Contribution of the European Kodak Research Laboratories to Innovation Strategy at Eastman Kodak




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This study provides a new understanding of the nature of Eastman Kodak Research. The thesis considers the European context between 1891 and 1912, before the creation of the first Kodak Research Laboratory in 1912 at Rochester, New York, and between 1928 and 1950 with the opening of two additional Research Laboratories in the United Kingdom and in France. It sheds light on the technological and organisational relationship between the main Kodak Research Laboratory in Rochester and the later, related, Kodak Research Laboratories in Europe.

Analysis of publications from numerous independent photochemists demonstrates that industrial secrecy during the interwar years limited the sharing of scientific knowledge and delayed developments in photographic science. The first Kodak Research Laboratory was created in Rochester in 1912 to address this issue internally. Its first director, Kenneth Mees, developed an innovative organisational model which combined fundamental and applied research in order to protect scientific facts about the photographic process that were discovered in-house and to create the appropriate preconditions for the development of new and marketable products.

Qualitative analysis of unpublished research reports stresses the multi-faceted nature of the photographic research undertaken at the Harrow Research Laboratory from 1929 onwards. It shows that the British Laboratory was open to external sources of scientific knowledge and innovative technologies. Photographic knowledge was shared significantly during the 1930s between the American, British and French Research Laboratories and Production Departments, as also evidenced by the previously undiscovered personal notebooks of a number of photochemists. Analysis of the British and more recently uncovered French Kodak archives also reveals that long-term Kodak research about colour photography was interrelated with the European Kodak Research Laboratories during the interwar period. Original analyses of unpublished patent correspondence demonstrate that the editorial drafting of strategic patents during the Second World War was at the core of the scientific collaboration between Kodak Limited and independent inventors.

This thesis concludes that the work of the European Kodak research laboratories was fundamental to Eastman Kodak in the twentieth century. Despite cultural disparities, the three laboratories followed an organisational model that promoted scientific collaboration. Furthermore, the modest size of Kodak Research in Europe during the early years forced the company to partially adopt an “Open Innovation” model, combining external sources of technology with in-house research. This is the first study to address the question of the European nature of Kodak Research using unpublished laboratory archives. It unveils the complete organisation of Kodak research, including knowledge transfer and scientific collaborations, as well as the actors in Kodak Research that marked the history of twentieth century photography.





Research Institute