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Photo pioneer Kodak files for bankruptcy

Eastman Kodak Co., the iconic company that invented the hand-held camera and helped bring the world the first pictures from the moon, has filed for bankruptcy protection and plans to shrink significantly.

The Chapter 11 filing makes Kodak one of the biggest corporate casualties of the digital age, after it failed to quickly embrace more modern technologies such as the digital camera -- a product it invented.

Kodak once dominated its industry, and its film was the subject of a popular 1973 song, "Kodachrome," by Paul Simon.

The bankruptcy may give Kodak, which traces its roots to 1880, the ability to find buyers for some of its 1,100 digital patents, a major portion of its value. Kodak now employs 17,000 people worldwide, down from 63,900 just nine years ago.

"It is a very sad day even though we had anticipated it," said Shannon Cross, an analyst at Cross Research.

According to papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, Kodak had about $5.1 billion of assets and $6.75 billion of liabilities at the end of September.

In court documents, chief financial officer Antoinette McCorvey said, without elaborating, that Kodak plans to sell "significant assets" during the bankruptcy. Non-U.S. units are not part of the Chapter 11 case.

Kodak also said it obtained a $950 million, 18-month credit line from Citigroup Inc. so it can keep operating and avoid having to liquidate. It said it expects to complete the bankruptcy process in 2013.

"This is a necessary step and the right thing to do for the future of Kodak," chairman and chief executive Antonio Perez said in a statement Thursday.

In recent years, Perez has steered Kodak toward consumer and commercial printers. But that effort failed to restore annual profitability, something Kodak has not seen since 2007, and did not arrest a cash drain.

Kodak has struggled to meet its pension and other obligations to more than 65,000 workers, retirees and others who participate in its employee benefit programs. McCorvey said Kodak ultimately suffered from a "liquidity shortfall" as some vendors stopped shipping and providing services, and demanded shorter payment terms.

The company's downfall also has hit its Rust Belt hometown of Rochester, with its workforce there falling to about 7,000 from more than 60,000 in Kodak's heyday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday called the bankruptcy "difficult and disappointing news" for the city, whose population was about 211,000 in the last census.

Some Kodak moments

Key events in the history of Eastman Kodak Co.

1879: George Eastman, a high-school dropout from rural New York, goes to London to obtain a patent on his plate-coating machine.

1880: Eastman leases space in Rochester, N.Y., and begins to make dry plates for sale.

1888: The Kodak camera goes on the market, with the slogan: "You Press The Button -- We Do The Rest."

1900: Brownie camera is introduced; it sells for $1.

1901: Eastman Kodak Co., the present parent company, is formed.

1919: George Eastman gives one-third of his Kodak stock -- worth roughly $10 million at the time -- to employees.

1929: Kodak introduces its first motion picture film designed for making movies with sound tracks.

1932: Eastman, suffering from a painful spinal disorder, commits suicide with a bullet to the heart. His note says: "My work is done. Why wait?"

1975: Kodak invents the world's first digital camera, a toaster-sized image sensor.

1981: Sales cross the $10 billion mark.

1997: Stock touches all-time high of $94.38. (The stock closed Thursday at 30 cents.

2005: Ranked No. 1 in U.S. digital camera sales.

2007: The last year Kodak turns a profit.

2010: Ranked seventh in digital camera sales, with only 7 percent of the market.


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