Clothing and Fashion in
A short talk and pictures
At various times, clothing was first in the
number of people employed in the industry, first in
the total value of wage payments, and in
percentage of profits - but it never held the
absolutely dominant place that mills, shoe
manufacturers and, later, photography and optical
The clothing trade provided jobs for women,
who had limited opportunities, and also for
children. It was also a good choice for immigrants
who were not proficient in English. The industry
also pioneered traveling salesmen and learned
the value of having a reputation for a quality
Some facts and stats:
The first known clothing maker here was Jehiel
Barnard, who came in 1812. By the time
Rochester became a city in 1834, there were at
least 20 different clothing manufacturers at work
here. By 1842, Meyer Greentree’s idea of cutting
from a pattern to speed up the process had taken
hold. Greentree and Henry Wile operated a large
concern; the other two major companies at that
time were run by Sigmund Stettheimer, and by
In 1848, it was estimated that 1800 people
worked in clothing manufacture, and that the total
products were valued at $400,000. By 1860, the
products and wages paid were valued at
$750,000. By 1870, with the Civil War over,
traveling salesman gas created a huge demand
for Rochester suits in the Midwest and West. By
1880 there were 3000 employees and sales and
wages of 5 million dollars.
However the demand for increased production meant
that “sweatshops” appeared, and the old way of
working at home lost favor. In addition, the
government was concerned about child labor and
their lack of schooling. Labor difficulties
developed. A 9 hour day was normal. But by the
time of the lockout and settlement of 1896, a 58
hour week and pay cuts of 27 per cent hit the
25 years of peace
Strikes were settled and a period of cooperation
lasting from before WW I to after WW II
developed. By that time so many mergers and
discontinuances had happened that the major
firms were down to 5: Aplo-Bond Stores (closed
1979); Hickey-Freeman; Fashion Park (closed
1970); Michaels Stern (closed 1977); and Timely
Clothes (closed 1974).
More recently By 1960 many of the original workers were long
gone and the companies had to recruit qualified
tailors from overseas, especially Italy. By 1984,
only Hickey-Freeman remained, employing about
Why were they successful?
The same reason that many other companies
were - the Erie Canal. (Incidentally, the Erie Canal
was so successful because it was the easiest
route across the entire Appalachian Mountain
chain, from Georgia to New England). Westward
migrants bought clothes, among other items, as
they came through Rochester. Just like the
suppliers of materials to the Gold Rush miners
made money without having to dig for gold,
merchants here made money selling to those
Where can you find out more?
The U of R Rare Books room has several file
boxes of the records from the Michaels Stern,
Bond, and Hickey Freeman companies and the
Levy-Adler Brothers firm; and the city historian
has a picture book of Italians who were hired in
the mid 20th century to work at the Hickey
Freeman factory. The Local History/Genealogy
Room of the Central Library downtown also has
many newspaper articles, pictures, and other
What were important points?
These companies were among the first to have
cordial relations with their employees. They also
provided jobs for many immigrant newcomers
which included women and children.
They declined by the 1980s because people were
pressed for money - there was less disposable
income, though both husband and wife worked;
and because of terrific competition from cheap
Advertising was important:
Rochester made means quality insignia.
How did they operate?
Many of the early companies were storefronts
where people came to purchase.
The measurements and sales were done in the
front of the store; the cloth was cut in a back
room; and the workers assembled the clothing at
Where were they located?
After the industry became mature, many of the
firms prospered in the area of Mill Street and
North Saint Paul. In the earlier years (about
1848), eighteen of the clothing makers were
located on the Main Street Bridge downtown;
most of the rest were on nearby Front Street.
Who worked there?
In the early days, mostly men. Later, the shops
provided employment for women and children,
especially immigrants. The German Jews who
came about 1880 introduced the idea of
specialization, as is also used in car making. This
greatly increased output.
What were the conditions?
In 1895 there was a 58 hour work week that was
mandated; that year, as a result of a strike being
broken, wage cuts of up to 27 per cent were
enforced. However, by 1913, when a strike which
became famous for a shooting which occurred at
it, wages had again increased and an 8 hour day
was in place.
The Bartholomay Block building at 190-198 N. St. Paul
Street at the southeast corner of Central Avenue.
Construction of this building, which was designed by
Warner & Brockett, began in 1888. One of Rochester's
greatest industries, in terms of sales and number of
employees, was the manufacture of men's clothing.
Various clothiers were located in this building, including
Michaels, Stern & Co. and Garson, Meyer & Co., which
was organized in 1879 and specialized in children's
clothing. The Rosenberg Building to the right housed
Rosenberg, Blum & Aronson, a men's clothing
manufacturer which was established in 1865.