The Wall Street Journal recently released a mini-doc that tells the entire story of Kodak—a story of a once-dominant company that made its name in film, and is now seeking to reinvent itself as a drug company after struggling to adapt to a future they, in fact, helped to bring about.
This short 8-minute “documentary” is unofficially titled The Rise and Fall of Kodak, and much of the story it tells will be familiar to photographers the world over.
The video starts with the origins of Kodak, explaining how George Eastman made photography accessible to the masses through the magic of transparent roll film—an invention that revolutionized image making, enabled the invention of the motion picture, and made Kodak the “Google” or “Apple” of its heyday. Then, in 1978, Kodak patented the technology that would ultimately spearhead its downfall: the digital camera.
Unable to envisage a future where film was not the company’s cash cow that bankrolled all of its other experiments and “moonshots”—imagine Google deciding to give up its Search and Advertising business to pursue an avenue that was actually losing hundreds of millions each year—Kodak’s star would ultimately peak in 1988.
From there, due to increasing competition from Fujifilm and, eventually, the rise of the smartphone, Kodak’s digital decline accelerated until the company famously filed for bankruptcy and left the digital camera business entirely in 2012.
Since then, it’s been a game of selling off businesses, pivoting its main business into various commercial industries, and licensing its brand name to third parties in an attempt to keep cash flowing and stay afloat. Along the way, we’ve seen some truly strange creations, like KODAKCoin cryptocurrency and the Kodak KashMiner bitcoin mining machine.
Which, finally, brings us up to the present day and Kodak’s headline-grabbing attempt to reinvent itself into a pharmaceutical company with $765 million in help from the US Government. The rest is… well… not so much “history” and “history in the making” while we wait to see if the loan actually goes through, or if allegations of insider trading ultimately sink this deal.
The mini-doc does a great job of covering the entire history of the Kodak company from its inception to the present day, all in about 8 minutes. Of course, each chapter of Kodak’s history, why it failed where Fujifilm didn’t, and the myriad third-party products with “Kodak” slapped on them have all gotten individual posts here on PetaPixel, which you can fin in our archives.
But if you want to get caught up on everything that has happened to this once-iconic photography company over the past 5+ decades without going down a blog post rabbit hole, check out the full video up top.