December 1995

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1895 in Rochester

and the World


Robert G. Koch

On January 18, 1895, Rochesterians—one at a time—got their first experience of the flickering world inside the kinetoscope or moving picture machine. Audiences in New York and Paris were about to see the first such images on a theater screen, instead of inside the peepshow box. Soon the Eastman Company would be manufacturing motion picture film, but its 1895 triumph was the immediate success of a pocket Kodak.

These developments took place against the background of persistent economic and financial problems, including rapidly dwindling U. S. government gold reserves, which were maintained to back its currency. "Gold standard or silver" was a vexed political and social debate. Democratic President Grover Cleveland found himself on the threatened side of that question, and had as well to face a new Congress controlled by the Republicans. Meanwhile, life went on and artifacts of the soon-to-be 20th century were in the making.

Rochester inventor, A. T. Hagen, patented a mangle to do hotel and family ironing, and George B. Selden's 1879 patent for a "road engine" was finally granted. It would reap him royalties until 1911, when it was overturned in a court case brought by Henry Ford.

Elsewhere, automobiles as we know them were being developed. Peugeot Freres completed the first gasoline-powered delivery van, and Germany's first Benz "Omnibus" took to the road. England's first were Lancester and Welesley motorcars. The first Michelin pneumatic tires put rubber to road, as did tires from the Hartford Rubber Works in Connecticut. On Thanksgiving Day, 1895, the first U. S. automobile race was run over 54 miles of snowy roads from Chicago to Milwaukee. The six starting cars, from 80 entrants, averaged a bit faster than a brisk walk.

While people were learning to watch flickering images in peepboxes and projected on screens, the accidental discovery of the penetrating power of x-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen was about to provide diagnostic pictures of the human body's interior. Another kind of penetration of private human space was being develped by Sigmund Freud, who published Studies in Hysteria, in collaboration with Josef Breuer. And a Dutch botanist independently reaffirmed the discovery of filterable viruses made three years earlier by a Russian botanist. Equally invisible and powerful were the radio waves that the young Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, was able to focus to send the first wireless telegraph message. Niagara Fall's commercial electricity began to flow.

At Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the first professional football game was played in August. Another American passion, much in evidence in Rochester during the past century, was also being born, when the American Bowling Congress was founded.

Even closer to home, a rattlesnake was killed in Lake Avenue and sewer diggers in State Street discovered a 70-year-old headstone and grave. Fish-culture pioneer, Seth Green's efforts paid off again when a million and a half whitefish fry from the Caledonia hatcheries were released into Lake Ontario. The School Board hoped to improve student morality by banning dancing at fraternity and high school functions. And the Anti-Saloon League became an official national organization at Washington, D.C.

Returning from the Washington area was the body of Frederick Douglass, who had lived his most influential years in Rochester as editor, orator, and heroic example. His death was national news and his burial in Mr. Hope Cemetery was one of the most important events of 1895 in this city. One of the great battlefield memorials of the war that Douglass helped to create and use for improvement of African-Americans was begun at Gettysburg.

But 1895 was not all solemnity. Wheat flakes were invented; calories began to be the measure that folks would soon apply to their food intake, and America's first pizzeria opened in New York. And on the opposite coast, at San Francisco, Frank Burgess, created a memorable jingle.

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one."

On December 31 Rochester closed the year with a hurricane of unprecedented violence.

© 1995, Robert G. Koch
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