Rochester has been at the helm of innovation since it was founded in 1817, housing some of the brightest people and most innovative products of the day while it should come as no surprise that Susan B Anthony, Frederick Douglass, or George Eastman’s Kodak company all called Rochester home, there are a number of other often neglected Rochester-based inventions which revolutionized an industry and some that we use every day.
Take a look at our 7 Rochester Inventions you may not have known came from our city.
The Pipe Cleaner
Yup, they were originally made for cleaning tobacco pipes! Prior to their invention, people used to use chicken feathers to remove the soot that would remain in the pipe after smoking. Before Stedman and Angel’s design became popular, a number of other inventors proposed a number of overly complicated and often expensive products for cleaning out pipes but none of them seemed to gain a following.
Stedman and Angel eventually sold the rights to their product to BJ Long Company who continues to make pipe cleaners to this day! Obviously, pipe cleaners have evolved to much more than just… well… cleaning pipes and have become a staple of modern crafts and decoration.
The Garbage Plate
Alexander Tahou, a Greek Immigrant, opened his first restaurant in 1918 called ‘Hots and Potatoes’. One dish on the menu included a mash-up of just about everything else that restaurant served. Eventually, Tahou’s son, Nick, took over the restaurant changing the name to ‘Nick Tahou Hots’.
The plate originally called ‘Hots and Po-Tots’, developed a large collegiate following (especially with the University of Rochester just 2.2 miles away). These students would order ‘the plate with all the garbage on top’ inspiring Nick to change the name to the now eponymous ‘Garbage Plate’. This dish has been featured on just about every food channel you could name including the very popular ‘Man .v Food Nation’.
Originally the name of the Roosevelt Troop's newspaper (a Rochester-based division of the Boy Scouts), a troop member suggested using the same name for the peculiar uniform decoration made with a complex weaving pattern of often brightly colored leather strips.
This decoration was presented to the Prince of Wales at the World Jamboree causing the name to stick and the boondoggle to spread to other boy scout troops around the world.
The Mail Chute
An ingenious contraption that would allow workers on any level of a building to send mail without having to walk outside to the mailbox or even leave the floor they were on. Invented by James Goold Cutler in 1883, the first design has implemented in the Elwood Building in Downtown Rochester.
Following its success in Rochester, Cutler’s mail chutes were then installed in a number of offices, public building, and railroad stations in New York City. Cutler’s initial patent was very particular and specified that chutes must “be of metal, distinctly marked U.S. Letter Box, and the door must open on hinges on one side, with the bottom of the door not less than 2’6” above the floor.
In 1897, less than 30 miles from Downtown Rochester in Leroy, NY, Pearl Wait was experimenting to create a laxative tea for him and his wife when he manipulated gelatin, mixing it with robust fruit flavors, creating the modern-day Jell-O dessert.
Unfortunately for Wait, he ended up selling the trademark to another Rochesterian, Frank Woodard, in 1899 for only $450. Jell-o ownership bounced around over the course of the 20th century eventually settling at Kraft/General Foods in Dover, Delaware where it is made today.
The Automatic Voting Machine
In 1889, the political and election worlds were revolutionized thanks to the local Rochesterian Jacob Myers who invented the first mechanical lever voting machine. This apparatus prevented over-voting, sped up the vote counting process, and reduced bias in counting up the votes.
At the time of its conception, the Myers Automatic Booth had more moving parts than almost any other device at the time. First used in the 1892 Lockport, NY election, its success prompted a Rochester rollout which ended poorly after 100s of votes were lost.
After decades of European experimentation in self-propulsion, George Selden was the first to file a US patent for the automobile. Selden moved to Rochester from nearby Clarkson, NY when his father, Henry Selden, was hired to defend Susan B Anthony for illegally voting as a female. Selden, having dropped out of the University of Rochester, eventually got a law degree from Yale when he returned to Rochester to begin work on a smaller, lighter version of the Brayton Internal Compulsion engine.
This work eventually led to his design for the first true automobile leading to his eventually 1879 patent. While Selden was never able to actually produce any cars, he used that patent to collect royalties from a number of car manufacturers including the Electric Vehicle Company, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, and the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford, however, contested Selden’s patent infringement lawsuit claiming that “it is perfectly safe to say that George Selden has never advanced the automobile industry in a single particular… and it would perhaps be further advanced then it is now if he had never been born.” While the court initially sided with Selden, on Ford’s appeal, the court decided that the Ford Motor Company didn’t have to pay any more royalties just one year before Selden’s patent expired.