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Category Archives: Cleveland History

Stories of Cleveland’s Past, Storyteller Dan Ruminski

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.

A John D. Rockefeller Story – Teenager in Charge of Building the Family Home

Eliza & William Rockefeller, parents of John D. Rockefeller
Eliza & William Rockefeller, parents of John D. Rockefeller

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

Combination of Greatness – White & Kundtz

White Sewing Machine in Cabinet by Theodor Kundtz. The cabinet doubled as a writing desk.
White Sewing Machine in Cabinet by Theodor Kundtz. The cabinet doubled as a writing desk.

I continue to write about our great city of Cleveland 1875-1929 when Cleveland contained one half of all millionaires in the world. Among these were two great men namely, Thomas H. White and Theodor Kundtz.

Thomas H. White produced the White Sewing Machine which revolutionized the way family clothing was made. Thomas, in his pursuit of perfection, felt that a White Sewing Machine should be housed in more than just an ordinary wood cabinet. Enter Theodor Kundtz, a man from Hungary who had learned the cabinet business while working in Cleveland, Ohio.

Theodor Kundtz had the desire to form his own company and so he did, The Theodor Kundtz Cabinet Work. Theodor’s vision grew to having over 1 million square feet of factory before 1900. He built the finest cabinets in the world and Thomas H. White wanted the finest.

The end result was the sale of millions of cabinets, each valued not only because they were incredibly functional, but also as a beautiful piece of furniture. The White and Kundtz factories were located very close to each other making the supply chain very effective.

Theodor Kundtz Company buildings in the Cleveland Flats circa 1920
Theodor Kundtz Company buildings in the Cleveland Flats circa 1920

Today the product so proudly built by Theodor Kundtz and Thomas H. White is displayed in New York’s Smithsonian Museum for all to see. Pioneers with a philosophy of perfection, these men became part of our great Cleveland history. These men changed society for the better with their hard work and innovation.

New technology which benefits the masses, this is what will again produce a great Cleveland. One would do no better than to study the model of Thomas H. White and his friend Theodor Kundtz.

White Motor Company’s Way of Doing Business

Walter Charles White
Walter Charles White

The White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, the major truck and bus builder in the world, may have had a better way of doing business. In studying the Whites of White Motors it became obvious to me that the good old days, approximately 1900-1929, may very well have been the better old days as far as doing business was concerned.

Walter White, president of White Motors at this time, 1922, felt that trust was the key component in any business deal. To quote Walter, “Why is it that investments in White trucks exceed $200,000.000 and that individual investments run as high as $3,000,000 or $4,000,000? If you want a man to have faith in you”, said Walter “you must not betray his trust. When a man gets a good White truck it is not by accident. They are built neither by guess nor by luck, but by mathematics, science, and a system of testing which has no superior in the automobile field. When a White truck leaves the plant it carries with it the honor of the Whites.”

Now this is how business should be. Walter and his philosophy were a major force in the making of a great Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland’s roots were planted in great soil and remain intact to grow again. Our Cleveland and our country would do well to return to those better old days to study and learn. Trust and respect were givens, not the exception in business. Say what you mean, mean what you say, no matter what the circumstance. Honor, pride and trust, these principles need to be the foundation in returning Cleveland, Ohio to its former greatness.

The White Workers – Greatest Asset Recognized

Thomas Howard White
Thomas Howard White

I have been writing about Cleveland, Ohio and its great period 1875-1929 when Cleveland by all accounts was one of the greatest cities in the world. I write because often times the path to a return to greatness can be clearly defined by understanding the cause of former greatness.

Cleveland became a great city and world force in the past because of great families doing great things. Example, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil fame and the White’s of truck giant, White Motors. Both Rockefeller and the Whites knew all too well how to treat their workforce. The Whites in particular created a family atmosphere among employees, thus their turnover rate was exceptionally small. Employees were treated as a major asset of the company.

A family approach, what was this? The brothers, Windsor, Rollin and Walter, founders of White Motors were schooled well by their father, Thomas H. White who founded The White Sewing Machine Company. Father Thomas insisted that while growing up his sons work side by side with the men who ran the production equipment: an experience his sons used to guide their treatment of their future employees – over 4000.

The White brothers now in charge of their own company added to their fathers’ philosophy. The Whites promoted employee orchestras which played at lunch time. Even the grave yard shift had its own band. Company sports teams, baseball in particular, were used to build company pride. The company operated its own small hospital and its own night school offering classes of all types. Employees could pay utility bills and even their taxes through the company cashier. Their industrial service department helped employees fill out forms when needed.

All of the above and more served notice that the Whites valued and respected their work force. All three brothers spend several hours a day in the plant getting to know the names of all employees. Lunch on many occasions found the Whites in the employee cafeteria, not the executive dining room.

When an employee of Walter White fell sick and could no longer work in the plant, Walter transferred him to his Circle W. Farm, a healthier environment for this worker. Common sense, productivity matters, productive workers matter, turnover is no good. The Whites applied common sense to human nature to achieve great results. The White model holds the partial key to a return to greatness not only for Cleveland, but for our entire country.

The absence of common sense today is historical.

Many thanks for Charles D. Weller Esq. and The Cleveland Plain Dealer for some of our content.