A History of Rochester: From Chuck Mangione to Kodak roots

History of Rochester Chuck Mangione

Throughout the history of Rochester, arts and technology have played an important role, giving rise to the birth of Kodak and musical talents like Chuck Mangione. (photo: Shawn Dowd/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

DealChicken spends a lot of time hunting and pecking around Rochester for the best daily deals. So it’s no surprise he’s come across more than a few interesting facts. Here’s a bit of local history of Rochester. From the city’s birth to its modern musical protégés—Chuck Mangione and Charlene Keys.

DealChicken loves all kinds of music, which is why he flocks to Rochester on the regular. Rochester churns out all kinds of musical talent, from the legendary band leader Cab Calloway and guitar king, Chuck Mangione to his favorite unsung R&B singer, Charlene Keys. No, she’s not Alicia Keys’ sister, rather a protegee of female rapper, Missy Elliot. At age of 30 (no spring chicken in the music biz), her debut album, “Southern Hummingbird” flew to the top of the charts in 2001. You might recognize her more from childhood nickname, which begat her avian stage name: Tweet. (Sweet!)

The Father of Rochester is also the Father of Popular Photography. Kodak’s founder George Eastman (1854-1932) was the Steve Jobs of his time. He never went to college, yet he invented the technology in film and cameras. With his amassed fortune, Eastman was one of the top four philanthropists of his era, donating over $100 million toward higher education, half of which went to the University of Rochester. That’s about $2 billion in today’s dollars.

Rochester’s known for its top-notch higher education, but our general ed is Grade A too. In June 2011, Newsweek magazine placed 10 of Greater Rochester Region’s high schools on their annual America’s Best High School list, with Pittsford Sutherland (‘73) and Pittsford Mendon (‘99) landing in the Top 100. Rochester: consistently cultivating good eggs!

Tom Couglin, head coach of 2012 and 2008 Super Bowl champion New York Giants, started his illustrious career in Rochester. From 1970 to 1973, Coughlin taught physical education and coached the Men’s Varsity Football team at Rochester Institute of Technology. Gooo Tigers! (Which is much catchier than their name just 20 years prior, the Techmen.)

One of Rochester’s most famous living native sons is John Lithgow. Born to theater parents, this Harvard grad and Fulbright scholar has earned Tony and Emmy awards for quirky characters both hilarious and sinister. As if Lithgow’s Hollywood resume isn’t impressive enough, the Oscar nominee is also a children’s book and poetry author and in late 2011, published his memoir, called, what else? Drama: An Actor’s Education.

In 1963, five RIT students thought it a good idea to buy a rescued Bengal tiger to become the school mascot and named him SpiRIT. For the next year, Spirit roamed the campus and was trotted out to sports events, until health complications led him to be put down. Spirit’s original pelt now resides in the RIT library’s school archives, and a metal sculpture was erected in his honor. The Tiger Spirit Fund was founded in his name by parents to enhance student life. The current mascot’s name is RITchie, but he’s a plushie costume.

Kodak’s George Eastman founded The Eastman School of Music, one of the premier music academies in the country, in 1921. Though an avid music appreciator, the mogul philanthropist couldn’t play a note. As a boy, he tried to learn the flute, but when he realized he didn’t have the chops, he gave it away. Still, he was a firm believer in the arts and education, as evidenced by ESM and the Eastman Theater that bear his name. 

The history of Rochester is filled with pioneers in the American food product industry. In the 19th century, special flour for graham crackers was developed by local businessman Sylvester Graham, while commercial marshmallows were first produced in Rochester by Joseph Demerath. Meanwhile, Pearl B. Wait created the wiggly-jiggly concoction known as Jell-O, and R.T. French company rolled out French’s mustard in 1904. (Anyone else craving hot dogs and S’mores right now?)

The only thing DealChicken loves more than tiptoeing through the tulips is lollygagging through the lilacs. Or maybe ambling through the apple blossoms. Or perhaps relaxing amongst the roses. Fortunately, he can get his floral fix every spring right here. Thanks to a combination of climate, easy transportation and business savvy of George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, Rochester blossomed into a horticultural mecca in the mid 19th century, beautifully earning one of its nicknames, Flower City.

DealChicken is drawn to a good pun, like a moth to a flame. So the fact that Rochester is both known as the Flower City AND the Flour City has him all atwitter. Thanks to the Eerie Canal, Rochester became a boon city of industry in the 19th century. And in addition to gardening and horticulture, Rochester was the largest producer of flour mills in the U.S., exporting 500,000 barrels of flour a year. Apple pie, anyone?

DealChicken is, well, a little chicken. So the legend of early American daredevil Sam Patch fascinates. The “Jersey Jumper” would famously climb cliffs and then leap to the icy waters below of such places like Hoboken, NJ and Niagara Falls. But Patch would meet his match in Rochester. On unlucky Friday, November 13, 1829, he took his third and fatal plunge off the Upper Genessee Falls in front of 8,000 fans. News of his death made nationwide headlines.

Already a pro on the history of Rochester? Check out these bits of Westchester history!