Perley S. Wilcox
At the close of World War I in 1918, George Eastman was determined to have an independent supply if chemicals critical to his photographic process. In search for suitable quantities of methanol and acetone for his Rochester operations, Eastman turned his attention toward the South and its forests. With considerable help from persistent land developer, J. Fred Johnson, Eastman's attention focused on Kingsport,Tennessee, surrounded by hardwood forest and offering a half-built wood distillation plant.
Perley Wilcox, assistant general manager of Kodak Park in Rochester, led the delegation to Kingsport in 1920 and was so favorably impressed that George Eastman purchased the unfinished plant later that same year.
The Tennessee Eastman Corporation was formed and Perley S. Wilcox was elected a director of the company and appointed general manager. Thus began a 33 – year labor of love based on Perley Wilcox's vision foe Tennessee Eastman and the Kingsport community.
Born Perley S. Wilcox in Mexico, New York, Wilcox attended Syracuse High School and Cornell University. For a short time after his 1897 graduation, he worked as a drafter at Swift and Company in Chicago. He joined Kodak in 1898 as a mechanical engineer and in 1906 he was named assistant manager of Kodak Works.
With foresight and courage to accept setbacks as stepping stones to gain his objectives, Wilcox never lost sight of his purpose: to build a successful business enterprise and with it an organization having" a spirit of comradeship, friendliness, enthusiasm, and equality." Referred to as the "father" of Tennessee Eastman Corporation, his warm and friendly spirit made a family of all Tennessee Eastman people who referred to him as "Uncle Perley".
At the same time Perley Wilcox endeared himself to the people and the organizations of the Kingsport community. He was one of the original organizers of the Kingsport Community Chest and was a charter member of the community hospital.
In the words of 1994 Laureate James C. White, "…it was only because of great ability, the hard work and especially great determination of Perley S. Wilcox that Tennessee Eastman weathered the very substantial monetary losses experienced during our first 15 years of operation and survived to become one of the largest industrial plants in the South."
Perley Wilcox was elected Chairman of Eastman Kodak Company in 1945 and resigned that position in 1952. But "Uncle Perley" remained Chairman of Tennessee Eastman Chemical Company until his death in 1953.