Kodak projector, 67, slides into history.

The Eastman Kodak slide projector, that magical box of light and lens that turned snapshots into tools of family bonding, passed into history Thursday night in Rochester. It was 67. Its financial health failing for several years, the projector succumbed to a variety of technological and societal factors. Families eventually got too busy for home slideshows and cultivated a preference for photographic prints, while businesses migrated to computer-driven multimedia presentations. The end had been expected since September 2003, when Kodak announced it would stop making the money-losing projectors as part of a shift from film to digital imaging. The last projectors came off production lines to cheers and tears at Kodak Park on Oct. 22. Though production has ceased, Kodak will continue to manufacture slide film and provide replacement parts and service for the projectors. About 100 employees, retirees and slide projector enthusiasts bade farewell to the projector during a wake of sorts Thursday night at the George Eastman House in Rochester. They hailed the projector with soaring tributes and, appropriately, seven separate multi-projector slide shows. Kodak presented the final five projectors to the Eastman House and the Smithsonian Institution for historical display. "Slide projectors have helped teach, inform and inspire us," Bernard Masson, president of Kodak's digital and film imaging systems unit, told mourners. Kodak was not the first to make slide projectors, but it was almost certainly the best at it. The company estimates it made 35 million projectors in seven decades ?? the single most successful piece of equipment in Kodak's 125-year history. Kodak introduced projectors in the mid-1930s as part of a system to allow consumers to enjoy the benefits of color film, said Todd Gustavson, technology curator at the Eastman House. Success was slow at first, interrupted by World War II. But popularity exploded after the war, "when people did a lot of traveling and documented their travels on Kodacolor slides," Gustavson said. The introduction of the carousel projector in 1961 triggered a resurgent interest in the hobby. Kodak estimates it has sold 15 million. Though initially used by consumers, slides eventually migrated into the office as a tool for presenting information. On that score, Kodak became masterful in its own right, taking highly complex multiple-projector slide presentations to meetings with investors, shareholders, retailers and others. Bob Gibbons, who prepared many of those presentations and now works in Kodak's entertainment imaging division, vividly remembers "making those little projectors dance." "The slide projector was limited in what it could do, but unlimited in the way it could make you feel. You could do things on the screen that would just blow you away. (Slideshows) would communicate so strongly, people just got it." The end of the slide projector era attracted the attention of Paige Sarlin, a graduate film student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is working on a documentary about the end of the slide projector and Kodak's shift from film to digital photography. The film will screen at the Baltimore Museum of Art in May; Sarlin is talking with PBS about a TV release. She said she was surprised to find the depth of feeling about the slide projector among those who worked with the medium. "They refer to themselves as a family," said Sarlin, who delivered a eulogy Thursday. One member of the family remembers the bonding experience he got from slides. "I go back to my earliest memory of slides ?? seeing a 30-year-old Kodachrome slide of my grandparents when they were young, on an old glass-bead screen, large as life it seemed, and frozen in time," Adam Barone, who used to work for a company that helped prepare slideshows for Kodak, wrote in an e-mail to Kodak. "My great-grandchildren will view those same slides someday. That is, if they still make replacement lamps." Kodak gradually reduced the staff producing the projectors. Those who didn't retire were redeployed into other jobs, said Merri-Lou McKeever, general manager of the slide projector business. She herself will retire shortly from Kodak. McKeever describes the moment as bittersweet. "There are a lot of eloquent emotions around the power of a still image in a darkened room," she said, adding later in an e-mail: "I am really honored to be the one who gets to turn the lights out on the business. It's been great fun. The people are passionate and creative and the business has been a healthy one." http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041119/BUSINESS/411190366

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