Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Safari With George Eastman: Part 1

For the next few posts, I'm going to share a safari adventure that George Eastman, the pioneer of modern photography, took in his retirement. But I'll begin by giving a little of the back story of how I came to own a relatively rare book that George Eastman self-published.

My Grandfather Ruffner was an early employee of George Eastman's, starting as a salesman with Kodak in 1901. Because he started in the early days of the company, he had a large territory to cover. How large was it?

His territory was somewhat larger than that which Thomas Jefferson bought from the French by the Louisiana Purchase. His route coursed from Fargo, North Dakota, to Seattle; down the Pacific Coast to San Diego, California, inland again to El Paso, Texas; north to Denver, west through Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Washington; down the coast once again and inland through New Mexico and Arizona, both of which were then territories, not states. Essentially his territory was everything west of the Mississippi River.

In those days, he traveled through the West mostly by railroad, calling on professional photographers, giving demonstrations, selling Kodaks, putting metal signs in windows, and distributing advertising from a trunk that weighed 250 pounds. However did he manage that trunk?

Eventually my grandfather returned to Rochester, New York — the headquarters of the Eastman Kodak Company — and like my great-grandfather, became an editor. For years he published company magazines, and he eventually was responsible for introducing Kodak's Ektachrome color film to professional photographers.

And so, when George Eastman returned from a 8-month safari trip and wanted to publish a book of his experiences for his friends, he turned to my grandfather to edit and print the project. Of course my grandfather retained one of those books, which I've been enjoying rereading lately. So, let's go on a safari with George Eastman!

In 1926, George Eastman (1854-1932), planned an extended safari to East Africa. He was joined by two younger friends, Daniel E. Pomeroy and Dr. Audley D. Stewart. Pomeroy was a New York banker and sportsman who helped found a couple of New York golf courses, and Stewart was Eastman's personal physician.

Douglas Fairbanks and Billie Dove in The Black Pirate  |
Before embarking for England, the three spent a little time in New York City. Eastman watched Douglas Fairbanks' film, the The Black Pirate and said it was "all in color, the best thing in color photography so far."

On March 13, 1926, the party departed from New York for Southampton on the Majestic.

Tea with the ship's captain, aboard the Majestic
left to right: Dr. Audley D. Stewart, George Eastman, Daniel E. Pomeroy
Now let us suppose that you have a friend who is going to make a trans-Atlantic crossing and then go on to a safari. You want to surprise him when he gets to his cabin, so what should be delivered to the ship? Well, here's what awaited Mr. Pomeroy in his cabin, much to the amusement of Mr. Eastman:

  • 6 baskets of fruit
  • 6 bouquets of flowers
  • 3 boxes of cigars
  • 1 basket of mushrooms
  • 20 French artichokes
  • 1 bunch of rhubarb
  • 2 baskets of peas
  • 1 basket of radishes
  • 5 baskets of string beans
  • 6 baskets of Lima beans
  • 16 heads of cauliflower
  • 3 baskets of Bermuda potatoes
  • 2 baskets of tomatoes
  • 8 bunches of asparagus
  • ½ barrel of oysters
  • 4 lbs. of caviar 

More of the Eastman trip in the next post . . .


  1. Hello Mark:
    It is absolutely marvellous that you have this book, handed down from your grandfather. What a delightful and important historical record in the field of photography.

    Your grandfather could certainly have given new meaning to the title 'travelling salesman'. Indeed, it is a wonder that he saw anything very much other than the inside of a railway carriage!!

    We toy of making the transatlantic voyage by sea and can say with some degree of certainty that if we were presented with such bounty to our cabin, the journey would be very agreeable. Especially the flowers and caviar...perhaps we would pass on the cauliflowers and cigars!!

    1. Hello, Jane and Lance:

      My grandfather doubtlessly did some travel on horseback and he reported seeing scenes of the West now long gone, including wagons pulled by 20-mule teams. Once he stopped to wash his shirt in a borax spring and the shirt completely dissolved!

  2. Dear Mark, Your upcoming series will be much more interesting than Downtown Abbey. No doubt more drama and definitely more exitement. Really looking forward to your next installments. Mr Pomeroy knew how to travel...maybe he had read a few scientific papers on scurvy.
    You are so fortunate to have this rare book and the stories it contains. How generous of you that you will share with us.

    1. Dear Gina,

      I do believe that there will be a lot of drama for more than a few animals, as this was a time where anything and everything was fair game,so to speak!

  3. Hello Mark, What fascinating adventures your grandfather had. Too bad he didn't keep a diary--or did he?

    I don't think I've seen The Black Pirate, but I do have a dvd of early silent color films, some hand-tinted, some early Technicolor processes, and they are fascinating, especially if you can imagine yourself back in time as part of the original audience.

    I am looking forward to more of the Eastman saga, and more about Grandfather Ruffner.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello, Jim,

      I don't believe that my grandfather kept a diary, but he was a great story teller.

      As I look at this still image from The Black Pirate, I see a more sophisticated, though muted, color than early color TV. I'm sure even the hint of skin tone was amazing. On the other hand, the early TV color was incredibly over-saturated and skin tones were often bright magenta. But I'm comparing apples to oranges, I know.

  4. Dear Mark,
    I think I am going to enjoy these posts.
    Your grandfather had an exciting life - and I am sure we can only imagine half the things he experienced back in those days travelling across what must have been fairly dangerous territory!
    I really liked hearing how the book arrived in your hands too.
    I feel as though I am back in the days when books were published in installments within a magazine. Now I am waiting for the next one to come out!

    1. Dear Kirk,

      My paternal grandfather saw much of this country as it was still being settled. On at least one occasion, after a train stopped because it had run into a gap in the tracks, he jumped onto what was called a "handcar," and wildly pumped a handle to get himself down the tracks to his next appointment.

      I hope you enjoy future installments!

    2. Oh I like that image! I bet he had many exciting stories to tell to his grandchildren.

  5. Dear Mark,
    Your family is such a fascinating lot! It's amazing that the burden of representing Kodak through more than half of this huge country fell to your grandfather alone. I can hardly imagine that kind of stamina-- wow! It must have been a wonderfully interesting experience, though, and I'm sure he was able to savor the adventure. I'll be on the edge of my seat awaiting more news of the great safari... I like Mr. Eastman already, with his vegetable hi-jinks: Mr. Pomeroy must have felt as if he was making the crossing aboard a floating grocery store!
    Thank you for another wonderful post.
    Warm regards,

    1. Dear Erika,

      It's been interesting to have been plopped into this family of mine, with the pioneering American spirit on one side and the Old World influence on the other.

      George Eastman was a solitary man, without wife or family, and so his friends were all the more important to him. All those groceries didn't come from Mr. Eastman, though, and he was as surprised by them as Mr. Pomeroy was. Perhaps he even felt a little wistful that for all his wealth and stature, friends weren't showering him with mushrooms and oysters.

  6. I find it hard to believe that all of that 'loot' even fit into the stateroom! amazing! can't wait for the follow up.

    1. Dear Stefan, As you might imagine, not all of that food was consumed by a party of three, and much of it was eventually gifted to appropriate crew members.

  7. Dear Mark - was the gifted food for eating on the voyage over to Southampton? If so, I presume that ships probably did not indulge their passengers to the extent that they do today.
    The book is a wonderful family possession to have, and I look forward to hearing about the safari.
    It must have been hard work for your Grandfather travelling all of those miles by train. He must have been away from the family for weeks on end. By the way he is a handsome looking chap.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      I can't imagine what Mr. Pomeroy's friends were thinking! On one hand, certainly any ship named the "Majestic" would have ample food, but on the other hand, who would want to take half a barrel of oysters on a safari?

      My grandfather must have had a lot of stamina to make those rounds, and in fact he was in his twenties at the time (he was born in the 1870s). He didn't have a family when he was making that circuit, and the photograph was taken about 20 years later, when he was working back in Rochester.

  8. I have an original copy of George Eastman's book as well. It is interesting to note that he spent time in Africa with explorer/photographers Osa and Martin Johnson. Osa wrote several books which chronicle their adventures. Martin's photography and films dovetail's nicely with George's book. The Osa and Martin Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas is worth a visit.

    1. Dear NS - I will of course be mentioning the Johnsons, though I don't want to get ahead of myself in the narrative! And I was thinking that at the end of the series, I'd have an epilogue, in which I would include more about the Johnsons.

      It's interesting that you also have a copy of Eastman's book. I have no idea how many are in circulation, but I'm guessing that he had between 500-1000 printed, only a guess.

      As someone in the industry of museums and libraries, do you collect first editions?

    2. Indeed, I have inherited and acquired a few first editions. My grandfather was a bit of an explorer in the late 1920's and early 30's in South America and Africa, as a petroleum engineer. He made maps, took geological samples and flew a Ford Trimotor airplane, which was somewhat disassembled and transported by ship to Africa. He flew it to South America. I have first editions of Osa's books which I inherited from my grandfather as well as George Eastman's book.

  9. Seems an odd combination of goods to give to someone on their voyage. Odd, but extravagant, and I dare say happily shared with others travelling, especially the perishables. Travelling light was not the order of the day. As very young children we always travelled by sea from Singapore to Liverpool. I don't remember much about it, but I have happy memories, (and good sea legs); I learned to walk on board ship.

    1. Since you learned to walk aboard ship, I'm thinking you could almost call yourself a salt. I'm always interested to see how the tourists of Eastman's day took so much baggage, and the piles of matching suitcases and trunks that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor come especially to mind. I took pride in going to Europe with one small suitcase and a backpack, and the suitcase was as much for purchases as anything else.

  10. I'm with Rosemary, Mark - your grandfather was indeed a handsome chap. :)

    I can hardly imagine all the traveling he was required to do for his job with Eastman. Now that's what I call a 'territory'.

    But I'll bet he had grand adventures and great stories to tell when he got home.

    1. Dear Yvette (and Rosemary) - Thanks for the comments on my Granddad's appearance — he would be flattered. I was very fortunate to inherit his head of hair (my other grandfather was very bald)!

  11. Ah, this is a series that I shall be sure to follow avidly. I am most amused as to what Mr. Pomeroy found waiting for him in his cabin. Particularly all those vegetables! I am rather surprised that someone such as he traveling first class (I assume) at the time across the Atlantic would be thought in need of such things as mushrooms. By all accounts first class diners on such ships at the time were fed extravagently well. On the other hand, a bon voyage gift of four pounds of caviar sounds divine!! Reggie

    1. Hello, Reggie - One wonders whether all those vegetables might even have been a joke, but according to George Eastman, "We used all we could and gave the balance to the purser and the steward, who live at Southampton and do not often get such superior stuff."

      But I doubt they got the caviar!