Richards.
George Eastman's own legacy is evident all over Rochester, not just at Kodak. At the University of Rochester, to which Eastman left $46 million, to his own former home, the George Eastman House, which became a photography museum in the 1940s.
Eastman's philanthropy, much of it done anonymously, totalled over $100 million by the time he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1932. Some critics have called Kodak's demise self-inflicted. For instance, a Kodak engineer in the 1970s invented the digital camera, but as the focus remained on the film made right here in Rochester, Kodak was late to the commercial digital game.
"There was no feeling it was suddenly going to take over, because it didn't take very good pictures, for one thing. People were used to film and the whole thing of taking it to the drug store and getting it developed, and that sort of thing," said Breyer.
Breyer says George Eastman had a knack not only for invention, but a knowledge that technology would change.
"Certainly he would be sad to see it go through bankruptcy," Breyer said.
The strong presence of Kodak now is more emotional than physical. Gone is the strong community connection of days past. The Big Yellow Box. The sense of, "as Kodak goes, so goes Rochester."
A Kodak moment, faded... into an uncertain future.