Rochester’s Tech History2018-12-04T15:48:21-05:00

Rochester, NY Technological  Innovations and Distinctions, 1825-Present

From its early days as a growing hub along the Erie Canal, Rochester, NY has consistently been a hotbed of global innovation. Future-focused risk-takers made their homes here from the 1800’s onward, building new technologies, spurring progressive social changes, and creating the foundation for today’s vibrant, diverse, fast-moving global economy. For instance, work at Xerox made modern computing and the internet as we know it today possible. Without Kodak’s development of digital photography, you may not have been able to share photos with friends on Instagram. And biological research underway right now at the University of Rochester is powering Google-backed efforts to increase your life expectancy.

As an organization committed to fostering Rochester’s status as a leading technology region now and into the future, Tech Rochester reminds you also to peek at the past to celebrate the myriad ways our community has influenced the world – from the very first automobile patent, to the Kodak camera, to copiers and contact lenses, to next-generation optical technology powering a mission to Mars. Along the way, Rochester innovators figured out how to transform plant cultivation, mass produce marshmallows, lead a movement to secure a woman’s right to vote, and build one of the most successful supermarket chains in the United States. With long-established Fortune 500 companies, an ever-growing technology startup community, a diverse supply chain ecosystem, and leading research universities, Rochester’s future looks brighter than ever.


Erie Canal

  • 1825: The Erie Canal, built to create a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, was completed in 1825, becoming the second-longest canal in the world (after the Grand Canal in China) and greatly affecting the development and economy of New York State, New York City, and the United States. The canal runs right through Rochester, NY, which grew rapidly upon its completion.

The “Flour City”

  • 1825: Powered by the Genesee River and its falls, several flour mills are established and successful by the time the Erie Canal reached the area in 1825. Rochester’s concentration of flour mills caused the settlement to be dubbed “Flour City” around this time.


The Rochester Athenæum

  • 1829: The Rochester Athenæum, a literary society founded in 1829 by Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and associates, is founded in 1929. A later merger with the Rochester-based Mechanics Institute evolved into the Rochester Institute of Technology.


The “Flower City”

  • 1840: Introduction of flower and fruit cultivation to Western New York and founding of the largest such nursery in the United States, 1840, Patrick Barry and George Ellwanger (Mount Hope Garden and Nurseries), Rochester, NY. Rochester develops the related moniker “Flower City.”


Western Union Company

  • 1851: Western Union Company, first developer of the unified telegraph system and first communications empire in the United States, founded by Samuel L. Selden, Hiram Sibley, and Ezra Cornell, 1851-1856 (New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company merged with Cornell’s New York and Western Union Telegraph Company to become the Western Union Telegraph Company), Rochester, NY


Bausch + Lomb

  • 1861: German immigrants John Jacob Bausch, an optician, and Henry Lomb, a financier, launched Bausch + Lomb in 1861, Rochester, NY as a manufacturer of monocles and later rubber eyeglass frames and precision vision products. Today it is one of the oldest continually operating companies in the United States and a global leader in eye health products.


First Machine Gun

  • 1862: Invention of the First Machine Gun, 1862, Dr. Josephus Requa, Rochester, NY


First Woman to Enroll in Mechanical Arts Program at Cornell University

  • 1865: First Woman to Enroll in Mechanical Arts Program at Cornell University, “First Lady of Gearing,” Catherine Anselm “Kate” Gleason born 1865, Rochester, NY. At Gleason Works, Kate was among the first representatives of an American manufacturer to globalize their business by securing contracts in Europe in 1893. In 1914, Kate was unanimously elected to membership in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as its first woman member. In 1917, Kate became the President of the First National Bank of East Rochester, another first for an American woman.


Vacuum Oil Company

  • 1866: Vacuum Oil Company, later to become Mobil Oil, founded in Rochester, NY in 1866


George Eastman invented an emulsion-coating machine

  • 1879: Prior to starting Kodak, George Eastman invented an emulsion-coating machine in 1879 that allowed him to mass-produce photographic dry plates. Two years later he formed a partnership with a family friend, quit his job as a bank clerk and set up in business.


Invention of the Mail Chute

  • 1883: Invention of the Mail Chute, 1883, James G. Cutler


Invention of the First Kodak Camera

  • 1884: Invention of the First Kodak Camera, 1884-1888, George Eastman, Rochester, NY. The invention of Roll Film and later invention of Motion Picture Film, 1884-1885, came from David Houston and the patents were purchased by George Eastman. After perfecting the technology, Eastman released the first Kodak camera in 1888 with the slogan: “You press the button, we do the rest.” It cost $25 and came with enough film for 100 pictures.


The Mechanics Institute

  • 1885: The Mechanics Institute, a Rochester institute of practical technical training for residents was founded in 1885 by a consortium of local businessmen including Henry Lomb, co-founder of Bausch & Lomb.


Rochester Athenæum and Mechanics Institute

1891: The Mechanics Institute and the Rochester Athenæum merge, becoming the Rochester Athenæum and Mechanics Institute (RAMI). In 1944, the school changed its name to Rochester Institute of Technology and it became a full-fledged research university


Automatic Voting Machine

  • 1892: Invention of the Automatic Voting Machine, 1892, Jacob Myers, Rochester, NY

Streetcar Transfer Ticket

  • 1892, Invention of the Streetcar Transfer Ticket, 1892, John Harry Stedman, Rochester, NY


Invention of the Automobile

  • 1895: Invention of the Automobile (first patent granted in U.S.), 1895, George Baldwin Selden, Rochester, NY


First Pocket Kodak Camera

1895: Invention of the First Pocket Kodak Camera – the $5 Pocket Kodak – introduced, 1895, Eastman Kodak Co. (first folding pocket Kodak introduced in 1897)


Cunningham Automobile

  • 1896: First Cunningham Automobile, one of the earliest vehicles in the advent of the automotive age, is built in Rochester, NY in 1896 by James Cunningham, Son and Company. The company continued producing Cunningham automobiles through 1931.


Invention of the Kodak Brownie

  • 1900: Invention of the Kodak Brownie camera, introduced in 1900, creating a new mass market for photography; Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, NY

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