from the Ohio Historical Society
Samuel M. Jones was born on August 3, 1846, in Wales. His family immigrated to the United States in 1849. Jones’s parents struggled economically. His father found work as a stonemason and as a tenant farmer. Samuel Jones received a minimal education, primarily because his family needed him to work to survive economically. At ten years of age, Jones was employed as a laborer for a local farmer. Jones earned three dollars per month.
Jones found other employment that paid significantly better wages. At the age of fourteen, he accepted a job at a sawmill. He also spent several summers working on steamboats. In 1865, Jones found employment in the oilfields of western Pennsylvania. He gained extensive knowledge of the oil industry and was able to accumulate some modest savings. In 1870, Jones utilized these funds to form his own oil firm.
Jones remained in the oil business in Pennsylvania for the next decade. In 1885, after the death of his wife of ten years, he moved to Lima, Ohio. There, he continued to search for oil and quickly established a profitable well on the outskirts of Lima. At its peak, the well produced six hundred barrels of oil per day. Jones helped establish the Ohio Oil Company, which was eventually purchased by the Standard Oil Company, making Jones a wealthy man.
In 1892, Jones moved to Toledo, Ohio. Here he established the S.M. Jones Company, which manufactured tools for the oil industry. While Jones headed the company, unlike other businessmen of this era, he refused to pay his workers low wages. Jones determined that workers should receive a large enough salary to support their families. He asked his employees to work hard, to be honest, and to follow the golden rule. If the workers did these things, Jones promised his employees fair wages and safe working conditions. Jones became known as Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones because of his regulations.
In 1897, Jones received the Republican Party’s nomination for Toledo’s mayoral office. Workers united behind Jones’s candidacy, and he proclaimed that his “golden rule” philosophy would be the basis of his administration. Jones won the election and proceeded to implement Progressive reforms. During his time in office, Jones worked to improve conditions for the working class people of his community. The mayor opened free kindergartens, built parks, instituted an eight-hour day for city workers, and did much to reform the city government. Jones encouraged voters and politicians to renounce political parties. He believed that non-partisan politics would unite the American people together, rather than divide them as political parties seemed to do.
Jones was not very popular among businessmen and the wealthier members of Toledo society because of his views. Average citizens, however, rallied behind him. The Republican Party refused to nominate Jones for the mayor’s seat in 1899, but Jones still ran. With the support of the working class, Jones easily won reelection in 1899, having attained seventy percent of the vote. Jones died in office on July 12, 1904. His successor, Brand Whitlock, continued Jones’s reform efforts.