About Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and the Invention of Kodachrome Film

Leopold Godowsky, Jr. (19001983) was an accomplished violinist who played with many prominent symphony orchestras. Early in his career, he performed jointly with his father Leopold Godowsky, one of the greatest pianists and composers of the early twentieth century. This strong family connection to the arts continued when Godowsky, Jr. married Frances Gershwin, sister of George and Ira Gershwin, and a vocalist who later became a recognized painter and sculptor. Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes (18991964) discovered common passions in both music and photography while in high school. After seeing an early experimental color movie, the two teenagers set out to "make perfect motion pictures in natural colors.” (This search for color began with James Clerk Maxwell’s experiments in additive color in the 1860s and accelerated when Auguste and Louis Jean Lumière patented the color Autochrome process in 1903, but a successful solution to a full-color, fine-grained film had not yet been achieved.) While continuing their musical pursuits, Godowsky and Mannes collaborated on color film experiments throughout college, often in hotel and family bathrooms, regularly whistling bars of classical music to measure development time. In the 1920s, Lewis Strauss (later to become Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission) helped finance the two researchers. In 1930, Dr. C. E. Kenneth Mees, first director of the Eastman Kodak Research Laboratories, hired Godowsky and Mannes and soon thereafter brought them to Rochester, NY, set them up in a lab, and placed scientists at their disposal in order to accelerate their research.

In 1935, Kodak released Kodachrome 16 mm movie film; one year later, they introduced an 8 mm version and a still film for then new 35 mm cameras. The film’s emulsions layers were each sensitive to a different color of light, and its fairly simple construction allowed for ease of manufacture. The development of the film, with its unique dyes added one at a time and additional processing steps, was very complex; however, it was also extremely stable. (It is worth noting that Kodachrome film is black and white until it is fully processed.) Consequently, after exposure, the film had to be sent back to Kodak to be processed using special equipment, under supervised conditions. Beginning in 1939, the transparencies were returned to consumers in cardboard mounts that could be projected in recently-invented home slide projectors. Godowsky and Mannes (“God and Man” as they were affectionately known at Kodak laboratories) had become the first to design a system of taking and producing “true color,” continuous tone pictures for the mass market. The world, in effect, went from black and white to full color. Suitably, in May 2005, both Godowsky and Mannes were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a non-profit organization founded in part by the US Patent and Trademark Office. >>>