George Eastman Sr., late 1840s.

By the time George Washington Eastman, Sr., was an adult, the western expansion movement had begun. In 1842 Eastman left his home town of Waterville, New York, a village of several hundred hops farmers and small tradesmen, for Rochester, a commercial and industrial city about a hundred miles to the west. It is not clear where he acquired his business training and expertise, but in Rochester he founded a college. The Eastman Commercial College, a business school that offered courses in the study of commercial penmanship, double-entry bookkeeping, and even spelling, a linguistic dicipline that had only recently become regularized by Noah Webster’s new American dictionary.

The Eastman Commercial College was soon successfully established. By 1854, when his son was born, the elder Eastman was able to move his academy to the fourth floor of one of Rochester’s most prominent buildings and, according to his catalogue, was charging “for Teachers’ course, including Ornamental Penmanship in all the Ancient and Modern Hands: $30. For Collegiate Course and Diploma: $25. For a course of lessons in Book-keeping alone: $10. For 24 lessons in Penmanship: $5.”

By all accounts Eastman the business educator was a fiscal conservative. He believed in the security of hard coin in the hand, no doubt a sensible economic persuasion in the years following the panics, depressions, and market fluctuations of the late 1840s and early 1850s. In light of this principle, Eastman’s school advertised that it was “the first training college in the country to introduce actual business transactions in its course of studies.”

Students were issued printed paper currency drawn on Eastman’s College Bank, and in the course of their studies they made transactions in “Wholesale, Retail, Commission, Manufacturing, Shipping and Steamboating, Individual Partnership and Compound Companies.” A bad investment and the student found himself cash poor. Apparently Eastman presumed that an empty pocketbook, albeit only short of the college’s paper currency, tutored the student in the grim realities that lay just behind the unbalanced debit column.

Eastman also wrote a textbook on formal handwriting entitled Chirographic Charts. A kind of McGuffey’s reader for penmanship, it preached as the pupil practiced. Students were asked to copy short sayings of “proverbial philosophy” of “very general application”:

My boy, be cool
Do things by rule,
And then you’ll do them right.

Douglas Collins, The Story of Kodak p. 19-20

1 thought on “Penmanship”

  1. Trademark

    Maria Kilbourn Eastman c. 1850 In September 1888 Eastman formally registered his coined word Kodak as a trademark. Some such combination of letters had been rolling around in Eastman’s mind during the past year or so, when he had been…

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