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Inventing Rochester

They built this city.

While it’s true that the history of Rochester since its founding in 1834 cannot be told solely through the story of the city’s businesses, it’s not an overstatement to say that they made Rochester. Starting with the community’s early days as a frontier mill town, businesses laid the foundation and fueled the progress of this city.

For that reason, we chose in this edition to highlight Rochester’s 175th anniversary by focusing first on its business history-the entrepreneurs and enterprises that have shaped the community.

George Eastman is the sterling example. The founder of the company that revolutionized photography and Rochester’s leading benefactor, he created enormous wealth and cultural richness for this community. Thursday’s debut of the grandly refurbished Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre is yet another reminder of how his legacy continues to benefit the city.

But Eastman Kodak Co. and its founder are only part of the story. German immigrant John Jacob Bausch and his partner, Henry Lomb, grew a tiny optical shop into a major industrial operation that operates globally today, more than 150 years after its birth. Chester Carlson and Joseph Wilson built the Haloid Co. into Xerox Corp., which remains one of Rochester’s top private-sector employers.

The list goes on. It includes businesses operating in the city today with roots that trace back more than a century-small manufacturers, law and accounting firms, banks, private educational institutions and more-as well as many companies founded in the past 100 years.

Some people point to the relentless downsizing of Kodak over the past quarter-century as evidence of the city’s decline. They doubt that Rochester will ever produce another George Eastman.

These pessimists miss the point. In the beginning, Eastman’s success was anything but a sure bet. As his biographer once noted in an RBJ interview, his was a story of "dogged determination in the face of one catastrophe after the other."

Invention and reinvention-that’s what you find in Eastman’s story and in the history of Rochester’s first 175 years. It is the way forward as well.

 

(c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. Obtain permission to reprint this article.

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