Several months ago, I was contacted by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. The lady who contacted me was in the process of assembling a history of the Rochester Chamber and knew that H. H. Warner was its first president, but did not have much more information on him. A Google search had led her to my Warner’s Safe Cure Blog. She had very little information on Warner, so I helped fill in some gaps. I also asked her if she had a copy of Warner’s Inaugeral Address to the Chamber. She did not have that either. Fortunately for both of us, Warner had preserved his words for posterity. Never one to miss a marketing opportunity.
In fairness, Warner did not publish his remarks in their entirety, but merely “Extracts” from his address. Apparently, the office of President was not uncontested and Warner was pitted against another Rochester favorite son, George Eastman, the inventor of the Kodak and progenitor of popular photography. By 1893, the members of the Chamber would have ample reasons to wish they had elected Mr. Eastman. But, it was 1888 and Warner was at the pinnacle of his success. The members of the Chamber had every reason to believe that Warner’s Safe Remedies and H. H. Warner would be around for many years to come.
Warner speaks in glowing terms of the assets of Rochester and surrounding cities and proposes improved railroad service from Western New York into New York City. He then shifts gears and applauds the solid moral foundation of the city which is enhanced through the work of organizations like the YMCA. Ironically, he encourages the successful businessmen in the Rochester community to reinvest 1-2% of their capital in helping other manufacturers to locate there. It it pretty clear that Warner was not heeding his own advice. Rather than reinvesting in his business or in helping other relocate to Rochester, he was engaging is speculative investments in mining and other interests. It was that very speculation that would bring his empire down.
Warner concluded his remarks by encouraging the Chamber to take up the cause of monuments to the Union dead of the Civil War. He contrasts what he sees as the efforts of the South to memorialize its dead with what he sees as inadequate efforts on the part of the North. This is particularly interesting given the fact that there is no record that Warner served in the Union army despite the fact that he was 19 at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Whether Warner’s remarks led to any effort to increase the number of memorials to the Union dead is unknown. It did, however, provide an uplifting message in an otherwise unremarkable speech.
While Warner seemed like an obvious choice for the first President of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce in 1887, it was a choice the members of the Chamber undoubtedly regretted a mere six years later. Fortunately for Rochester, the Chamber of Commerce flourished and continued to grow, notwithstanding the infamy of its first President.