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The purpose of this blog is to explore Cleveland’s unique history with regard to the many “first’s,” inventions, inventors, etc. that led this city to national and world recognition. The book titled: Cradle of Greatness, National and World Achievements of Ohio’s Western Reserve, by Earl R. Hoover was a source for the information that follows. The first topic to be explored will be the automotive industry which literally was “born” in and around Cleveland.
From the late 1890’s until as late as 1908, Cleveland was the foremost automobile manufacturing center in the United States. This was substantiated by the Cleveland Leader in 1903. The newspaper described Cleveland as “the leading automobile manufacturing city in the universe.”It went on to mention that “more automobiles are owned by individuals in Cleveland, in proportion to population than to any other city in the world and most of these are Cleveland-made”.
Between 1896 and 1932 over 115 automobile makes were produced in Cleveland and its environs, with over 80 in Cleveland alone. The auto industry was begun in Cleveland by Alexander Winton. Following Detroit, Michigan’s rise to the #1 position, with regard to volume of cars produced, Cleveland retained the number 2 slot, and held that distinction for close to 30 years. Despite losing out to Detroit with regard to volume of automobile production, Cleveland retained its #1 status with regard to production of luxury cars.
Alexander Winton set industry precedent when he laid out a production schedule for a group of cars according to a pattern. Thus, “ready made” cars were born and no longer had to be “custom made”. On March 24, 1898, history was made when a Pennsylvanian, Robert Allison, came to Cleveland to purchase one of the “ready made” cars.
One of these vehicles (pictured above), owned by the Smithsonian Institute, is on display at the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum of the Western Reserve Historical Society Museum in Cleveland. This event led to the inception of the automobile industry.
The Winton Motor Car Company developed powerful engines for their vehicles, leading to the construction of the first big automobiles. This company was also credited with building the first diesel engine in the U.S right here in Cleveland.
Alexander Winton regarded his factory as the “largest automobile factory in the world,” by 1900. Winton’s company was the first in the U.S. to attain and continue any sizeable automobile production. The Winton Motor Car Company was considered the largest plant producing automobiles, exclusively, in the U.S. in 1903.
The first automobile reliability run was conducted just a little differently than the way we think of such “testing” today. In 1897, long distance driving was definitely “not the norm”. Alexander Winton drove one of his cars 800 miles, from Cleveland to New York. This journey started on July 28 and concluded on August 7. The actual driving time was “78 hours and 43 minutes”. It is hard for us to consider that there were NO filling stations, interstates, turnpikes, or “rest stops”, etc. Winton purchased fuel at hardware stores!
Even though this “reliability test” was a first, Winton was ignored by the newspapers. Because of his disappointment at not being recognized for his accomplishment, he placed the car on a train for the return to Cleveland. How many of toady’s automotive industry “CEO’s” are responsible for personally conducting “quality control” testing?
Not one to give up, Alexander Winton set out again from Cleveland to New York in 1899. This time, the Cleveland Plain Dealer sponsored his trip “to demonstrate the entire feasibility of this mode of locomotion”. A Plain Dealer reporter, Charles Shanks, journeyed with Winton and submitted articles for publication along the course of the journey. Upon their arrival in New York, these “road trip” pioneers were greeted by one million people! This event spawned increased public interest, ultimately zoomed car sales for Winton, as well as his competitors, and significantly contributed to the establishment of the automobile industry.
The first car to be driven across the country was a Winton. In 1903, Dr. H. Nelson Jackson drove a Cleveland-made Winton from San Francisco, CA to New York. The physician from Vermont started this 5,500 mile trek on May 23rd and completed it on July 26th. The journey was completed at a cost of $8,000. To put this into today’s framework, the same “road trip” of approximately 2800-2900 miles can be completed in 3-5 days. Even with exploding gas prices, food, lodging, toll road fees, etc., it is highly doubtful that one would spend anywhere close to $8,000 (even without factoring inflation into the comparison) to complete that trip today!
Did you ever wonder where the word “automobile” originated and how it ultimately replaced the “horseless carriage”? Yep—right here in Cleveland.
Remember that Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter, Charles Shanks, who accompanied Alexander Winton from Cleveland to New York? He is credited with this semantic change. Articles he had published during the “road test” excursion “flooded” the nation. His writing contained the word “automobile” so frequently that Americans actually “adopted” it. The articles written by Shanks “were the first real effort at intelligent publicity”. Eventually, Shanks became the “first automotive editor of a newspaper”.
On August 13, 1898, a Warren, Ohio man named James W. Packard bought a Winton automobile. For whatever reason, he was frustrated with the vehicle and returned to Cleveland to complain about it and to tell Winton how his automobiles could be improved. In not the most “customer friendly” manner, Winton told Mr. Packard: “If you know so much, why don’t you make your own car?” Those 12 words spawned the manufacturing of one of America’s most renowned cars—the Packard, which was part of the automobile landscape for over 50 years.
Winton, meanwhile, was still creating “firsts”. He is credited with production of the first mail truck in the U.S., which appeared in 1899. The first official U.S. President’s auto was a Cleveland-made Winton used by President Taft.
In 1900, Winton built a special racer in Cleveland. He became the U.S. pioneer in taking automobiles overseas for competitive racing events. He took the racer to France where it was entered in the first Gordon Bennet Cup Race. In 1903 Winton built the first eight cylinder automobile.
Winton (of Cleveland) and Packard (of Warren) obviously got past their differences and combined forces to be the first to introduce the steering wheel. This invention went on to replace the single level “tiller”.
Ransom Eli Olds was born in Geneva, Ohio, a part of the Western Reserve. However, he grew up and attended school in Cleveland. Olds was the first of five men, John and Horace Dodge, Henry Ford, and Henry Leland (founder of Cadillac and Lincoln), to make Detroit, MI the leading city with regard to automobiles. A few of the “firsts” credited to Olds and/or his company were: mass production, prices that appealed to the general public, and establishment of an assembly line, among others. Until 2004, Oldsmobile was the oldest automotive brand name in the U.S. Many people reading this blog may still own, or know someone who owns an Oldsmobile.
The steel and the automotive industries both had “firsts” in Cleveland. The first American all-steel body was produced by Eastman in 1898. Cleveland’s Peerless developed a new type of pressed steel automobile frame in 1903. This new steel frame was ultimately adopted by most automobile makers in this country.
An inventor by the name of Elmer A. Sperry came to Cleveland in the early 1900’s. His purpose in coming to Cleveland was to help establish a successful electric street railway. Obviously, his focus shifted and in 1899 he manufactured one of Cleveland’s first electric autos, named the “Cleveland Electric”. The storage battery he built allowed the car to run 100 miles on a charge. All the motions of this electric auto were controlled by one steering handle. Sperry designed this single lever control system which later became “universal” in electric autos.
Another major accomplishment linked to Sperry while he was in Cleveland, was the invention of the gyroscope. The first one was installed on a boat in Lakewood, OH, a suburb of Cleveland. He and Walter C. Baker, another notable inventor and car manufacturer, worked on projects together.
The gyroscope led to the development of additional equipment that has become essential to all types of navigation, including guided missiles. Development of the gyroscope took Sperry away from Cleveland. Today, we know the company he created by the name to which it evolved—Sperry Rand Corporation.
Various companies emerged as the automobile evolved from the horseless carriage with few parts, to the increasingly complex automobile. Early car makers actually made most of their own car parts. As the industry grew, manufacturers turned to outside suppliers.
According to author Earl R. Hoover, the Western Reserve was the leading area in the United States with regard to production of most auto parts and accessories. By the 1970’s, there were approximately 1500 manufacturers in the Greater Cleveland area. Those manufacturers produced about 8,000 various auto parts. One of the major auto parts suppliers was TRW Inc.
A company named Cleveland Cap Screw was incorporated at the end of 1900. It produced connectors and fittings that were used primarily for autos and light machinery. The company’s first technological advance was the production of valves for automobiles in 1904.
Cleveland Cap Screw became the leader in and largest independent producer of these valves in the world. Another interesting fact—the company was owned by Winton Motor Car Company from 1905-1915. Charles E. Thompson reorganized the firm in 1908 and later bought the firm from Winton in 1915. After some name changes, the company was renamed Thompson Products, Inc. By 1926, it was a well-established producer of finished automotive and aviation goods. Without going into the whole story here, Thompson Products, Inc. finally evolved to the Thompson Ramo Woolridge Corporation in 1958 and shortened its name to TRW Inc. It continued its heritage with a diversified product line containing a myriad of automobile-related equipment linked to its beginnings in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Automobile Club, founded in 1900, is the oldest of such clubs in the country. In 1902, the Cleveland Auto Club along with 8 other clubs, joined together to found the American Automobile Association (now known more commonly as the AAA).
A Cleveland advertising manager, Joseph Fewsmith, who worked for the Cleveland-made Jordan car company, made history with an ad that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1923. The title of the ad was: “Somewhere West of Laramie”. This represented the first time an ad was not just a usual basic description. This ad caused people to think about how they would feel when they owned this car and it appealed to the prospective buyer’s ego. The ad became a classic standard for two industries—automotive, and advertising.
Now let’s consider some “basic” car parts we presently “take for granted”. In 1910, White Motors first placed the gearshift and hand-brake controls INSIDE the vehicle!
Remember the old movies depicting the auto horn outside the car, next to the driver? The Cleveland-made Royal Tourist car innovated placement of the horn “bulb” on the hub of the steering wheel, with the horn itself under the hood. Most of us would complain if we had to reach outside the comfort of the car’s “cabin” to shift gears, tap the horn, or heaven forbid, stop!
Cleveland’s well known Nela Park was the “birthplace” of the glass sealed-beam headlamp reflector which went on to be used in most automobiles.
Cleveland-born, Claude H. Foster invented the “Gabriel Snubber” which was a device that made riding in an automobile smoother. Approximately 100,000 of these shock absorber sets were sold worldwide annually. Foster also invented the Gabriel musical auto horn.
If you live anywhere other than a desert, you can appreciate the development and patenting of the automatic windshield wipers by brothers Fred and William Folberth of Cleveland. As we know, the automatic wipers came to be “standard equipment” on all types of vehicles, not just cars. The brothers eventually held more than 100 patents.
Clevelander, Walter C. Baker formed the American Ball Bearing Company. The ball bearing became a very significant factor in the development of the auto industry. Baker’s company became to largest U.S. ball bearing company. Not only were ball bearings produced for autos, but they were also produced for other purposes.
Garrett Morgan, the son of former slaves, was born in Kentucky in 1877, and moved to Cleveland in 1920. His career began by performing sewing machine repair, but his expertise for fixing things opened many doors and opportunities abounded for him. Discussion of Morgan needs to include his invention of the gas mask in 1916. He was also known for his invention of a zigzag stitching sewing machine attachment. Morgan entered the newspaper business in 1920 when he established the Cleveland Call which later merged with the Cleveland Post in 1928. This newspaper continues to serve the African American community to this day.
Now, let’s get back to automotive history…… Most people take traffic lights for granted, and having to stop at one may, on occasion, result in provoking an “expletive” of some sort. However, there were no such devices early on in the evolution of the automobile industry. Obviously, vehicular accidents became frequent. Just consider how traffic is compromised today when there is a power outage!
While living in Cleveland and driving along its streets, Morgan witnessed a collision between an auto and a horse-drawn carriage. This experience inspired him to invent an improvement to the existing traffic signals.
Although traffic signal devices existed, Garrett Morgan was the first person to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for a traffic signal which was inexpensive to produce. The U.S. patent was granted in 1923. His invention was also patented in Great Britain and Canada.
Morgan’s hand-cranked traffic management device was used throughout North America until all manual traffic signals were replaced by the automatic red, yellow, and green signals that are used worldwide today. The General Electric Corporation bought the rights to Morgan’s traffic signal for $40,000.
It’s mind-boggling how much of the automotive industry as we know it today, had its beginnings in and around Cleveland, Ohio and that so many of the innovators were an integral part of “Millionaire’s Row”. So the next time you hear someone make some derogatory Cleveland remark, you can “come back” with some awesome Cleveland “trivia” that contributed to this city being responsible for so many “firsts”.
Look for more Cleveland historical “food for thought” to follow.
Roberta Malbin Levenson
Many of us have wonderful hobbies, hobbies that we are often times passionate about, work hard at and really have no ambition above the shear joy that such endeavors bring.
So it was with me, Dan Ruminski and my passion for early Cleveland history, let us say, 1875-1929, you know the Millionaires Row era. My hobby was and is experiencing of the great enjoyment of learning of this history and the wonderful cast of characters that made this period great, a John D. Rockefeller for example.
While doing some research at the Gates Mills library one day a very nice lady saw what I was doing and asked if I would be willing to give a talk at the library on this history. This wonderful lady was Sally Burke, president of the Gates Mill Historical Society.
This request was interesting especially since Katherine Malmquist, head of the library, was also enthusiastic about the project. I agreed to prepare a 45-minute talk, an April date was set up and I must say the rest is history.
Audience expected was to be between 30 and 40 people, so I prepared accordingly. My, oh my, did we not get nearly 100 people, enthusiastic people who wanted to hear my story. And indeed I delivered it as a story, no power point, no computer, just a marvelous story. The audience stayed for 2 hours asking great questions as my talk concluded.
Since that first memorable talk, I now have given over 10 presentations to various audiences. In each case there is noticeable enthusiasm. Audience size always exceeds any expectation, which tells me that folks are very interested in a very dynamic early Cleveland.
Thus my little old hobby has bloomed into a larger endeavor. I now have made myself available to all types of potential speaking opportunities as my quest to inform while promoting Cleveland continues.
If you group or organization has interest in experiencing the Cleveland history experiences please feel free to contact me, Dan Ruminski, The Cleveland history storyteller at 1-800-876-1312 or email me using the link at the bottom of the page. A small fee is charged.
I became acquainted with Keely Koon after first meeting her husband, Dr. Henry Koon. The Koons are “new” Clevelanders and have been living here since July 2007.
Keely grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and spent most of her first 29 years of life in that city. After Henry and Keely were married, they lived in Jackson, Mississippi for 6 years and then moved to Brookline, Massachusetts. Following that, they lived in Roxbury, and finally, Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Keely indicated that Wellesley was a very expensive city to live in, and her husband become less than content with what he was doing. She and their two children, on the other hand, were happy with their life in Massachusetts.
When Dr. Koon decided to relocate, he was seriously considering two positions, one in Houston, Texas, and one here in Cleveland. He liked both opportunities. One of the reasons he was interested in Cleveland was that his good friend and long-time colleague had relocated here and encouraged him to do likewise.
Prior to the family’s decision about where to relocate, Keely indicated that she had no strong preconceptions about Cleveland and had never visited here. She did, however, make fun of the city because she had watched the Drew Carey show and knew the “Cleveland jokes”. The two concepts she had about this city were “pollution” and “poor people”. However, she did know that she really did not want to live in the Deep South with all the hot weather that is associated with that part of the country.
When Henry came to Cleveland for his 3rd interview, Keely accompanied him. She worked with a company called Executive Arrangements. The company showed them the overall area, helped them narrow down areas of the city or surrounding area they might like to settle in, and helped them develop a positive impression of the city. Part of the Executive Arrangements experience is finding out the interests of the prospective Clevelander, with introductions to people with similar interests. Keely had luncheon and dinner appointments set up for her for this purpose, during the short time the Koons were in Cleveland. The people she met during that brief visit have ultimately become good friends.
Before settling here, the Koons thought they’d like to live in Chagrin Falls because Henry wanted property that had “more land”. They had also looked at housing in Cleveland Heights because of its proximity to where Henry would be working, but decided against that area, initially.
Once back in Massachusetts, before any permanent move had been decided upon, Keely spoke to a friend who lives in California. When her friend heard about the Koons’ potential move to Cleveland and in particular, the communities they had looked at for their home location, she told Keely that coincidentally, she’d just finished reading a book about “Cleveland” and highly recommended Keely read it, too (even though her friend had never been here herself). So Keely immediately read House—A Memoir, by Michael Ruhlman.
The book caused the Koons to “rethink” the decision about moving to Chagrin Falls versus living in a Cleveland suburb; and their perception of Cleveland totally changed. They decided they wanted to live in Cleveland Heights—to be at the center of activity, and they bought a home in the historic Cedar-Fairmount area, not far from the trendy Coventry area.
The house they purchased closed on July 2nd. The previous owner called them that same day and told them with some trepidation, that the house they’d just purchased actually was THE location of the annual neighborhood block party and had served in that capacity for many years! Not wanting to interrupt a neighborhood “tradition”, the Koons jumped right in and hosted the July 4th party before they’d even moved into their new house! As a result they met many of their new neighbors. Now, Keely is a co-chair of the annual block party! What a great way to get adjusted to a new home, in a new community, and in a new city!
Not long after they were settled in their new home, some of Keely’s friends from Wellesley came to visit. She described their response to their new home and surroundings as “floored”. Her friends couldn’t get over how much more “buying power” there was in this city compared to Wellesley, Massachusetts (where they live). They were also very impressed with the Koons’ Cleveland Heights home and neighborhood.
After less than 3 years in Cleveland, and after residing in other large cities, Keely believes this city is “beautiful”. The Koons love their Cleveland Heights home and enjoy the fact that all the homes in the area are so unique.
One of the things the Koons enjoy about Cleveland Heights is the fact that it is a community where one can walk, especially to many of the restaurants in the area, for example. A favorite greater Cleveland destination the Koon family enjoys is the West Side Market. Going to the historic market has become a frequent Saturday activity for the whole family. Keely talked about how she and her husband enjoy the ethnic areas and diversified culture in Cleveland. Henry mentioned that he feels native Clevelanders “seem to have an inferiority complex” about this city.
Keely is a person who likes to explore, and has ventured to all parts of the greater Cleveland area as well as the surrounding communities. She attributes this “exploring” as a crucial part of her learning so much about Cleveland, its people, and the Greater Cleveland area.
Since getting her family settled here, and as she began to learn her way around, Keely started going to house and estate sales. She indicated that she has “an eye” for good things and enjoys buying some of the “treasures” she finds at these sales. Through Craig’s List she found a great co-op location in Chesterland where twice a week she sells some of the items she has acquired. She would ultimately like to expand her business at some point in the future.
The Koons’ experience as New Clevelanders is another example of how the “gems” we have here sometimes require an “outsider’s” eye before they can be truly appreciated. Native Clevelanders should look at this city through the same lenses as those new to this unique city.
Cleveland, Ohio home to John D. Rockefeller, the world’s richest individual at one time, was a man made from many experiences afforded him as he grew into manhood. Each experience was a stepping stone of sorts building the stairway to his Standard Oil Company. The glue that held Rockefeller together I believe was a work ethic of unbelievable proportion coupled with a self discipline that boarded on beyond remarkable. Those who knew Rockefeller at the time also knew that Standard Oil was no accident.
John D. Rockefeller was raised by a devoted mother, Eliza, and an often times absent father, William Avery Rockefeller. Because of his fathers long absences John D in many respects became the head of the household at a relatively young age. This experience proved a good one for John. At one point, John age 18 was given the task of building the new family home on Cheshire Street, East 19th, in Cleveland, Ohio. John’s father assured his son that funds were available and that he would not be there for planning or construction. John thus began organizing the planning and building of the new brick home for the family. Estimates for the work were received from at least 8 contractors. Obviously the low bidder got the job and it is said when the home was completed the builder actually lost money as John meticulously reviewed all invoicing. Upon completion this house served the family for many years.
Now, I believe one could ask, what might todays 18 year old do when faced with a similar task to John’s? In an age when we all think our children are growing up all too fast, I believe measured against Rockefellers result most of today’s generation may not succeed in a similar endeavor. Truly we may suggest that John D. Rockefeller was a superior individual with talents far, far above the average. I believe the point here is that although John achieved something less than a high school education, his father knew that a big part of real education did not take place in school. John’s father believed in both formal education and practical education forged together with the creation of responsibility in the real world.
Education in real life experiences may even ellipse the classroom on occasion. The point of this story seems to be, do parents today give their children enough real world experience? Do we educate them to use one of the most important senses they have, common sense? I would lean to the side that says, “No”; thus my story of John D. Rockefeller. The building of the family home made him responsible for outcome, an outcome of great importance to his family. John also learned what he was capable of and this experience remained with him for the rest of his life.
John’s home building experience led to the building of a grand company housed in a grand city, Cleveland, Ohio. During John’s time Cleveland, Ohio, by many accounts was the greatest city in the world. In sports terms of today it would be like winning the World Series, Super Bowl and NBA Championship all in one year. You know, Cleveland was just that great.
Credit: Photo from the book John D. Rockefeller, The Cleveland Years, by Grace Goulder, courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society