Rochester Boomtown History

Rochester is a funny place. With 200,000 people in the urban center, and nearly 1,000,000 in the metro area, it is 51st in size in the United States. Not exactly large. That being said, it is the 2nd largest economy in New York State – behind New York City, which is surprising.

I was listening to a Sam Harris podcast the other day and Rochester NY was mentioned. It was in an interview with a Silicon Valley dude who has written several books and Sam was making a comparison to Kodak, and discussing how Instagram was the new Kodak. Specifically, he was saying that Instagram defines how we interact with our pictures in the modern day and that it is a near monopoly on photos. The interviewee said “what a minute Sam, many of your listeners won’t know what Kodak was – so this makes no sense.”

They went into a small historical review of Rochester, NY which included a review of horse whip production. I did not know that horse whips were a large manufacturing product of Rochester – but apparently they were.

Rochester, New York State

Until the bottom on the horse whip industry fell out with the invention of the automobile.

Now, I do know that Rochester was very early in the car manufacturing business and that it was almost bigger than Detroit – had it not been for a patent lawsuit from Henry Ford that went his direction. Apparently, there was major automotive manufacturing in Rochester NY early in the 1900’s (presumably after the horse whip industry died down).  This ultimately died down also because of the legal issues with Ford and Detroit went on to be the auto meca (MoTown). Of course that story didn’t end well either.

Rochester is best known for Kodak and the boom and bust that came with the camera and film industry. At one point, Kodak was THE major employer in Rochester NY – much like GM was huge in Flint Michigan. That is no longer the case as digital technology ultimately disseminated the film business.  In fact, Kodak went bankrupt a few years ago and is now a rather small company (a few thousand employees). It was extremely entertaining to hear it in the Sam Harris podcast as an obscure company that many millennials will never have heard of.

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