The project had the code name, Bridgehead. Kodak was working with the U.S. government to help carry out aerial surveillance during the Cold War era. On March 29, 2012, Project Bridgehead was declassified by the Defense Department and Rochester learned the details about how Kodak had been involved.
The Hawk-Eye Works, officially named in 1911, resided in a building at St. Paul Street and Driving Park Avenue. The Bridgehead name referenced the nearby Driving Park Bridge. It began in the mid-1950s, when representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency asked Kodak’s President, Albert Chapman, for help in developing and processing film to be carried by the U-2 spy plane. Later, satellites replaced the planes. On the 11th floor of these offices, top-secret employees were processing this surveillance film and quickly shipping it to Washington, DC.
U-2 planes flew at extremely high altitudes and parachuted their film back to Earth in capsules, which were picked out of the sky by retriever planes and then flown to Rochester. After processing the film, prints were flow to the National Reconnaissance Center by secret planes for analysis. (Jim Memmott, Democrat & Chronicle). In addition, Bridgehead scientists collaborated with Cornell University by researching, developing, and testing film technologies for geographical, environmental, and civil engineering applications. The Red-Dot Project conducted field tests of new camera equipment. The Film Evaluation and Test Laboratory (FEAT Lab) served as a testing service to provide the intelligence community with basic and film processing data.
This almost 45-year operation was responsible for the U.S. discovery of missile bases in Cuba, leading to the Bay of Pigs confrontation with the Soviet Union. It also captured images that could tell photo interpreters about possible targets, terrains, troop movements and munitions factories.
For greater detail of Bridgehead and the Hawkeye facility, please read an excellent summary by Lower Falls Foundation co-founder, George Payne.
From 1955 through the late 1980s, Hawkeye Works processed more than 8 million feet of original negative and color positive films. (RBJ article 11/23/12). By 2000, Project Bridgehead’s film-processing capabilities were no longer needed. In August 2004, Kodak sold it special government business operations to ITT Exelis, Inc. By 2009, the photographic operations centers at the Hawkeye plant were gone.
There was a lot of pride felt by approximately 1400 employees who had worked on this project to assist our national security efforts. Each of them received a special book on Bridgehead’s history. It recounted Kodak’s achievement for our country which no other company was capable of doing so well.
And that pride will always be shared by the citizens living in Monroe County and across the country. This project is clearly another powerful reminder of the many innovations which have begun and been developed in this part of Rochester—reinforcing our appreciation for the historical significance of the area around the Lower Falls Gorge.