City of Binghamton, New York

Location, Geography, Historical Brief

Geography, Natural History

Binghamton (elev. 860’) is located in the central Southern Tier at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, a few miles north of the Pennsylvania state line and midpoint between the Empire State’s east-west borders. Approximately 70 miles south of Syracuse, NY and 50 miles north of Scranton, PA; this central location contributed to Binghamton’s establishment and growth as a regional distribution center for goods produced in the region or those being transported across the state. Binghamton, the seat of Broome County, is a region of gently rolling hills (1,500+ elev.), second generation forests and broad valleys through which flows the Susquehanna, Chenango, Tioughnioga and Otselic rivers. The area forms the Allegheny Plateau section of the northern Appalachian Plateau. 20,000 years ago during the Wisconsin Age, a 3,000-foot thick ice sheet covered the area. The receding glacial snowmelt cut the Plateau into hilly uplands. Streams eroded sedimentary rock to develop a branching drainage pattern of smaller hills and ridges and created the Allegheny and Appalachian mountain ridges extending southwest through Pennsylvania. Gravel, sand and loose materials were deposited by melting glaciers to form outwash plains, which now serve as principal groundwater sources and provide a fine soil mix for agriculture and building construction. Layers of coarse sandstone and shale called Chemung Rock, were formed by delta deposits; this bedrock constitutes much of the base of Binghamton. In the western-central part of the State, several north-south stream valleys were broadened and deepened by receding glacial ice. Dammed by debris at their southern ends, the streams formed bodies of water such as the Finger Lakes. The Susquehanna River rises 100 miles to the north at Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, NY. At Binghamton, the river converges with the Chenango River and continues a 444-mile trek westerly along New York’s southern tier before turning southeast through central Pennsylvania eventually draining more than 19 million gallons of fresh water into Chesapeake Bay every minute.

History – From the “Parlor City” to Flight Simulation

Binghamton’s location at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers was a natural site for settlement, first by Paleo-Indians, later by Iroquois tribes and then by white settlers from eastern New York, New England, and the Middle Atlantic states. Following the Revolutionary War defeat of the British and their Iroquois allies, whites rapidly settled the area. Soldiers who fought under Generals Clinton and Sullivan in south central New York numbered among the first large landowners. Originally called “Chenango Point”, the City was named for William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphia patriot who purchased a 10,000-acre land patent lying on both sides of the Susquehanna. He secured a land agent, Joshua Whitney to develop the town and “…give preference to quiet, industrious farmers who will give reputation to the neighborhood, as well as from their skill in the management of their farms as their orderly conduct.” The City grew by exploiting its natural forests, land and waterways. Early business – lumber and gristmills that relied on waterpower were replaced with steam by mid-century. Village government was organized in 1834. The first boat arrived over the Chenango Canal in 1837 and transformed the region as stores, hotels and industries sprang up to capitalize on ”canal fever”. The first train arrived on the Erie Railroad in 1848 and the City was incorporated in 1867. In the years following the Civil War, Binghamton transformed to a manufacturing boomtown. “Made in Binghamton, NY” came to mean cigars, sleighs, carriages, scales, book publishing, overalls, furniture, oil refining, electrical supplies, lumber, washing machines, pianos, organs, foundries, machine shops and leather tanning. New wealth from Binghamton’s industries transformed many residential areas with homes of ostentation, that one visitor famously dubbed it the “Parlor City”.

Cigars

By 1888, the cigar industry was the largest industry employing 6,000 hands in 50 firms. Binghamton ranked second in production only to New York City. The cigar industry provided Binghamton with a wealth of multi-story brick buildings which 20th century Urban Renewal failed to erase; square brick buildings with large windows for natural lighting, large open floor spaces where workers could sit around manufacturing tables and wide spaces for the short term storage of tobacco and finished cigars.

Shoes

Shoe manufacturing was the second largest City employer. In 1891, the Lester Brothers Boot & Shoe Company outgrew its location on the south bank of the Susquehanna and moved to land west of the City. The company reorganized and later became Endicott-Johnson Shoes, probably the area’s most influential employer that grew to over 20,000 employees in the region and created the villages of Johnson City and Endicott. Along with a successful retail business, EJ developed a thriving combat boot and work shoe business; US troops wearing boots from EJ factories fought two World Wars. Endicott-Johnson ushered in generations of immigrant shoemakers leaving the area a rich legacy of ethnicities and religions – Italians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Russians, Ukrainians, and Greeks who included Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Catholics and Jews – to add to the pioneering mix of English, Scots and Irish. Endicott-Johnson was a paternalistic employer “Home of the Square Deal” that pioneered the 8-hour work day, built affordable no-interest houses for workers, libraries, theaters, schools, parks, race tracks, hospitals and fire stations. The George F. Johnson family donated area parks and six carousels made by the Alan Herschell Co. of N. Tonawanda, NY. – which has earned the area a second title as the “Carousel Capitol of the United States” – admission to ride the carousels is forever free.

Computers

In 1889, Harlow Bundy organized the Bundy Time Recording Company in Binghamton. Bundy was successful in attracting investors and soon, time recorders were distributed throughout the world. After merging with other companies by 1905, the International Time Recording and Tabulating Company outgrew its Binghamton roots and moved to Endicott, NY. Under the leadership of Thomas J. Watson, the firm changed its name to International Business Machines (IBM) and became a world leader in data processing equipment employing over 15,000 local residents. After World War II, IBM reorganized and shifted workers and responsibilities to many locations in New York and around the country.

Cameras, Film & Reprographics

The Anthony & Scovill Company, organized in 1907 as the Ansco Company, represented the photography industry in Binghamton. Ansco was based in New York with subsidiaries throughout the world. In Binghamton, Ansco manufactured paper, film and cameras. Expanded in 1940 into the Agfa-Ansco Company, it was the second largest manufacturer of photographic supplies. The US government became suspicious of its German partners and seized control of the company during World War II; the company was never quite as  prosperous thereafter. Ultimately, Ansco became the paper and film division of GAF Corporation. The film  manufacturing plant became the Anitec Division of International Paper. The area was also home to the Ozalid  Division of GAF,  Azon and FPCA which manufactured wide format blueprint machines and coated sensitized papers.

Flight Trainers, Invention of Simulation

In 1928, Edwin Link, a maker of pianos and organs in his father’s firm, developed the idea for a trainer for pilots of airplanes. A year later, he invented the flight simulator and began a business that would revolutionize the  aerospace industry. First winning a contract with the Army Air Force to train pilots for domestic airmail delivery, Link’s “Blue Box” trainers became vitally important to the World War II war effort, training thousands of allied airmen to win the Battles of Britain, Europe and the Pacific. Link further developed the idea of training simulation to include driving simulators, helicopter, naval and NASA rocket simulators. Ultimately, the business became part of Singer Corporation, which was divested in the early 1980s. The simulation became scattered throughout the nation but Link left its mark on the community in many remaining simulation businesses in the Binghamton area.

"Swamp Root” and Other Industries

From 1878-1940, Binghamton was home to Dr. Kilmer & Company, manufacturers of the patent medicine, “Swamp Root”. Jonas and son, Willis Sharpe Kilmer played prominent roles in the development of Binghamton – founding the Binghamton Press newspaper, constructing several downtown buildings, serving as bank presidents and leaders in a variety of social and fraternal organizations all while breeding Kentucky Derby-winning race horses.