There was a time when Kodak was the most powerful company in America. It’s business model truly seemed impenetrable until something unprecedented happened inside its own laboratories. In this episode of Before IT Happened, Donna sits down with Steve Sasson, who, as a young Kodak engineer in 1975, became the first person ever to capture a digital photographic image. Steve may have developed the first digital camera prototype while working for Kodak, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the company paid real attention to his invention. But by then, the company had lost the race to develop a business model around digital photography, and its analog film was old news. Listen now and learn about the creation that could have potentially saved Kodak from bankruptcy and launch it into a leading 21st-century business.
Before any world-changing innovation, there was a moment, an event, a realization that sparked the idea before it happened. This is a podcast about that moment — about that idea. Before IT Happened takes you on a journey with the innovators who imagined — and are still imagining — our future. Join host Donna Loughlin as her guests tell their stories of how they brought their visions to life.
3Jump straight into:
(01:59) - Steve Sasson’s childhood taking apart electronics and experimenting with technology - “I would salvage all these parts, tubes, large capacitors, resistors, transformers, stuff like that, and then I would build my projects using that. It was a very low-cost hobby for me.”
(8:59) - Steve’s college education and an inspiring story of his early student years - “When I went to college I got some of the best teachers, literally in the world.”
(12:23) - Kodak, not a traditional company for an electrical engineer - “What interested me here was that I was sitting next to a mathematician or a mechanical engineer, and it was a very much more diverse environment.”
(17:43) - Scrounging for parts to build the first-ever digital camera - “Nobody told me to build a camera but he told me to evaluate it. So the best way to evaluate it was to get it to work.”
(22:42) - The first digital photograph in history and the story behind it - “I walked down the hallway and there was a young girl, her name was Joy Marshall. She was sitting at a teletype and I asked if I could take her picture.”
(26:12) - Digital vs. Analog: Kodak’s reaction to Steve’s camera - “I didn't talk about it until they asked me to in 2001 because at that time, digital cameras were really starting to take off as consumer items.”
(31:21) - Specialized cameras and advancing photographic technology - “I thought about this so many years ago, and now it is really happening in real life. These are real people really taking pictures that they value with this thing.”
(36:14) - The original face of the digital camera: Steve Sasson - “I went on several road trips, traveled throughout Asia interviewing. I did radio shows, television shows. I went from being a lab guy to being a public relations guy.”
(39:04) - The craziness of patent litigation and the battle in the digital era - “Apple, Samsung, all of those were involved in different patent licensing negotiations and eventually litigations.”
Connect with Steve through LinkedIn
Read the New York Times’ Lens Blog: Kodak’s First Digital Moment
Before IT Happened is produced by Donna Loughlin and StudioPod Media with additional editing and sound design by Nodalab. The Executive Producer is Katie Sunku Wood and all episodes are written by Jack Buehrer.