Jacob Hiram Myers (1841-1920), the inventor of the first voting machine to have been used in a public election, lived in Rochester for much of his adult life and considered the city his home.
Born in Bellefonte (in Centre County, PA) in 1841 to a solidly Democratic family of modest means, Myers lost his mother in 1843 and his father in 1852. He attended public schools. Fortunately for Myers, one of these was the famed Bellefonte Academy, the graduates of which amount to a who's-who list of Pennsylvania's 19th century leaders. After graduation, he read a course of law with a local attorney and served a three-month stint in the Pennsylvania Volunteers (10th regiment). But his tastes ran to technology and business, rather than law. Having taken an interest in agricultural machinery, he served an apprenticeship at a farm situated just down the road from the new Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, the forerunner of Pennsylvania State University. The college acquired state-of-the-art agricultural machines, which Myers was able to observe and study first-hand. After finishing his apprenticeship and marrying the former Emma C. Smith, Myers built a successful business as the Centre County agent for mowers and combination reaper-mower machines designed by Syracuse inventor Moses G. Hubbard. These machines were manufactured by the Rochester Agricultural Works.
In 1869, Myers' growing relationship with Hubbard and the Rochester Agricultural Works induced him to move his family to Rochester. They took a home on South Union St. in Rochester's Seventh Ward, where Myers was to live most of his life. While affiliated with the Works, Myers invented several improvements to the self-raking mechanisms used on the horse-drawn reaping machines of the day, and received several U.S. patents for them. Throughout the 1870s, he served as the company's Superintendent of Sales. In 1875, the Works sent him to Europe to make arrangements for the sale of the company's machines in England, Germany, and several other countries.
Myers' prominence in the agricultural machinery market led to his 1878 departure to Fremont, Ohio, and subsequently to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he managed one of Hubbard's manufacturing plants. In the early 1880s, however, the achievement of combination reaping and binding machines, which used string instead of wire to bind the reaped wheat, swept the competition — including Hubbard — from the field. Myers returned to Rochester, taking another house on South Union St.
Myers background led naturally to a relationship with a major Cincinnati bank safe and vault manufacturer. Using Rochester as his base, he developed a profitable and successful business designing and installing burglar-proof vaults for banks. By the late 1880s, he was considered well-to-do, and had purchased a beautiful home located at 280 Alexander Street, also located in the Seventh Ward.
In 1888, Myers took an interest in voting machines. See the Voting machine article, which describes Myers' invention and its unhappy fate.
A life-long Democrat who was liked and respected by Republicans, Myers received the Democratic nomination for the 29th Senatorial district after the incumbent, Donald McNaughton, decided against running again. Myers stood little chance of winning in the 29th district, which had a solid Republican majority. The Republicans ran a popular ex-mayor against him. Nevertheless, Myers carried the city of Rochester. The rural vote defeated him, however.
Myers' voting machine had a fatal technical flaw and, after an 1896 citywide test in Rochester turned into a fiasco, Myers' company folded. After publishing an "open letter" accusing his former directors of forcing him out of the company, Myers and his son Oscar made a trip to the Klondike, without success. After their return to Rochester, tragedy struck the family when Oscar's wife, Anna, died; Oscar subsequently declared bankruptcy. The despondent Myers pursued a lawsuit against his former company's board of directors, but lost on appeal. Although he had formerly been an active participant in Rochester's civic affairs, Myers withdrew to his Rochester home, where he died on April 1, 1920. He is buried in the city's Mt. Hope Cemetery.