Williams founded the cheese factory system in 1851, which made it possible, for the first time, to take milk and convert it directly into large quantities of high-quality cheese.
Previously, small amounts of cheese were made on individual farms. The small number of cheese manufacturers who did exist at the time bought curd, that was separated from milk in farmhouses, and then made cheese from that curd.
Williams' plan was to buy milk in large quantities from farms in the vicinity and transport it to a factory he erected. There, using a machine he invented, he would convert the milk directly into high-quality cheese of uniform sizes, with some blocks weighing as much as 150 pounds. This had never been done before.
Williams opened his cheese factory, the first such factory in the world, May 10, 1851. It quickly revolutionized the cheese-making industry in the United States and abroad.
Williams was born near Rome on Feb. 24, 1798. His father, David, and three uncles were with Col. Peter Gansevoort at Fort Stanwix during the siege of August 1777 that led to the Battle of Oriskany.
Jesse Williams and Amanda Wells were married in 1822 and 12 years later they inherited David Williams' 265-acre farm near Rome. They then owned 65 head of cattle, 3 horses, 72 sheep, and 27 hogs. They made their own cheese, a New England-type cheddar.
After his cheese factory became successful in 1851, his fame spread throughout the land. Soon, factories, following his design, were built in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio and countries in Europe, including a large number in France. Fifteen years later, 500 cheese factories were operating in New York state alone.
By 1864 Rome had become the cheese-making capital of the world and that year cheese makers from throughout the country met in Rome and formed the New York State Cheese Manufacturers Association.
George Williams, Jesse's son, was elected its first president. It later evolved into the American Dairymen's Association. Jesse Williams died December 20, 1864 at age 67.
About 25 years ago, the state of New York spent approximately $175,000 to move the original factory building to the Erie Canal Village, where it can now be visited during the village’s seasonal hours.