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Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RITArc-0704

Scope and Contents

The Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute records have been assembled from various materials without provenance information in the RIT Archives. This collection contains numerous documents which sketch the history of RAMI from 1885 to the 1980s. It also contains historical and administrative items that contain information about enrollment and graduation, the mission of the Mechanics Institute, anniversary documents, Boards of Directors and Trustees, constitutions and by-laws, and booklets about individualized education. The ephemera in the collection includes maps and clippings, as well as postcards, stationary, event tickets, and a dance card.


  • Creation: 1885-1980

Conditions Governing Access

This collection in open to researchers.

Historical information about Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute

In 1829, Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other Rochester community leaders founded the Athenaeum, an association “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science, and the arts.” The Athenaeum was located in the Reynolds Arcade and housed a meeting room and a small reading room with a library, provided by Abelard Reynolds. The Rochester Athenaeum grew into a popular cultural center for Rochesterians. It offered public lectures and debates, and began establishing a substantial library.

In 1847, the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association, founded in 1836 by William A. Reynolds (son of Abelard Reynolds), to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. It continued the tradition of public lectures, book reviews, and debates. The two groups merged their literary collections to create a singular library of more than 8,000 volumes covering a variety of subjects. Lectures were held at Corinthian Hall, which could hold 1,100 people, and distinguished speakers included Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Frederick Douglass.

The Mechanics Institute was founded in 1885. Captain Henry Lomb, Max Lowenthal, Ezra Andrews, Frank Ritter, William Peck, and other Rochester businessmen and influential citizens established a school to provide needed technical training for skilled workers in industry. Lomb was the first president of the Board of Trustees and guided the direction of the institute until his death in 1908. Eugene Colby was appointed first teacher and principal of the Mechanics Institute. All funds for running the school were donated by the citizens of Rochester and instruction was free for the first year. The first class offered at the newly formed Mechanics Institute was mechanical drawing, held in the evening on November 23, 1885. The community response is overwhelming. More than 400 students enrolled in the institute.

In 1891, the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute merged, bringing under one roof cultural education and practical technical training. Enrollment reached 1,000 students, but by 1903, when the Mechanics Institute established its first five academic departments (Industrial Arts, Mechanic Arts and Sciences – language, mathematics, science, Manual Training, Science and Art – Mary Bliss, and the Department of Fine Arts) enrollment had increased to 3,000. By 1940, enrollment had increased to 4,565 students, and in 1944, the institute adopted the name Rochester Institute of Technology.


4 Box(es) (Four document boxes)




The Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute records contains materials relating to the history and administration of RAMI.


This collection is arranged by material subject: History, Administrative Records, and Ephemera.

Other Finding Aids

In addition to this finding aid, an inventory is available below. For more information, please contact the RIT Archive Collections.

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute records

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These materials were assembled from archival material in different unidentified locations within the RIT Archives.

Related Materials

RAMI Domestic Science Department recipes

RAMI Domestic Science Department records

RAMI Domestic Science Department apron, cooking cap, and bag

RAMI Mechanical Drawing tool set

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute Library record books

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute cream pitcher

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute fundraising collection

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute lantern slides

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute mechanical drawing tools

Processing Information

Finding aid created by Ella von Holtum in September 2018.

Materials arranged by Jess Andrews and Taylor Carpenter in 2018.

Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute records
In Progress
Ella von Holtum
27 September 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
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Repository Details

Part of the RIT Archives Repository

Rochester NY 14623 USA