If only there were a time machine that could take Edward Kendall, of the eponymous Kendall Square, for a stroll down Main Street. What would the 19th-century founder of Kendall Boiler and Tank Company—not to mention his local business contemporaries—make today of MIT’s East Cambridge neighborhood?
Would the Carter Ink manufacturers be fascinated by the concept of E-Ink for tablet and e-reader screens?
Would the owners of a musical organ company be astonished to learn that organ making in the 21st century means engineering heart tissue and a “liver on a chip?”
And would the Boston Woven Hose Fire and Rubber Company workers delight in knowing that in the 1970s, MIT President Jerry Weisner would quip that “getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a fire hose?”
Since factories were built here in the early 1800s, Kendall Square has transformed from an industrial economy to a networked, information-rich, innovation and knowledge economy. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies now dominate, from industry leaders like Biogen Idec, Genzyme, Novartis, and Pfizer, to dozens of more recent arrivals such as Ironwood, Momenta, and Firefly BioWorks.
One thing hasn’t changed: Kendall Square still caters to the nation’s sweet tooth, albeit at a much smaller scale. The city of Cambridge—once home to more than 60 candy factories—now hosts just one, Tootsie Roll Industries. Nestled in among pharmaceutical giants, Junior Mints are still made today on Main Street.
But Mr. Kendall might be surprised by another development. Before returning to the 1860s, he could stop for lunch at his pick of 56 restaurants that have sprung up in the bustling neighborhood—or at the popular food trucks parked near the site of his former factory.