“Mr. Smith,” MIT’s Most Famous Donor
Portrait of George Eastman
Philip Alexius de László
Who is Mr. Smith? For eight years, President Richard Maclaurin only was allowed to give two clues to the identity of MIT’s most significant donor: he did not live in Massachusetts, and he had never attended MIT. Donations from Mr. Smith were essential in constructing MIT’s Cambridge campus and in matching later fundraising campaigns. We might never have known his identity but for the fact that George Eastman’s 1919 pledge involved the transfer of Eastman Kodak stock. Not only did Eastman think it likely that the connection would be made, but President Maclaurin also felt the incentive of revealing Eastman’s identity would be key to achieving the Institute’s goal of raising a matching sum. On January 10, 1920, Eastman gave President Maclaurin permission to reveal his identity at the Jubilee Dinner. Another portrait of Eastman appears on a plaque outside Room 6-120—students taking exams in that room traditionally rub his nose for good luck and as a quirky homage to one of higher education’s most important benefactors.