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Taylors considered the customer as firm grew

By SHEILA LIVADAS

New Hampshire native George Taylor first made his mark on Rochester’s business world in 1851, when he started a one-room business on Exchange Street to manufacture thermometers and barometers at age 19.
 
Taylor, the son of a prosperous farmer and politician, followed up that accomplishment just four months later with a move to a larger site in what is now known as the Cascade District.
 
With a beaver-felt hat on his head and ambition coursing through his veins, Taylor made sales calls around town and across the Northeast, bringing along a trunk full of tin- and wooden-case thermometers. His partner, 35-year-old David Kendall, handled the mechanical side of the enterprise, blowing glass tubes for the devices and graduating their scales by hand.
 
Despite their bringing in more than $1,700 in revenue in six months during 1853 and 1854, Kendall withdrew from the company, leaving Taylor as sole proprietor.
 
Short on technical skills and manpower, Taylor hired his first employee to handle the tube-making and paid $6-a hefty sum in those days-to have 500 advertising circulars printed.
 
By month’s end, the company had shipped 720 thermometers across New York and entered a growth phase that led to the formation of Taylor Instrument Cos., a pioneer in measurement technology and once a major employer in Rochester.
 
While most businesses in pre-Civil War America relied on hand labor and haphazard repetition to carry out tasks, Taylor strove to make his products as precise and reliable as possible.
 
"So if you think about this in terms of a company that began in the mid-19th century, that was a time when American instrumentation was not at all accurate," says Kathryn Murano, registrar at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, which has 300 objects in its Taylor collection and an extensive archive of the company’s product catalogs and ephemera.
 
"And, in fact, industries had just begun to use scientific instruments in their processes, so before that it was all just kind of based on experience."
 
Taylor devices had a user-friendliness uncommon among tools of the day. The firm’s early 20th-century tobacco-curing thermometers, which had a larger typeface for numbers within the desired temperature range, are a good example.
 
"Before the years of focus groups and user studies … (Taylor) was just kind of doing that type of thing intuitively," Murano says.
 
Early in the company’s history, Taylor took an innovative approach to merchandising and built relationships with instrument dealers. He supplied them with salesman sample display cases and even dabbled in printing clients’ names on Taylor devices.
 
Taylor traveled often to his native New England for business. He also quickly built a clientele in Rochester. Future titans of industry he called on included optician and lens grinder John Jacob Bausch, who co-founded Bausch & Lomb Inc. in 1853.
 
Though Taylor expanded the firm’s sales territory from New York to St. Louis and developed a profitable line of brewing and distilling thermometers, the Civil War years proved lean. He sold shoes for a spell but returned to instrumentation in the 1870s with his younger brother, Frank, to form Rochester-based Taylor Bros.
 
With the two brothers at the helm during the 1880s, the company became one of the first American manufacturers of medical thermometers. That decision cleared a path to what would become a booming market for the firm in later years.
 
Other medical devices the company made showed remarkable foresight, Murano says.
 
"In the early 1920s, they had created a special antiseptic case for a clinical thermometer, and the case was actually designed to be filled with alcohol or some other disinfectant," she says.
 
The company also made cutting-edge lag thermometers in the 1920s that tracked the desired temperatures for sterilizing hospital linens in five-minute intervals.
 
Shortly after George’s death in 1889, Frank incorporated the firm with a capitalization of $75,000. He then pursued several acquisitions, including that of New York City-based Hohmann & Maurer Manufacturing Co., a producer of industrial thermometers and gauges.
 
Turn-of-the-century Taylor catalogs featured a spectacular range of products, from candy-making thermometers to hypodermic syringes. It was then that the company began producing householthermometers with decorative elements.
 
When Frank became president of the Union Trust Co. in 1900, he resigned as a Taylor official, though he remained a director at the company until his death.
 
The company forged ahead. In 1910, Taylor produced 1,000 aneroid blood-pressure gauges in Rochester and had a robust incubator-thermometer division. In 1914, the firm ramped up production of barometers for military aircraft.
 
World War II also brought in work for the company. Scores of local employees without top-level security clearance unknowingly produced gun sights for A-26 Invader aircraft that flew thousands of missions in Europe by 1945.
 
Remarkable achievements in a broad array of industries simply would not have been possible without the Taylor brothers’ dedication to accuracy.
 
"You know, their motto was ‘Accuracy first,’" Murano says.  
 
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

9/21/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].

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