Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski


(PDF of article is here)

Why do cities grow, thrive, and sometimes fail? What holds them together and makes them special places—unique urban landscapes with distinctive personalities? Often we fix on the “image” of a city: its structural landmarks; the natural environment in which it is situated, or the amenities of life which give it character, be they an orchestra or a sports team. Even less tangible attributes, including a reputation for qualities such as innovation, perseverance, or social justice, come into play here. Image, however, is often a gloss, one that hides the core of the community, the portion of its history that has been central to its existence. Many would like to see Cleveland, both now and historically, as a “city on a hill,” one defined by many of the factors noted above. Yet, Cleveland’s image is to an extent a veneer. Underneath that veneer is the economic core that led to the creation of the city and that has sustained it at various levels for over 200 years. Without it, the veneer would not exist. The fact that today, aspects of Cleveland’s veneer have merged into its economic core represents a remarkable historical transformation.

Public Square 1907 courtesy of Shorpy/Detroit Press

Cleveland’s Public Square is perhaps the best place to begin in examining the history of Cleveland and the interrelationship between economic reality and image. On the northwest quadrant of the square a statue of Tom L. Johnson reminds one and all that Cleveland was in the forefront of the Progressive movement at the turn of the twentieth century. Johnson, whose governmental reforms led to his characterization as the best mayor of the best-governed city in the United States, symbolizes so much of our civic patina—well-organized progressive improvements ranging from the chlorination of water to the creation of what is now United Way.

Just to the north of the Johnson statue is the First Presbyterian (Old Stone) Church, a monument to the role that religion has played in regional history, from its involvement in the anti-slavery movement to the establishment, by various religious groups, of orphanages, educational institutions, hospitals and hundreds of other charitable endeavors.

Looking toward the east from the Johnson statue one can see the south end of the Mall, a landmark of the national city beautiful movement, and the Metzenbaum Courthouse, a reminder of justice and jurisprudence in the community. Slightly to the south, on the southeast quadrant stands the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, testimony to the role northeastern Ohio played in the American Civil War, one in which the community’s core beliefs, ranging from those relating to what we now call social justice to the place of private charity in times of crisis and need, were as important as its military and economic contributions.

In one sense, a good quick look at the Public Square indicates that Cleveland is a special place—and, indeed, in many ways it is. Some may want to think that it is indeed a city on a hill, an example for others. That, perhaps, it has been and continues to be. But, as we complete our visual circuit by coming to the southwest quadrant, we are brought back to the founding reality of the community. There stands the statue of General Moses Cleaveland, the revered founder of the city that bears his name. He stands tall, staff in hand, the archetypical colonial father figure. Yes, he was the community’s founder and also a Revolutionary War veteran and a lawyer. That we remember, but what we often forget is that Cleaveland was also an investor. He was one of fifty-six members of the Connecticut Land Company whose interest in Connecticut’s Western Reserve was predicated on profit rather than altruism. Cleaveland’s intent in coming to the city that now bears his name was not to settle, but to survey. Cleaveland and the partners in the company had purchased 3.4 million acres from the state of Connecticut. That land, its “Western Reserve” was a remnant of its old colonial claims that it managed to retain after the formation of the United States. Stretching 120 miles west from the border of Pennsylvania, it constitutes much of what we consider today as northeast Ohio.

Surveying was the first step in making what was wilderness into a marketable commodity. Cleaveland would return to Connecticut some three months after his arrival at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, sanguine about the company’s ability to make a profit from its investment. The Public Square upon which these observations are focused was part of the profit scheme—a communal commons, grazing land for the animals of the first settlers and a nice touch of home, since the town commons was so much a part of the New England heritage of Cleaveland and those he expected to follow him as purchasers rather than sojourners.

Moses Cleaveland’s expectations for the community that bore his name (his surveying crew named it in his honor in 1796—its spelling would later be simplified to Cleveland) went unfulfilled for nearly two decades. Indeed, the real estate venture of the Connecticut Land Company did not meet its investors’ immediate expectations. Land in the Connecticut Western Reserve sold slowly and settlement in its “capital” Clevealand languished for over two decades. It appeared that all had overlooked a number of critical economic and business factors. There was no easy way to get to the Reserve from the eastern seaboard and, indeed, there was better, more accessible open land along the way, mainly in western New York state. Then too, there were questions about the legal title to the land. Moreover, there were lingering fears that the British (just across Lake Erie in Canada) might try to reclaim the trans-Appalachian west from the recently independent United States. Cleveland had an additional problem—the lands near the mouth of the Cuyahoga river were infested with mosquitoes. Those who attempted to settle in what is now the Flats came down with malaria and soon moved away to higher lands east of the small settlement. The sales situation became so desperate that Oliver Phelps, one of the prime investors in the venture, nearly ended up in a debtors’ prison.

It would be easy to accuse the investors of a lack of foresight and planning. Indeed, that was somewhat the case. The company built no roads to provide easy access to the area nor did it provide for any of the basic amenities of life. It simply surveyed and sold the land. Buyers were on their own after they made their purchases. Yet, two of the investors’ core beliefs about the land were correct. They knew that there was a huge desire for better land among people in New England and that this desire would continue to grow as the population expanded. They also knew that water was a key factor in colonial settlement—not only for growing crops, but even more importantly for transportation. Waterways, natural and manmade, were the best and cheapest means of transport for people and goods at the turn of the nineteenth century. Cleveland had that advantage and indeed, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin had identified the site on the shore of Lake Erie as one of commercial and strategic importance.

Eventually, when issues of land title were cleared and when the end of the War of 1812 calmed fears regarding any future British invasion, the settlement of Cleveland accelerated. In 1820, 606 people lived in a community that had had a population of only 57 a decade before. Ten years later, in 1830, the population was 1,075. More importantly, by that time Cleveland was at the northern end of a major public works project, the construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Begun in 1825 and completed in 1832, the canal connected Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, to Portsmouth on the Ohio River. More importantly, this was but one link in a global chain of waterways that stretched from European ports to New York and then via the Hudson River and the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes. From Portsmouth, trade continued via the Ohio River to Cincinnati, St. Louis, and eventually New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico.
Ohio Canals Map courtesy

Investors and entrepreneurs quickly realized that Cleveland presented enormous opportunities. It became a transshipment point for manufactured goods from Europe and the eastern US to the rapidly developing Midwestern frontier. It also was a point where commodities produced on the farms in the Midwest could be purchased wholesale and then brokered to buyers in Ohio and the East. What Moses Cleaveland had envisioned as a mercantile town serving farmers and farm communities in the surrounding area soon became a mercantile town with trade extending far beyond the immediate hinterland. The ways in which location and transportation spurred economic growth were multiple. As the population continued to increase, land prices in the city rose and land speculators prospered. Builders and tradespeople arrived to serve the community’s needs and artisans and laborers came to make consumer products and to take on the heavy work of unloading and loading boats and clearing additional land. Farmers also settled in areas that are now a part of the twenty-first century city’s suburban landscape. While the earlier settlers were mostly from New England and New York, those who followed, beginning in the 1820s, were in large part immigrants from Europe. By 1860, on the eve of the American Civil War, Cleveland had a population of 43,417, of which over 40% was of foreign birth, largely from Ireland, the British Isles and the German states and principalities.

New migrants to the city, whether from abroad or the rural hinterlands, supplied not only labor and skills, but often brought with them ideas that would continue the transformation of the community. Several deserve to be singled out because of their impact on the area’s economic development.

Young John D. Rockefeller courtesy wikimedia

Alfred Kelly, a lawyer who migrated from New York in 1810, played the principal role in advocating for the Ohio and Erie Canal and overseeing its construction. As noted earlier, that project positioned Cleveland for growth on a scale far beyond that expected by its founders. The potential of the community attracted young entrepreneurs, one of them being John D. Rockefeller, who moved to the area in 1853. Following his graduation from Central High School he attended a local business college and then became a bookkeeper in a commodities house. With its canal and lake transport systems, and, by the 1850s, a growing network of rail connections, Cleveland had evolved into a major trading center for grain, cloth, salt, and various other commodities central to life in the mid-nineteenth century. Rockefeller would eventually become a partner in his own commission house just before the Civil War. That conflict, which vastly increased the need for commodities, such as food, wood, and wool, provided the basis for his fortune, a fortune that increased exponentially when he began to deal with a new commodity, oil.

Rockefeller’s interest in oil can be seen as one of the key moments in the area’s transformation from a mercantile to an industrial city: that is, from an economy in which goods are bought and sold, to one in which they are manufactured. Central to that transformation were new, disruptive technologies. Key among them were railroads. Railroads freed the economy from dependence on water transport (which was unusable in the winter) and poor roads and inefficient horse and wagon transport. It was a railroad linking Cleveland to the oil fields of Pennsylvania that helped to make Rockefeller’s new industry possible, along with the development of new methods to “crack” raw petroleum by separating it into constituent components such as kerosene and paraffin, each of which provided important new fuels for lighting. The need for sulfuric acid in the cracking process lured chemist Eugene Grasselli to Cleveland in 1857, thus laying the basis for a chemical industry that would later make possible the paint and varnish manufacturing companies led by Henry Sherwin, Edward Williams, and Francis Glidden.

The rail network, which expanded enormously in the 1850s, allowed two other migrants to further transform the economy. David and John Jones had learned ironworking in the Dowlais Mill in Glamorganshire, South Wales. They brought their skills to the United States, first practicing their trade in Pennsylvania. In 1857 they opened their own mill in Newburgh, just southeast of Cleveland. The mill was situated along the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad, which provided access to coal from southern Ohio and iron ore from the upper Great Lakes region via the port of Cleveland. The growing needs of the railroads for iron rails and other iron products was central to the economic equation that linked immigrant skills with raw materials and transportation.

As was the case with Rockefeller’s commission business, the Civil War served to catalyze industrial development in Cleveland. It also created a cadre of very wealthy individuals whose political and economic influence over the community would continue for decades. Crisfield Johnson in his 1879 history of Cuyahoga County succinctly noted: “…the war found Cleveland a commercial city and left it a manufacturing city. Not that it ceased to do a great deal of commercial business, but the predominant interests had become the manufacturing ones.” During the war the city’s population increased by nearly one third, from 43,417 in 1860 to 67,500 in 1866.

Industry would become Cleveland’s raison d’être during the post-Civil War period and remain at the core of its economy for nearly a century. The patterns of migration and entrepreneurship evidenced in the years before the war would be replicated and multiplied decade after decade. New products—nuts, bolts, screws, sewing machines, bicycles, automobiles, and even aircraft—would be flowing from the city’s factories by the 1920s. New disruptive technologies, such as electrical power would challenge old and established ones as inventors such as Charles F. Brush created dynamos and electric arc lighting for the city. As industry grew to dominate the economy, it also drove the concurrent development of banking and corporate law.

Brush Electric Light Station circa 1880 ©2008 IEEE

The city’s post-Civil War industrialization coincided with major changes in migration patterns, both globally and within the United States. By the 1880s the predominant movement out of Europe had shifted from the northern and western parts of the continent to the central, eastern and southern sections. Cleveland, which had begun to diversify from its New England roots with the addition of Irish, German and British-born individuals to its population in the years before the Civil War, now saw the arrival of Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Slovenes, Croatians and dozens of other nationalities and ethnicities to its population. By the mid-1870s, the equality that had been promised to freed African-Americans in the post-war South had been replaced with new forms of oppression and economic hardship. They began a mass movement out of the South known as the Great Migration during the latter years of the nineteenth century arriving in northern industrial cities at the same time as thousands of European immigrants. What Cleveland offered, as did many other industrial cities in the north, was economic opportunity and the promise of equality.

The labor needs of the city’s growing industries were huge. By 1920 they employed 157,730 people and produced products valued at over one billion dollars. Cleveland’s industrial production ranked fifth among American cities and, coincidentally, its population of nearly 800,000 ranked it fifth as well. Of that population, two thirds were of foreign parentage or foreign birth, representing twenty-nine distinct nationalities. This transformation had occurred, essentially, in one century, from 1820 to 1920.

By 1920 Cleveland already had in place many of those attributes that now comprise part of its contemporary image. It had established major cultural institutions including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra. It had begun to address environmental issues with a growing system of parks and parkways. Its Community Chest, the forerunner of United Way, had unified and systematized charitable giving, and the Cleveland Foundation, the first community trust in the world, served as a paradigm for modern philanthropy. Within the realm of education, its public school system was well on its way to national recognition, and Western Reserve University and the Case School of Applied Sciences anchored the academic-cultural district that had become known as University Circle. Its system of government and the manner in which government worked with business was viewed as a progressive model for the nation, one that had created the Group Plan of public buildings and had, after some contention, modernized and systematized its urban transit system.

All of these markers of civilization and forward thinking were consequences of the enormous changes the community had undergone in the previous century. They came about both because the wealth generated during that period supported their creation and, in many instances, because they addressed major social and economic issues that arose in the wake of industrialization. If many of the inventions and industrial processes that moved Cleveland forward could be viewed as disruptive in the technological sense, so too were their effects on the community. Equally disruptive was the rapid growth in population and size of the city — far beyond that which had occurred in the eighteenth century. Compounding all of this was the diversity of the population. The only tools the community had at hand to deal with such issues in the early years of change were those that derived from the social and religious structure of the relatively homogeneous pre-industrial communities of colonial America.

When the community began to expand during the 1820s and 1830s it turned to such traditional systems to deal with issues such as poverty, health care, the need for public education, and general civic well-being. Those systems, in substantial part, were carried over within the New England model on which the city was based. Charity, for example, emanated largely from the church. Later, as was usual in early America, a community poorhouse was opened to house the indigent. It was one of the few governmental contributions to what we now call social welfare. But as the city grew larger and, importantly, religiously and demographically diverse in the 1840s and 1850s, the problems grew both in scale and complexity. Orphan homes, which became common in the nineteenth century (replacing the tradition of relatives taking in children) multiplied: not only because of a larger number of orphans but also because of religion. By the 1860s Cleveland would have separate agencies for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish orphans. When it became necessary to take care of the elderly, the poorhouse, which had in part taken the place of the family, was augmented and eventually replaced by homes for the aged. In Cleveland, these were subdivided by religion and ethnicity. By century’s end the city had homes for the Protestant, Catholic, African-American, Scottish, German, and Jewish aged.

Continued growth and diversification of population also challenged established forms of community governance. Cleveland, which officially became a village in 1815 and then a city in 1836, was bound by state regulations in regard to how it could structure its government. The state-dictated structure was ideal for small communities, but not flexible enough for growing urban centers. As the city expanded in the years after the Civil War, it struggled to accommodate growing needs for police and fire protection, for adequate operating revenues, and for a truly representative legislative structure within the bounds those regulations imposed. By the end of the nineteenth century many saw Cleveland, and other growing industrial communities, as divorced from the rurally focused state government.

Growth also had severe consequences for the environment. The city’s waterfront was given over to the railroads in the 1850s; its river became a convenient dumping ground for industrial waste products. In 1881 Mayor Rensselaer Herrick characterized the Cuyahoga River as “an open sewer through the center of the city.” The lake, which comprised the chief source of drinking water, became increasingly polluted — so much so that by the early twentieth century the water intake had to be placed 26,000 feet offshore to insure a clean supply of water. Within the city living conditions worsened as migrants and immigrants arrived in ever larger numbers. The city’s population would, for example, more than double in the twenty years between 1900 and 1920. Although part of the increase came through the annexation of surrounding communities such as Glenville, the bulk was from in-migration, which put a severe strain on housing and infrastructure such as water and sewers. The Haymarket and Lower Woodland, two areas close to the central city, were not only severely overcrowded, they were environmental wastelands. Yards and parks were nearly nonexistent. Outdoor privies remained the rule and bathing facilities were rare—in the sixteenth ward, home to 7,728 people, there were only eighty-seven bathtubs. One immigrant Italian mother, upon being given flowers by a social worker, noted that they were the first she had seen in America. Perhaps that was an overstatement, but it was nonetheless true that Cleveland, which had prided itself on being called “the Forest City,” had in fact been losing many of its trees to airborne pollution for years. The quick and easy solution was to replace the trees with hardier species and not to deal directly with the main issue. At this point in the city’s history, the need to do business trumped all calls for smoke abatement or ending the use of the river as a disposal system for local industry.

Newburgh Open Hearths circa 1860 (Photo by The Cleveland Public Library)

Beyond these specific issues, perhaps the overriding consequence of the city’s rapid growth was the challenge it presented to the sense of Cleveland as a single community. That it had been, albeit for a relatively short period in the early 1800s, but by the 1840s there were already divisions. As industry and commerce grew the Flats, that area along the river became the least desirable residential area in the city. Known as the “under the hill” district, it was home to the poor, a number of whom were Irish Catholics. The houses of the wealthier residents, in contrast, were located on top of the hill in what is today’s Warehouse District. A separate city, the City of Ohio, existed across the river valley, a fairly formidable obstacle to cross at that time.

The situation would be far more complex by the early 1900s. Dozens of migrant and immigrant neighborhoods grew up around the manufacturing plants in which the immigrants worked. The plants generally were sited on the rail lines that spread away from the central city In an era before cheap, relatively quick public transportation became available, people lived where they could walk to work. Migration chains created a preponderance of one nationality or another in these areas. The neighborhoods were largely self-sufficient, with their own churches or synagogues, and stores selling familiar goods in which the owners spoke the language of the district. Cleveland was, in reality, a series of communities defined by ethnicity, religion and economic status, and the communities’ names — Karlin, Warszawa, Praha, Dutch Hill, Little Italy, Big Italy, Poznan — testified to their particularistic identities. To many observers, they were foreign entities sitting within an American city.

Sylvester T. Everett mansion on Euclid Avenue (since demolished) Schweinfurth ca. 1885-1895, courtesy of Cornell University Library

These factory neighborhoods existed in stark contrast to Euclid Avenue, whose mansions housed the individuals made wealthy by the burgeoning industrial economy. The homes on Euclid Avenue stretched for miles, from the eastern edge of downtown nearly all the way to University Circle. A youngster from the lower Woodland Avenue immigrant neighborhood marveled at the structures when he was on a field trip sponsored by a local social settlement. He thought the houses were all schools, since the only building he knew of that rivaled the homes in size was his school.

Underneath these very visible differences was a major fault line, one which stretched through every industrial city in the United States. It was the line that divided labor and capital. Beginning in the 1870s, Cleveland witnessed a number of strikes, many accompanied by violence. Workers at Rockefeller’s Standard Oil refinery struck in 1877. Two violent strikes occurred at the Cleveland Rolling Mills in 1882 and 1885, and in 1899 troops were called out to control a strike on the city’s streetcar lines. Such struggles over the rights of labor and capital usually had political overtones, with some individuals advocating governmental and economic solutions from outside the American system. Socialists and anarchists were involved in the Standard Oil and Rolling Mill strikes. Indeed, there was a growing “radical” segment in the city’s population. Charles Ruthenberg ran credible campaigns for mayor as a Socialist. Socialists in the Czech community established a newspaper, a summer camp, and a gymnastic organization. A young, mentally unbalanced Polish-American from the Warszawa neighborhood, Leon Czolgosz, fancied himself an anarchist and in 1901 assassinated President William McKinley. Events such as these unnerved many Clevelanders and raised the specter of a social revolution. Indeed, one Clevelander wrote a novel, The Breadwinners, which focused on a labor revolt in the mythical city of Buffland. The author was John Hay, a former secretary to Abraham Lincoln, and the husband of Clara Stone, a daughter of railroad magnate Amasa Stone. Like his in-laws, he was a resident of Euclid Avenue.

Cleveland was not alone in confronting the consequences of industrialization. It was a national crisis. Excesses of wealth characterized the American Gilded Age. Labor violence, poverty, and a sense of a lost national identity were hallmarks of the period from 1870 to World War I. Historian Robert Wiebe has characterized this period as one in which Americans engaged in a “search for order” — that is, ways to create cohesion within a geographically huge and increasingly diverse nation-state and to make rapidly evolving systems of charity and governance, as well as emerging professions, more orderly. What is remarkable about Cleveland is the manner in which it pursued its own search for order. Its success in coming to terms with the new “urban normal” during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was nationally recognized then and today. That success remains part of the city’s image.

As was the case in its industrial development, several individuals can be seen as representative of the city’s approach to reform in what we term the Progressive Era.

The pivotal figure is Tom L. Johnson, whose statue, as noted at the beginning of this essay, now stands on the city’s Public Square (a second statue of Johnson can also be found on the grounds of the Western Reserve Historical Society). Johnson was an entrepreneur and his interests lay in urban transportation. He was one of many individuals who capitalized on the need to provide effective transportation in America’s growing cities. That transport took the form of street railways—initially horse drawn, then cable driven and finally electrically powered. By the time he arrived in Cleveland around 1883, Johnson had become wealthy through investments in street railways around the country—possible at that time, since such enterprises were private, not municipal. It was a lucrative but often shady business, for entrepreneurs such as Johnson needed to secure legislative permission to build and operate street railway franchises. That permission often came only after bribes were paid and deals were struck with the right politicians. Johnson could work the system as well as any man — and he became very wealthy doing so. But Tom L. Johnson had what might be called a conversion experience, and as a consequence he became an outspoken advocate of reform. He read the works of the single-tax reformer Henry George and began to question the system that had made him wealthy. He entered politics in order to effect the reforms he believed in. He served two terms in the US House of Representatives and in 1901 became the major of Cleveland, serving in that office for eight years.

Johnson worked to secure the municipal ownership of utilities, including urban transit, and he espoused the concept of professionalism in governance. He filled his mayoral administration with people who had expertise as managers, rather than political connections. His appointees included a young lawyer from West Virginia, Newton D. Baker, and Peter Witt, a former foundry worker and union advocate. Together, Johnson and his cabinet reformed the police force, modernized the water supply system, updated the prison system, and forwarded the cause of municipal ownership. He constantly challenged the state-mandated structure for municipal governance and pushed for home rule—that is, the right of a city like Cleveland to structure its own government to best meet its needs. Nationally recognized journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote, “Johnson is the best mayor of the best-governed city in America.”

While Johnson often offended the wealthier segment of the population, a group to which he belonged and with which he associated, that segment of the population was nonetheless also moving toward reform, most notably in the area of philanthropy. As wealth grew in the city in the mid-nineteenth century, those who had acquired it often donated some of it to benefit the community. Much of this followed in the tradition fostered by the religious groups to which the wealthy belonged. However, the scope of their gifts far exceeded what had once been considered as normal charity. John D. Rockefeller, a Baptist, was a prime example. He began to make charitable donations from the time he received his first pay as an employee of the commission merchants Hewitt and Tuttle. As he grew wealthier his gifts increased in both number and size. Eventually, his fortune would become the basis of a foundation that systematized the distribution of funds. Unfortunately, he was by that time no longer a full-time resident of Cleveland. Other similar, individual charitable endeavors were numerous. Jeptha Wade gave part of his private parkland to the city. William J. Gordon did likewise. Members of the Severance family helped create the rich cultural life that the city still enjoys through their donations to art and music. The Mather family was at the forefront in the support of higher education at Western Reserve University, health care at what would become University Hospitals, and assistance to the inner city with gifts to settlement houses such as Hiram House and Goodrich House. Those who had achieved wealth and status supported the increasing needs of the city, be they educational, social welfare or cultural. While some of these gifts derived from the particular donor’s religious affiliation and beliefs and others from a particular cultural avocation, such as music or fine art, all were given in a time before tax deductions provided a fiscal reward for personal altruism.

Yet, the needs of the city were so vast that the wealthy felt hard pressed as to where to place their benevolence. Judgment as to what was worthy, effective, and legitimate needed to be made when request after request came to the doors on Euclid Avenue. A system was needed—and Cleveland’s leading industrialists and entrepreneurs were strong advocates of rationalized processes of production and what would become “scientific management.” They would apply that mindset to charitable giving as well, and in doing so create another historical landmark for the city.

This drive for efficiency in production and modernization in industrial processes was strongly reflected in the city’s Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, as a modern progressive body, helped transform the city as much as did Johnson’s administration. The Chamber served as the principal advocate for foster economic growth in Cleveland, and its minute books from the early twentieth century indicate how rationally and methodically it approached this goal. But the members of the Chamber also realized that business could not prosper in a community that was not healthy, cohesive, and politically stable. They needed to provide a viable alternative to counter proposed solutions such as socialism. To this end, they proceeded to attempt to organize, stabilize and regularize the workings of the often chaotic city. The Chamber’s Committee on Benevolent Associations, established in 1903, would develop into the Community Chest and eventually the United Way campaign, which unified charitable giving and also rationalized (through the Cleveland Welfare Federation) the distribution of the funds it raised. In addition, the Chamber created the basis for housing code legislation which would help end overcrowding and shoddy construction. Its activities also encompassed a committee to study the need for bathhouses in an inner city largely devoid of indoor plumbing.

Although often violently in disagreement, the businessmen represented by the Chamber and the Johnson administration often shared goals. Certainly, business interests fought Johnson on the issue of municipal ownership. Indeed, Johnson’s ardent support of municipal transit and the staunch opposition to it would cost him his mayoral career and even arguably lead to his early death. Yet, the desire on the part of both parties to find a workable solution to the problems of the industrial city often placed them in partnership. The Group Plan, which resulted in the construction of the Mall (which replaced a decrepit section of the city with a nationally significant grouping of public buildings), was one such example, as was the desire to replace politicians in municipal administrative positions with experts who could rationally manage the functions held by the government. This alignment between sometimes starry-eyed political reformers and the business community of Cleveland has endured, albeit with some rough passages, for over a century.

The Group Plan courtesy The D.H. Ellison Company

Recognizing this drive for a system to manage the urban city provides the key to understanding what happened in Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century and during the next two decades. One can find examples of Taylorism, or scientific management, everywhere. Frederick Goff, a banker who played a leading role in establishing the Cleveland Trust Company through the consolidation of an assortment of regional banks, also rationalized the system of philanthropic bequests. His Cleveland Foundation set a standard for melding multiple bequests into an independently administered fund that could be used to deal with larger issues and to insure that those funds met the needs existent at any given time within the community. William Stinchcomb, an engineer for the city’s Parks Department, took a holistic view of parks and created a unified system now referred to as the Emerald Necklace, a series of parks encircling the Cleveland area. Even social work, once the purview of individuals with a strong desire to help their fellow citizens, became regularized when Western Reserve University established its School of Applied Social Work to train those who wished to serve.

Stinchcomb's Emerald Necklace courtesy of Friends of Big Creek

It was with these systems — a rationalized approach to civic issues and a public-private partnership—that Cleveland entered the 1920s. Implicit was an assumption that the industrial economy upon which the community had built its own city on a hill would endure. However, within four decades, that notion would, as was the case with the assumptions made by Moses Cleaveland and the early pioneers, be tested by the development of unforeseen economic changes— in this instance the development of a truly globalized economy.


In 2009, a century after the height of the Progressive Era reforms, Cleveland, with an estimated population of 431,363, ranked as the nation’s 43rd largest city, two steps above its rank in 1840, when it had been the country’s 45th largest city. Its primary employment areas were in health care, research and the service economy. Industry, while still apparent, was no longer the key economic underpinning of the city. Ranked among the most poverty-stricken areas in the nation and characterized by a problematic racial divide, it seemed that the city had moved back in time rather than forward. What had happened — how had the Progressive reformers followed Moses Cleaveland in misinterpreting the community’s future? Or had they?

It can be argued that by 1920, the community’s industrial era had only one more decade to endure. Cleveland’s industries may have roared during the 1920s, but they nearly collapsed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. At times during the Depression as much as 30% of the workforce was unemployed. While the Depression was the ultimate working person’s crisis, it also served, under the guidance of the Roosevelt administration, to provide the impetus to legitimize the worker’s right to unionize. When jobs returned, they often came with wage levels and benefits that labor had long sought. Only with the advent of World War II did full employment return. Highly unionized industrial jobs survived after the war, supported in large part by the fact that major global competitors, both prior (Germany) and potential (Japan), had been decimated by the conflict. However, by the late 1960s Cleveland, along with other industrial centers in the Great Lakes region, began to lose jobs to more competitive locales both within and outside the United States.

Certainly, the civic and business leadership of the 1920s could not have clearly foreseen the future—otherwise they would have sold short in 1929 and reinvested heavily in the late 1930s. But, there were signs all around them that presaged enormous and challenging changes in the years to come [—changes whose general nature could be divined to some extent, even if the specific debacle of the market crash and the subsequent temporary renaissance of Cleveland as an industrial city could not have been predicted. And by and large, the leadership remained oblivious to these signs].

That impending change was exemplified in the careers of Mantis J. and Oris P. Van Sweringen, real estate dealers who not only created Shaker Heights as a landmark in American suburban development, but also reshaped the core of the downtown area with the construction of the Terminal Tower complex. Essentially, the Van Sweringens were the successors to the Connecticut Land Company. They bought, developed and sold vast tracts of land outside of the central city. They were not alone: real estate was a booming local industry in the early twentieth century, both because the city’s growing population needed new home sites and also because many people were by this time striving to escape the central city. While such individuals’ motivations can never be clearly defined, they rested upon the desire for something better—better in the sense of greener, in the sense of larger, and in the sense of being away from the unpleasant, which might be categorized as smoke, pollution, and people not like them.

Shaker Village: Yesterday, Today and Forever, Cleveland State University Collection

What was even more important about these new suburban developments is that they were planned to be separate from Cleveland. The city’s growth during the later nineteenth century came about in substantial part through the annexation of previously independent outlying communities. Those communities wanted to link to the city and its services. Yet in the first two decades of the twentieth century four major communities—East Cleveland, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, and Shaker Heights—were established as separate corporate entities along Cleveland’s borders. In the decades that followed, particularly after World War II, the creation of discrete suburban communities would increase substantially. The process was and remains a rejection of the central city based, one might argue, on its political culture, its polluted landscape, and the nature of its population.

Transportation, the key component enabling suburban expansion, also presaged a different future for Cleveland. For nearly a century, Cleveland’s industrial hegemony was virtually locked in by its access to water transport and major rail lines. However, by the late 1920s automotive and truck transport had grown in importance. By the 1930s new roads and highways were being built, some with the aid of federal WPA dollars. After the war the network would expand enormously with the construction of the interstate system. Now freer to relocate, many industries left for more modern facilities in the distant suburbs or, often, for the lower wage rates and non-unionized labor available southern states. Eventually, some would decamp to places outside the boundaries of the United States.

The city’s leadership during the 1920s also witnessed the beginning of a major demographic change in the city, one that would challenge its attempts to promote harmony and cooperation among its many ethnic communities. Ironically, the process of building harmony within a diverse population was apparently well under way during the 1920s, symbolized most tangibly by the establishment of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. While many American cities promoted a strong 100% American agenda during World War I and the decade thereafter, Cleveland stood apart by creating public programs that allowed various communities to retain and celebrate aspects of their heritage in a public manner. They included folk festivals near the Cleveland Museum of Art, the accumulation of a strong folk arts collection by that agency, and the series of Cultural Gardens stretching along what was then called Liberty Row as a memorial to Clevelanders who died in the war. All were initiatives sanctioned by either the local government or those who oversaw the community’s cultural agenda.

The black waiting room in 1921, Lost Jacsonville

The real irony of this was that the movement to Cleveland of Europeans, whose cultures were the focus of these programs, began to wane at the outbreak of World War I and then was largely ended by restrictive immigration legislation in the early 1920s. Their place as laborers was taken up in substantial part by African American migrants. Cleveland’s black population grew as a consequence of the Great Migration from the South. It stood at 2,062 in 1900, increased to 8,447 a decade later, and by 1920 had risen to 34,451. Within the next decade it would more than double, to 71,899. African Americans had always been present in the region. Indeed, during the antebellum period, the city’s New England roots made it a bastion of antislavery sentiment and a stop on the Underground Railroad. At that point Cleveland was a place where a free African American was treated with reasonable equality. Within four decades after the Civil War had ended, this tolerance was being eroded by growing racial bias. When large numbers of blacks arrived in Cleveland during and after World War I, they found themselves segregated into the Cedar Central area, with their economic opportunities limited by prejudice. Absent European migration and given the increasing need for workers during the Second World War, the black population again expanded during what is known as the Second Great Migration, growing to 147,850 in 1950, and rising to 250,818 at the beginning of the 1960s. The racial division in the city, combined with a declining economy, led to the Hough riots of 1966 and the Glenville shootout of 1968, the /most intense episodes of communitarian violence in the city’s history. At that time, the Cultural Gardens, adjacent to both neighborhoods, lacked a site that specifically honored African-American heritage.

Racial tension, out-migration to the suburbs, and the loss of industry made the 1960s and 1970s one of the most complex periods in the city’s history. Cleveland’s population peaked at 914,808 in 1950. Twenty years later it was 573,822. During this same period, the population of Cuyahoga County, excluding Cleveland, rose from 474,724 to 924,578. Manufacturing employment reached its highest point in 1969, and then declined by one third over the following twenty-one years. The impact of out-migration and loss of industry on tax revenues was considerable. In 1978 the city defaulted on $14,000,000 in loans to six local banks.

In many ways the decades of the 1960s and 1970s were as significant an historical watershed for the community as the decades centered on the Civil War. Both marked transitions, each of which was problematic. While in retrospect one can see the switch to an industrial economy as the beginning of a local golden age, it needs to be remembered that wrenching change occurred because of this shift. We easily forget about farmers and skilled independent producers such as shoemakers, blacksmiths, and seamstresses whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by industrial production. Indeed, we celebrate the image-building consequences—governmental reform, private-public partnership, philanthropy, modern social services, and a strong cultural infrastructure—which were catalyzed by disruptive industrialization.

In many ways, but not all, these community assets have assisted the city and region in moving forward in their search for a new economic basis and social stability Tangible entities, such as community centers and foundations—most particularly the Cleveland and Gund Foundations—have played significant roles in areas such as neighborhood redevelopment, the fostering of intercultural relations, and the provision of feasibility studies or seed funding for entrepreneurs and businesses. Importantly, some of the not-for-profit entities created by the wealth of the industrial period have emerged as major players in the new economy. Modern health care, perhaps the key “industry” in twenty-first-century Cleveland, has its roots in voluntary organizations such as the Ladies Aid Society of Old Stone Church, and the benevolence of industrialist-philanthropists such as Samuel Mather: the former laid the groundwork and the latter then helped secure the funds for the growth and modernization of what is now University Hospitals of Cleveland. Cultural institutions such as the orchestra, art museum, and natural history museum help to make University Circle a tourist destination at a time when tourism and the service industries that support it are seen as critical economic contributors to post-industrial Cleveland. Additionally, non-industrial entities such as corporate law firms and banks, which were created to serve the industrial expansion, continue as active and important components of the service economy.

It can also be argued that the intangible aspects of the city’s image can catalyze actions that benefit the community in times of crisis. Despite the intense local racial divide in the twentieth century, a tradition of liberality seems to have continued. It led to the establishment of fair employment practices legislation in the late 1940s; played a significant role in the election of Carl B. Stokes as mayor—the first African American mayor of a major US city—in 1967, and underpinned the creation of organizations such as the Lomond and Ludlow associations, which worked to insure desegregation and a balanced population mix in two neighborhoods in the once exclusive suburb of Shaker Heights. Altruism seems almost ingrained in the community’s psyche. Some would claim it derives from the tradition of stewardship brought to the region by the early Protestant settlers from New England. Today, thanks to that tradition, fortified by similar impulses in the Catholic, Jewish, and non-Judeo Christian communities, and abetted by a variety of federal laws, Cleveland and northeastern Ohio are home to dozens of philanthropic foundations, both private and corporate.

Yet, the issue posited at the beginning of this chapter still looms for Cleveland and northeastern Ohio. Cities are economic entities, and those attributes of civilization that come to make up their public image or persona are the consequences of vibrant economies. The wealth created in Cleveland and northeastern Ohio during the region’s industrial apogee was enormous, so much so that it has continued to support culture, charity, and education up to the present. The question remains as to how long the residue of that wealth can continue to support communal needs and cultural amenities, and also whether prosperity generated by the evolving medical and service economy can make up for any loss and secondarily, even increase the legacy generated by the industrial period. There is reason to be sanguine here, for if one carefully reads the names on new buildings in educational, cultural, and medical complexes, one sees a shift to surnames that do not reflect the heritage, both ethnic and entrepreneurial, of nineteenth-century industrialists. Rather, they belong to individuals whose migration stories are more recent and whose fortunes were created, in part, in real estate, building, and finance.

If there is one matter that tends to lessen this sanguinity, it is the matter of definition—definition of the community in terms of legal boundaries and demographic composition. The essential economic substructure of the community tells us that “Cleveland” is more than the area within the city’s borders. Interestingly, the broader economic community today roughly fills the outline of what Connecticut held as its Western Reserve. Similarly, the amenities of Cleveland, the city, are enjoyed by an audience that lives throughout the region— sports teams belong to residents not only of Cleveland but all of northeastern Ohio as do its orchestra, art museum, and other cultural treasures. Major health care providers centered in the city operate branches throughout the region. Despite this regional unity based on economics and shared amenities, there is still a struggle to develop a coordinated approach to governance, education, and policy. The movement toward regional government, which began in the 1930s, is an unfinished item from the early post-progressive agenda. There have been successful efforts toward regionalism in the park system, water and sewage, and public transit which have extended such services beyond the city’s boundaries. However, the economic, ethnic and racial divisions that endure within Cleveland and its surrounding communities complicate any move to a system of governance that would have pleased those who made Cleveland an efficient city and a national model some one hundred years ago.

The Public Square of Cleveland has, true to its New England origins, endured as a communal area for over two centuries. It has been in turn a village commons, the “Monumental Square” of a growing mercantile center, and the busy hub of the fifth largest city in the nation. Yet, it has remained geographically intact through major, and for many individuals, cataclysmic changes in the community’s economy. It is surrounded by buildings that seem to show that the city and the community can deal with vast demographic change. First Presbyterian Church stands near the Metzenbaum Court House, named after a Jewish US Senator; near the Square are the Lausche State office building, named after a Slovenian mayor, governor, and senator, and just beyond it, the Stokes Federal Courthouse, named after another mayor, the grandson of a slave. These buildings have a potent symbolism, one that is reflected even more strongly in the diversity of the crowds who come to the Square on July 4th to hear the annual open-air concert by world-famous Cleveland Orchestra. These symbols auger for what needs to come next to insure that the community survives. It is not so much the move to a new economic base: that is already largely underway. It is the need to move beyond the parochial and to construct a functional regional community— a twenty-first century Western Reserve which identifies with its economic cohesiveness and fully accepts, rather than simply celebrates its global heritage.


John J. Grabowski holds a joint position as the Krieger-Mueller Historian and Vice President for Collections at the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History at Case Western Reserve University. He has been with the Society in various positions in its library and museum since 1969. In addition to teaching at CWRU he serves as the editor of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and The Dictionary of Cleveland Biography, both of which are available on-line on the World Wide Web ( He has also taught at Cleveland State University, Kent State University, and Cuyahoga Community College. During the 1996-1997 and 2004-2005 academic years he served as a senior Fulbright lecturer at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Dr. Grabowski received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in history from Case Western Reserve University. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Cleveland Overview aggregation

1 Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski
2 Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski (.pdf version)
3 “A Quiet Crisis” Important 2001 Plain Dealer Series About Northeast Ohio
4 History of Cleveland from Wikipedia
5 Cleveland Economic History -The First 200 Years (Documentary)
6 Politics through the 1980s
7 Overview of Cleveland Government 1787-1990
8 Industry through the 1980s
9 Economic History of Cleveland from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
10 “Cleveland; The Making of a City” by William Ganson Rose
11 Cleveland: The Making and Remaking of an American City, 1796-1993
12 The long road to recovery from the recession of 2007: December 2009 update
13 Re-Thinking the Future of Cleveland’s Neighborhood Developers: Interim Report
14 “The History of the State of Ohio” by Carl Wittke 1942 (5 Volumes)
15 “Making Sense of Place” Video from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Immigration by Elizabeth Sullivan

Elizabeth Sullivan, who received a BA and MA in Russian and East European Studies from Yale University, started at The Plain Dealer in 1979 as a business reporter. She served in a variety of local and overseas reporting capacities, with one earlier stint as an editorial writer, before rejoining the editorial board in 2003 as an associate editor and foreign affairs columnist. In 2009, Sullivan was named editor of the editorial pages. Additionally, Sullivan writes many of the newspaper’s editorials on energy, international and national security topics.

The link is here

Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski (.pdf version)

Dr. John J. Grabowski holds a joint position as the Krieger-Mueller Historian and Vice President for Collections at the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History at Case Western Reserve University. He has been with the Society in various positions in its library and museum since 1969. In addition to teaching at CWRU he serves as the editor of The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and The Dictionary of Cleveland Biography, both of which are available on-line on the World Wide Web ( He has also taught at Cleveland State University, Kent State University, and Cuyahoga Community College. During the 1996-1997 and 2004-2005 academic years he served as a senior Fulbright lecturer at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Dr. Grabowski received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in history from Case Western Reserve University. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

The link is here

“A Quiet Crisis” Important 2001 Plain Dealer Series About Northeast Ohio

“The Quiet Crisis”. An important series of articles created in 2001 by the Plain Dealer
Most of the links below have been disabled. Some new versions are here

The link is here  (disabled)

Some of the links from the articles below can be found here

Here are some of the article links:

» Roundtable: Regional cooperation key to survival

» Brent Larkin: Quiet Crisis not so quiet anymore

» Doug Clifton: Region’s needs won’t wait any longer

» Joe Frolik: Northeast Ohio must shape up to contend again

» Roundtable: Where are the new paths to prosperity?

Chattanooga vs. Cleveland: Comparing the comebacks

» On the waterfront

» Dick Feagler: Cleveland not hip? Perish the thought 

» Letters: Hip city makeover would attract workers 

» ‘Comeback City’ fights old-shoe image 

» St. Louis learns, leapfrogs over Cleveland in efforts to market itself 

» Losing our lifeblood

» Cleveland vs. other cities

» Mark S. Rosentraub: Make the city family-friendly

» Joe Frolick: Who’ll lead the region out of its crisis?

» Edmund Adams: Don’t let DeRolph derail the future

» Brent Larkin: Ohio and this region need Taft to find his nerve

Letters: It’s time to get growing again – but not only in Cleveland 

» Brent Larkin: Airport deal in peril

» Cleveland economy growing, but barely

An untapped industry could give Cleveland the vibrancy it needs 

» Panel discussion: Getting down to the arts business

» Panel discussion: The fine art of taxing to support culture

» Panel discussion: Bridging arts and enterprise

» Joe Frolik: The arts & the future

An untapped industry could give Cleveland the vibrancy it needs 

» Panel discussion: Getting down to the arts business

» Panel discussion: The fine art of taxing to support culture

» Panel discussion: Bridging arts and enterprise

» Joe Frolik: The arts & the future

Joe Frolik: Crossing the town-gown gap | Building ties | Building trust

» Greater Cleveland’s cloudy future

» Joe Frolik: Making business feel at home

» Editorial: Light ahead?

» Joe Frolik: A role model for homesteaders

» Joe Frolik: A leap of faith

Panel discussions:

» Finding the right people

» High-tech strategy

» The foundation for success

» First, region must learn

» Making success happen

» Editorial: A helpful push

» Donald T. Iannone: Regional cooperation isn’t enough

» Brent Larkin: The port in a storm

» Policies that cross city boundaries can spur economy

» Richard Shatten: The picture of a losing region

» Joe Frolik: Turn an asset – diversity – into an economic catalyst

» Editorial: The chronic crisis

» Northeast Ohio drives toward uncertain future

Dave Lazor: Nurture upstarts

» Joe Frolik: NE Ohio appeals to entrepreneurs, but can do more

» Reversing the Quiet Crisis with a business buzz

» Beginning the buzz

Joe Frolik: The high-tech route to City Hall 

Biosciences: The next big thing or one of many

» Biotech incubator sets high standards

» Panel discussion: Commercial research inspires the classroom

» Panel discussion: Getting ideas out of the ivory tower

» Joe Frolik: Research links science with economic impact

» Panel discussion: A key strategy: Go for the research stars

» Universities need to court top-tier researchers

Panel discussion: Failure is easy to spot

» Panel discussion: Public vs. private

» Panel discussion: Like a corporation, only better

» Richard J. Scaldini: A legion of liberal arts grads

» Brent Larkin: Unappreciated, a native son packs his bags

» Brent Larkin: Losing by degrees

» Planning always pays off

» Penny-wise Ohio is not playing to win

» Short-changing Ohio’s future

» Ohio’s economy is losing by degrees

» Joe Frolik: Higher education’s slippage throws Ohio into a vicious cycle


Politics through the 1980s

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here

POLITICS. For most of its history, Cleveland has been governed much like other American cities. A mayor elected at large and a council chosen by wards have usually constituted the formal instruments of administration and legislation, while a multiplicity of private groups have sought to influence the direction of public policy. With some exceptions, Cleveland’s mayors before World War II were business and professional men of old-stock Protestant ancestry. Those who were 2nd-generation Americans, such as HARRY L. DAVIS† and FRED KOHLER†, were Protestants whose fathers came from Wales and Germany, respectively. The election of FRANK LAUSCHE† in 1941 brought Catholic and Slovenian background to the mayoralty, and since Lausche, Cleveland’s mayors have come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and from the black community (see AFRICAN AMERICANS). Ward elections made the council reflect the ethnic diversity of the city much earlier. In 1903 councilmen separated into the “Irish” and the “Germans” for purposes of playing baseball, and surnames of council representatives at the time indicate that the team titles made sense. By the 1920s, people of Southern and Eastern European origins, along with an occasional black, began to win seats on the council and increasingly to play leadership roles. By the 1930s the general ethnic makeup of the ward and the background of the councilperson corresponded fairly closely, making the council something of a representative democracy among the larger nationality groups in the city. Only a minority of council members were workers; most were small businessmen and professionals, especially lawyers–a development not always pleasing to the city’s economic elite who had to bribe councilmen to get what they thought they were entitled to as a matter of right. Individual council members lacked the time, staff, or expertise to deal with complicated matters of physical development or the city’s relationships with its privately owned public-service corporations. The council, then, was reactive rather than proactive.

Yet it was not corruption or incapacity that most concerned leading businessmen, but the council’s inescapable parochialism. Cleveland’s legislature was a living embodiment of the dictum that all politics are local politics. Council members were products of particular wards with their individual mixtures of ethnicity and class, and they approached proposals primarily from the perspective of “What’s in it for my ward?” Whether or not they formally articulated their views, most believed that the city was primarily a collection of neighborhoods where people lived most of their lives and did not want to be taxed for the sole benefit of downtown or some distant ward on the other side of town. The elite, on the other hand, saw the city as an organic whole, with its various parts organized in a functional and spatial division of labor under the direction of downtown business and professional leaders. These men believed that what was good for major industry and downtown business was good for the city as a whole and wanted public policies that promoted economic growth and maintained an orderly and efficient city. From this perspective, the council’s insistence on ensuring that each part of the city benefited equally from city improvements simply promoted inefficiency or wasteful duplication.

Parochialism came from the voters as well as members of the council. Ohio’s stringent limitations upon cities’ taxing and borrowing power meant that additional levies and many bond issues for capital improvements had to be approved by the voters. The council could issue bonds only to a stipulated percentage of the city’s tax duplicate, the total of assessed valuation of property in Cleveland. After 1902 the council had to secure a 60% “For” vote on any bonds that it wished to issue that would raise the total face value of bonds outstanding beyond the 4% of the duplicate. The total permitted of such voter-approved bonds was an additional 4% of the duplicate. Proposals to build bridges or eliminate grade crossings usually required voter approval, and the 60% majority meant that any organized opposition could defeat a bond issue. Thus, any grade-crossing elimination had to package sites from western, eastern, or southern portions of the city or face certain defeat. Sometimes the council tried to leave the proposed location of a bridge off the bond-issue ballot to minimize opposition from those who wanted the bridge somewhere else. The most important spatial separation in Cleveland was that between east and west sides, divided by the broad valley of the CUYAHOGA RIVER. The location of the central business district east of the river was a result of the 1825 decision to locate the northern terminus of the Ohio canal there–a circumstance which facilitated its commercial and residential development. West-siders had much more reason to cross over than east-siders, many of whom could see little reason to approve bond issues for bridges that they would rarely use. Outside the formal structure of government, the most important political players were the party organization, and such groups as the Chamber of Commerce (GREATER CLEVELAND GROWTH ASSN.) and the Chamber of Industry, an association organized in 1907 to promote west side interests. In addition, there were a number of locally oriented improvement associations. As in other cities, the party organizations were most concerned with organizational maintenance and the avoidance of divisive issues. Those who wished something from the city found it useful to have friends in both major parties. Major businessmen were overwhelmingly Republican, but the VAN SWERINGENS†’ man in council was Democrat JAMES J. MCGINTY†. The Chamber of Commerce, an outgrowth of the earlier Board of Trade, was extremely influential in the city’s political life. In the early 20th century, it had a paid staff and could command the time and attention of the most important men in the city. Its committees consisted of leading industrialists and their commercial and professional allies. These committees prepared well-researched and -written reports on items of interest to the chamber. These resources were precisely what the council lacked, so that in many instances the chamber could control the agenda and frame the terms of debate. The chamber’s style was to seek agreement among all the economic interests involved in a particular policy area. Where such agreement was possible, as in the Group Plan of public buildings, the projects were moved forward. Where it was not, such as lakefront development, nothing much happened.

Conspicuously absent from the deliberations of the chamber were small businessmen, workers, and those of recent immigrant origin. They were “the people” whose function it was to man the factories, do the domestic chores, and approve the initiatives of the chamber at the polls. Still, so long as most business and professional leaders lived within the city limits, the chamber maintained a general interest in the functioning of the city. A city that promoted the well-being of its workers would be an economically efficient unit. By the mid-1920s, however, most of its leaders no longer lived in the city; the chamber expressed less interest in the general welfare and focused more exclusively on economic development and keeping taxes down. The census of 1930 indicated that the suburbs taken together were of higher socioeconomic status than the city, as affluent Clevelanders sought a more commodious lifestyle outside the city. The political impact of suburbanization was highlighted in 1931 when the 3 leading candidates for the mayoralty all had to move back into the city to establish legal residences.

Although leaders of the CITIZENS LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND lived in the suburbs, as a leading civic organization the league believed in the concept of Greater Cleveland. As such, the group still had the right to promote the cause of good government in the city. Like good government organizations in other cities, it sought to promote better candidates for public office and fiscal responsibility on the part of city government. One of those principles was nonpartisanship, which Cleveland at least nominally adopted in the HOME RULE charter of 1913. A commission under the leadership of Mayor NEWTON D. BAKER† wrote the charter which included initiative and referendum provisions, 
nomination by petition, and elections using a nonpartisan, preferential ballot. This last provision was designed to weaken the role of the party organization and to ensure election by majorities. In most but not all cases, candidates who had the support of the party organization fared much better than those who did not. In the late 19th century, Republicans won more elections in Cleveland than Democrats did. TOM JOHNSON† and Newton Baker reversed this pattern in the early 20th century, but from 1916-41, Cleveland again was primarily a Republican city, as least for the mayoralty.

In the 1920s Cleveland departed from the mayor-council form to adopt the CITY MANAGER PLAN, which was supposed to limit even further the role of the political parties. The reality was that the parties learned how to use this new arrangement almost as well as the mayor-council form. Under the plan, Republican party leader MAURICE MASCHKE† and his Democratic opposite BURR GONGWER† reached an agreement during the City Manager experiment to split the reduced party patronage between them 60%-40% respectively. By 1931 the city manager form of government was abandoned in favor of a return to the mayor-council pattern. Despite experiments in municipal governments designed to limit party influence, both the county Democratic and Republican parties enjoyed a period of stability during the first 3 decades of the 20th century.

In the 1920s Cleveland’s African Americans, then concentrated on the near east side, constituted an important component of the Republican organization, electing 3 city councilmen in 1927. The Democrats under Gongwer also appealed to the black community for its support, endorsing black candidates for council and municipal judge. During the 1930s black inclusion in the New Deal prompted them to shift their allegiance to the Democratic party, where they became a significant proportion of the city’s emerging Democratic majority. When the Democratic party came to the fore during the Depression, the county parties became destabilized as contending forces fought to succeed their longtime leaders. Five years after Maschke’s retirement GEORGE H. BENDER†, former state senator and congressman-at-large, took over the county Republican party organization following a bitter conflict with Mayor HAROLD H. BURTON† and ward leaders over the distribution of patronage. Former Mayor RAY T. MILLER† was elected chairman of the county Democratic party in 1938, but court challenges by other party factions delayed the final settlement until 1940, when Gongwer was removed. Miller was able to consolidate the local nationality groups and the blacks into a potent voting block, and since the 1940s Democrats have far outnumbered Republicans within the city, although Republican mayors, such as Ralph Perk and George Voinovich, were elected in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the years, the diversity of Cleveland’s population had been evident as candidates with effective political names, such as Corrigan, Metzenbaum, Celebrezze, Sawicki, Carr, and Stokes, among others, won elective office in Cleveland or on the county, congressional, or state level.

Whether mayors or managers, Cleveland’s chief executives have found themselves chronically short of money. Before 1909 Ohio permitted reassessment of property for purposes of taxation only every decade. Thus Cleveland’s government could not take advantage of the rapid rise in property values in the prosperous first years of the century. When Cleveland was able to more than double its tax duplicate, the legislature in Columbus limited the rate of taxation. By the Smith Act, property for all purposes combined–city, county, schools, and state–was limited to a total of 10 mills, or 1% of the duplicate. By referendum, the voters could approve an additional 5 mills. This legislation crippled municipal operating budgets. By 1919 Cleveland had accumulated operating deficits totaling $7 million and had to issue “revenue deficiency bonds” to cope. In the early 1920s, the legislature did grant some relief by giving more latitude to city officials and voters in setting higher tax limits for themselves. In the 1920s the city could finance its activities without undue strain. The Depression shattered Cleveland’s economy, and with it its fiscal stability. Because of the city’s concentration of capital-goods production, it suffered terribly from unemployment, lower tax collections, and high relief needs throughout the 1930s. World War II restored Cleveland’s prosperity, and the 1950 census recorded the largest population in the city’s history, 914,000.

The lessons of municipal frugality during the Depression were too well learned. Beginning with Lausche, most of Cleveland’s mayors continued to practice the fiscal austerity of the 1930s, confident that their thrifty administrations could accommodate requirements of more prosperous times as well as ensure their reelection to office. Increasingly independent of the county Democratic party, they successfully appealed to the city’s nationality groups that formed their political base. In their political campaigns mayors Lausche, Burke, Celebrezze, Locher, and Perk stressed frugality in city administration, holding the line on taxes, and living within the city’s income–at the same time they tried to project the image of a vigorous forward-looking city. A majority of the voters responded by reelecting them to office. In the meantime, the war economy of the 1940s and the pent-up demand of the postwar years induced thousands of southern blacks to migrate to Cleveland, swelling the black population from 9.7% of the total in 1940 to 38.3% in 1970. For example, the HOUGH area on the east side went from 95.1% white in 1950 to 74.2% black in 1960. The larger black population after 1945 intensified the exodus of Cleveland’s white middle class residents and businesses to the suburbs as the prevailing mix of the city’s population changed. Ethnic and racial identifications and antipathies, always significant in Cleveland politics, increased in importance as sources of political decision making. Politics and constituent interests took precedence over the growing problems of Cleveland as a whole, and the need for municipal leadership was not addressed by its caretaker governments. This was evident when Mayor Ralph Locher won reelection in 1965 with only 37% of the total vote. His razor-thin margin over State Representative Carl B. Stokes, who ran as an independent, demonstrated that the majority of Clevelanders did not feel they were being served effectively.

The continuing policy of municipal frugality challenged the city water and sewer departments’ ability to meet service demand in the rapidly expanding suburbs. This led civic reformers to revive efforts to strengthen regional authority by reorganizing Cuyahoga County so that it could administer area-wide municipal functions. Voters, however, turned down county home rule charters that would accomplish this in 1950 and 1959 (see REGIONAL GOVERNMENT). As the combination of accelerated suburbanization and a decline in the city’s economic base became evident, some type of metropolitan authority was needed for its area-wide services. Financially unable to manage its regional water pollution control and transit systems in the 1970s, Cleveland was forced to transfer the ownership and management of each to a single-function regional district. Since the suburban population exceeded that of the city in 1970, the price for regional cooperation was shared authority to appoint the districts’ Board of Trustees among the city, county and suburbs. The new partnership diluted Cleveland’s municipal control and gave political legitimacy to a changed balance of power in the metropolitan region.

Complicating the city’s problems was the central cleavage of race. For a brief moment in the late 1960s, it looked as if Mayor Carl Stokes had succeeded in forging a coalition of downtown business leaders and the black community. Whatever hopes existed evaporated after the GLENVILLE SHOOTOUTbetween black nationalists and Cleveland police, which led to 7 deaths and weakened Stokes’s credibility among a majority of whites, although he was elected to a second term in 1969. At that time Cleveland could no longer provide all the basic services out of its own resources without voter-approved tax increases–a proposition made difficult by the city’s declining economic base, racial tensions, and the politics of municipal frugality. Aware of Cleveland’s deteriorating finances, Stokes used his municipal leadership to try and increase the city income tax, but racial politics prevented him from building the needed consensus to obtain voter approval. Stokes was followed by 2 white ethnics, Ralph Perk, a Republican and dedicated defender of the status quo, and Dennis Kucinich, a maverick young Democrat who was elected in 1977 on a “no new taxes” platform. Kucinich was a self-styled urban populist out to defend the interests of the neighborhoods against the excessive demands of downtown business. He combined some reasonable policy perspectives with an abrasive and confrontational style that made difficult any cooperation between the city’s economic and political leadership. Financially, intergovernmental transfer payments such as revenue sharing had allowed the city to stay afloat until 1978, when the city could no longer pay its bills and was brought to DEFAULTduring the Kucinich mayoralty. The shock of default enabled his successor, George Voinovich, to raise taxes and restore Cleveland’s financial creditability. He also instituted civility in the city’s political discourse which allowed the long-sought reduction in the 33-member city council to take place (for recent mayors, see MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF [name]).

Structural reformers had urged a small council for many years to avoid the parochial limitations of small wards. The most extreme versions pressed for at-large elections of a small council, a provision that almost assured elite domination. Clevelanders recognized that this proposal would not allow for the social diversity of the city. Other proposals for reduction in the size of the council had foundered on racial divisions and animosities. Finally, in 1981, the voters approved a charter amendment reducing the council from 33 to 21 members. Such structural changes, however, could do only so much. To be well governed, cities need adequate resources, competent officials, and an electorate supportive of quality. Cleveland has sometimes but not always had all these things at once.

Although the city’s population continued to decline in 1993, new leadership under Mayor Michael White (see MAYORAL ADMINISTRATION OF MICHAEL R. WHITE) appeared to offer hope for future improvement in Cleveland’s downtown area and in its neighborhoods as well.

James F. Richardson

Univ. of Akron


Overview of Cleveland Government 1787-1990

From The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here

GOVERNMENT. The tract of land that became Cleveland had at one time or another been claimed by Spain, France, and Great Britain. When American independence was secured, the new federal government tried to resolve the conflicting territorial claims of several states while contending with Indians, who had their own claims, and who were made more restive by the slow removal of British troops from their western posts. The key event was passage of the Ordinance of 1787, making administration of the sparsely settled territories possible. The first real effort to enforce white man’s law in the area came in the 1790s under the auspices of the CONNECTICUT LAND CO. However, during Cleveland’s early years law and justice seem to have been meted out–with very little resistance–by the redoubtable LORENZO CARTER†. The formal origins of municipal government are traceable to the creation of Washington and Wayne counties, which were divided at the CUYAHOGA RIVER and administered out of Marietta and Detroit, respectively. After some further reorganization, Trumbull County was organized in 1800 with Warren as the county seat. Officers of Cleveland Twp. were chosen in an 1802 election, and a rudimentary civil government was in place when Ohio was admitted to the Union in 1803. The next year saw a $10 tax imposed on residents by the town meeting–the political institution prevalent in New England. Cleveland became the seat of Cuyahoga County when it was created in 1807, and the Court of Common Pleas met in 1810. Late in 1814, Cleveland, still a precarious frontier outpost, received a village charter, and the next year ALFRED KELLEY† was elected first president.

During the next few years, ordinances set penalties for such things as discharging firearms and allowing livestock to run at large. LEONARD CASE† served as president from 1821-25, the latter date also marking the choice of Cleveland as northern terminus of the Ohio Canal and local adoption of a property tax. In succeeding years, the delinquent tax rolls were, according to one account, “rather robust.” In 1832 a CHOLERA EPIDEMIC OF 1832 spawned a short-lived Board of Health. In 1836 Cleveland attained the status of a city and adopted a government more closely resembling that of the present day. Voters elected city councilmen (3 from each of 3 wards), aldermen (1 per ward), and a mayor with little real executive authority. The mayor’s salary was set at $500 per annum, and city offices were established in the Commercial Block on Superior St. The council authorized a school levy, and the first public school recognizable as such opened the next year. In 1837 the city raised $16,077.53 and spent $13,297.14, an example of fiscal responsibility that was not always to be followed.

Municipal government gradually widened its scope. The Superior Court of Cleveland was created in 1847, and in 1849 the city was authorized to establish a poorhouse and hospital for the poor. As late as mid-century, public service (particularly road work) was sometimes rendered in kind. By 1852 the city was served by railroad, and the legislature passed an act that resulted in Cleveland’s designation as a second-class city (based on population). The council was now composed of 2 members elected from each of 4 wards; their compensation was $1 per session. Executive powers were exercised not so much by the mayor as by various officials and bodies, including a board of city commissioners, marshal, treasurer, city solicitor, market superintendent, civil engineer, auditor, and police court. In 1853 voters elected the first Board of Water Works Commissioners, and council established a Board of Education, which in turn appointed a superintendent. When Cleveland merged with OHIO CITY (CITY OF OHIO) in 1854, 4 additional wards were created, bringing the total for the united city to 11. The waterworks began operation in 1856, and during the next decade a modern sanitary system was gradually put in place. A paid fire department was created in 1863, and the first police superintendent was appointed in 1866. The Board of Education established the CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY in 1867, and a Board of Park Commissioners was put in place 2 years later, although that did not end complaints about a lack of adequate open space and park facilities. During the last half of the 19th century, annexation kept pace with the city’s growth, which tended to be in the direction of Brooklyn, Newburgh, and East Cleveland townships.

Municipal government was modernized again with the passage of state legislation in 1898. Under the new scheme, voters elected the mayor, city council, treasurer, police judge, and prosecutor. The council appointed an auditor, city clerk, and civil engineer. The administrative boards that distinguished this form of government were variously chosen: voters were to elect the police commissioners and cemetery trustees; the council appointed the board of health and inspectors of various kinds; the mayor appointed (with council’s consent) park commissioners and a superintendent of markets, and he named the directors of the house of refuge and correction. Although Rose argued that it was generally a more efficient form of government, the fact that nearly all board members were unpaid resulted in “indifferent service” or worse. It was during this period that patronage, or the “spoils system” identified with Jacksonian democracy, came into disrepute. The response at the federal level was the Pendleton Civil Service Act, and local government followed suit. Thus in 1886 Cleveland required that positions in the police department be filled by competitive examination. In the same year, a board of elections was created, and in 1891 the state substituted the Australian (secret) ballot for the old system whereby “tickets” were printed and distributed by the parties. Old-line politicians were placated by the adoption of a party-column ballot, which encouraged straight-ticket voting.

Even late in the 19th century, cities did not presume to perform many services directly. Although they were gradually assuming responsibility for libraries, parks, and poor relief, utilities, such as street lighting and street railways, still tended to be franchise operations. Cleveland seems to have operated no industries of its own save the waterworks. But the pressures brought on by growth and the special needs of immigrant groups resulted in the expansion of municipal services during this period, which inevitably meant more expensive government. As a result, the city often had to borrow. Apparently Cleveland was not atypical in having to spend, ca. 1880, about one third of its income on debt service.

Increasing dissatisfaction with city government led to the adoption in 1891 of a form of government modeled directly after that at the national level. Under the Federal Plan, power that had been distributed among various boards, commissions, and officials now was to be shared by a legislature and executive responsible to the electorate. The mayor, who received an annual salary of $6,000, and 6 department heads (appointed by the mayor with approval of the council) made up the Board of Control. The council consisted of 20 members, 2 from each of the 10 districts representing the 40 wards, and each received $5 for attending a regular weekly meeting. The city treasurer, police judge, prosecuting attorney, and police-court clerk were elected by the people. Adoption of the Federal Plan did not spell an end to the franchise system, nor did it eliminate corruption, and the separation of powers made it difficult to exercise real leadership. The extent to which things got done in those days often depended upon the efficacy of informal agencies–bosses and machines–that tended to be the engines driving formal municipal government. These institutions, while responsive and efficient in their own way, bred corruption.

Party machines also reflected the contentiousness of a population split along class, religious, and ethnic lines, the 1890 census showing that of the 261,353 people living in the city, 164,258 were native-born, and only about 25% of these were of native parentage. While certain of Cleveland’s leading citizens seemed quite adept at the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics (MARCUS A. HANNA†, for instance), white Anglo-Saxon Protestants generally were put off by a political system that was not instinctively deferential, and which was often ungentlemanly. It was in this spirit that Harry Garfield, son of the late president, and other leading Clevelanders organized the Municipal Assn. of the City of Cleveland (later known as the CITIZENS LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND) dedicated to the spirit of progressive middle-class reform.

Progressivism was a multifaceted phenomenon that can be seen in the career of TOM L. JOHNSON†, who was elected mayor in 1901. During his administration, Cleveland’s Progressives operated a municipal garbage plant, took over street cleaning, and built BATH HOUSES and a tuberculosis hospital. The penal system was reformed and a juvenile court established. This municipal expansiveness cost money, of course, and the city’s indebtedness, $14,503,000 in 1900, rose to $27,688,000 by 1906. The structure of local government also changed several times during this period. Progressives here and elsewhere were convinced that the sorry state of municipal affairs was due largely to the “political” interference of state legislatures, and the home rule movement sought to cut the cities loose from legislative control. The redrafting of the state constitution in 1912 was a great triumph for reformers and Cleveland’s HOME RULE charter went into effect in 1914. In general, Progressives stood for nonpartisan elections and the principle of at-large (rather than ward) representation and tended to support the strengthening of executive powers. The CITY MANAGER PLAN was perhaps the archetypal Progressive contribution to municipal government in the U.S. The idea was to put city government on a sound business footing by having a competent, neutral manager not subject to favoritism and cronyism. Cleveland was the first (and only) major American city to adopt, and then to abandon, the council-manager form of government. Certainly, reformers must have been bitterly disappointed when the nonpartisan election of councilmen by proportional representation from large districts proved to have no noticeable impact on corruption. In 1931 voters dumped the manager and proportional representation, bringing back the old mayor-council form and the ward principle.

In the years after World War I, it was becoming increasingly evident that Cleveland’s ability to annex adjacent communities was declining. The more affluentSUBURBS were no longer anxious to became part of Cleveland, as city services were no longer demonstratively superior. Suburban communities were gradually becoming independent of the central city, as more people moved to the outlying areas. Aware that city and suburb shared some concerns, reformers began to press for the adoption of a dual form of metropolitan government, in which the county would assume some areawide functions, but existing municipal powers would be preserved. The county had been considered the administrative arm of the state since 1810, when the first Cuyahoga County officers were inaugurated. With the organization of the last Ohio county in 1851, a new state constitution was passed giving the general assembly the authority to provide for the election of such county officers as it deemed necessary. Cuyahoga County government had only those powers given to it by the state (see CUYAHOGA COUNTY GOVERNMENT), and any reorganization leading to metropolitan government required an amendment to the Ohio state constitution, allowing the county to write its own home rule charter. After several unsuccessful attempts, the home rule amendment was approved by voters in 1933; Ohio was the fourth state in the country to do so.

Two years after the amendment passed, a Cuyahoga County home rule charter to reorganize the existing county government was approved by a majority of city and county voters. The Ohio Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1936 that the reorganization transferred municipal functions to the county and, therefore, needed the more comprehensive suburban majorities called for in the Ohio constitution (see REGIONAL GOVERNMENT). During this time, Cleveland politics focused on the multiple ethnic groups who were acquiring visible political power. It is significant, too, that while cities were taking on certain new responsibilities in response to the Depression–specifically, slum clearance and public housing–the federal government, by providing social-welfare benefits, undermined the power of the party machines by appropriating their functions. As the machine’s role in local politics began its long decline, the newspapers to some extent took over the task of promoting those politicians who had a knack for making headlines. This point may be best illustrated by the career ofFRANK J. LAUSCHE†, mayor 1941-44, and later U.S. Senator. Thanks to the papers and the loyal support of Eastern and Southern European nationality groups, Lausche was a force in Ohio politics for the better part of 3 decades, despite a stormy relationship with Democratic political bosses in the city. The same formula was employed by Anthony J. Celebrezze, who was elected mayor in 1953. It did not matter that Democratic boss RAY T. MILLER† opposed Celebrezze, because he had the support of influential Press editor LOUIS B. SELTZER†. Together, they championed the cause of urban renewal, looking to Washington for the needed funds.

There was some tinkering with the city charter during this period. A partisan mayoral primary was introduced, as was the so-called knock-out rule stipulating that council candidates would run unopposed if they garnered more that 50% of the vote in the primary election, which remained officially nonpartisan. In the Progressive tradition, middle-class reformers continued to work for metropolitan government; however, these efforts proved fruitless. To the voters, the virtues of efficient and economical areawide public services were more than offset by the fact that metropolitan government would significantly alter the political relationships in the region. In the process, they would lose access to and control of the super-government that would be established. These fears were shared by both suburbanites anxious to guard the prerogatives of their municipalities and city residents who viewed metropolitan government as a scheme to dilute their power.

Even without metropolitan government, the increasing complexity of state government had widened the scope of county responsibility, primarily in the health and welfare field. Other specific needs–the regional sewer district and transit authorities, for example–were administered by special agencies and staffed by professional managers who operated for the most part in anonymity and were not subject to direct control by the electorate. As an ad hoc solution to the need for larger jurisdictional units, without creating comprehensive metropolitan government, these agencies enjoyed phenomenal growth both locally and nationally after World War II.

In the 1960s and 1970s a new reform movement emphasizing community control was evident in Cleveland as the focus shifted from areawide concerns to a resurgence of interest in neighborhood government (little city halls). With the turbulence of the sixties, the ability of city administrations to deal with the problems of a changing population was questioned here and elsewhere. The HOUGH AREA DEVELOPMENT CORP., established in the aftermath of theHOUGH RIOTS, was an example of the movement fueled by federal funding.

New problems surfaced in the postwar era that severely taxed the ability of city administrations to govern Cleveland. While the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the economic gains anticipated from increased Great Lakes shipping generated enthusiasm, the area’s economic base began to erode as industrial and commercial businesses left the city for the suburbs and beyond. Urban problems, especially those of the black community, were not seriously addressed by a municipal government dominated by the city’s nationality groups.

Governing Cleveland became more arduous as violence in the city’s black ghettos began with the Hough Riots in 1966 and continued into the administration of Carl B. Stokes, elected in 1967. There was no respite from municipal problems during the Perk administration, as the city’s shrinking tax base and voter opposition to a city income tax increase compounded Cleveland’s financial problems, which by this time were quite severe. The financial shortfall continued under Democratic mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, elected in 1977–an urban populist leading a crusade against privilege, particularly that of the city’s business and banking establishment. The ill will generated by his zeal led to an unsuccessful recall attempt by his opponents in 1978 and the withdrawal of the business and financial community’s support from his administration. Later that year, local banks refused to roll over some of the city’s short-term notes, and Cleveland, unable to pay them off, was forced to default on its financial obligations. The shock of DEFAULT persuaded the voters to raise the income tax and enabled Republican George Voinovich, elected mayor in 1979, to reorganize the city’s administration and restore its financial credibility. Cleveland’s immediate problems appeared to be contained, and in a more cooperative atmosphere, long-discussed changes in the city charter were made with a 4-year mayoral and councilperson term of office, approved in 1980, and a reduction of city council from 33 to 21 members, established in 1981. A truce between white Republican mayor Voinovich and George Forbes, the black Democratic council president, made the city’s politics less abrasive than in previous years. Mayor Voinovich was praised for fostering cooperation with the business community, repairing the strained relationship with city hall generated by his predecessor. Muny Light (now named Cleveland Public Power) was improved and expanded, renewing the city’s ongoing commitment to municipal ownership of public utilities. In 1989 city council leadership became more decentralized after the retirement of long-time council president Forbes. With the election of Michael R. White as mayor that year, citizens hoped for a resolution of deep-seated class and racial tensions.

Kenneth Kolson

National Endowment for the Humanities

Mary B. Stavish

Case Western Reserve Univ.


Industry through the 1980s

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here

INDUSTRY. Within 60 years of Cleveland’s founding, industry, especially the making of iron and its products, began to dominate the economy of the city and its vicinity. To a large degree, Cleveland’s growth has been determined by its industrial base. The term industry in its economic and technical sense refers to the organized production of goods for the market. Historians also use the term industrialization to refer to the rapid increase in the size and number of industries in Europe and North America over the last 300 years. The U.S. was an early leader and Cleveland a major center of industrialization. Modern industry is associated with the factory system of production, in which workers are gathered in one place to work under centralized direction with the aid of powered machinery. Cleveland’s factories have usually mass-produced standardized products such as clothing, iron shapes, or automobiles. Cleveland industry developed under favorable economic conditions. Primary among them was excellent TRANSPORTATION. The development of shipping on the Great Lakes, the completion of the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL in 1832, the later construction of RAILROADS, and the more recent construction of majorHIGHWAYS and airports have allowed Cleveland to receive a large flow of raw materials and to ship out finished products. In addition, exceptional businessmen and inventors have developed and promoted Cleveland’s industry, and the city’s workers have been recognized for their skill and productivity.

In its first 4 decades, Cleveland was an agricultural village and a regional center of commerce. Examples of manufactured items included farming tools, barrels for shipping salted meat, flour, and other food products, and household furnishings. These were made by craftsmen in small shops rather than in factories. In 1820, for example, a Cleveland newspaper contained advertisements for a wagonmaker’s shop located near the courthouse on PUBLIC SQUARE, and a 2-story shop containing a shoemaker and a saddlemaker. With the coming of the canal, Cleveland’s markets expanded. In 1837 the city was reported to have 4 iron foundries making steam engines and other products, 3 soap and candle works, 2 breweries, a window-sash factory, 2 ropewalks, a pottery, 2 carriagemakers, 2 millstone shops, and a large flour mill under construction. The CUYAHOGA STEAM FURNACE CO., just established, was probably the largest single industry. It had a blast furnace that made iron from ore, charcoal, and limestone brought by canal, and had a foundry to make the iron into usable products. Over the next 40 years, the company made a variety of goods which were representative of Cleveland’s flourishing iron trade: steam engines, locomotives, stoves, and iron for building construction. At the time of the U.S. manufacturing census of 1860, the most valuable industrial product of Cleveland was iron, while the manufacture of items made from iron was also very important. Like many other Great Lakes cities, Cleveland had a large flour-and-gristmilling industry (ranking 2nd in value of product), which served the productive Midwest farms.

Cleveland’s history from 1860-1930 was mostly a record of heavy industrialization, not commerce in agricultural products. The Civil War gave immediate impetus to Cleveland’s iron industry, and by 1880 the making of iron and steel represented 20% of the value of the city’s manufactures. In part this growth was due to enterprising Clevelanders, who in the 1850s began exploiting the mineral resources of the upper Great Lakes and shipping the ores to Cleveland. Leaders in the iron industry after the Civil War included the Otis Iron & Steel Co. and the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. in NEWBURGH. The latter began making Bessemer steel in 1868, and Otis instituted open-hearth steel manufacture in 1873; both technologies were importations of recent European innovations. Along with some other Cleveland companies, Otis and the Cleveland Rolling Mill eventually joined the U.S. STEEL CORP., formed in 1901. The making of machinery and other iron and steel products, such as ore vessels for the Great Lakes trade, continued to grow, along with the production of iron and steel. Machine-tool companies such as WARNER & SWASEY CO. and Cleveland Twist Drill made lathes, planers, drill presses, and similar devices or parts for them. Sewing-machine manufacturers (for example, the White Co.) and other machinery companies were major purchasers of machine tools. In turn, the Cleveland clothing industry, already the city’s 3rd-largest producer of goods (by value) in 1860, became a major consumer of sewing machines. This industrial interconnection (iron and steel, machine tools, sewing machines, clothing) is one example of how growing industries benefited by linking to one another. Such interconnections were crucial to the development of Cleveland’s industries.

Another contribution to industrial growth in the later 1800s came in the form of entirely new industries. The petroleum-refining industry developed rapidly after the first American oil well was drilled at Titusville, in northwestern Pennsylvania, in 1859. Although Cleveland was no better located with respect to the new oil region than Pittsburgh or Buffalo, young Cleveland businessman JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER† became the most resourceful organizer of the oil market. Bringing oil to Cleveland by railroad at low prices, Rockefeller built or purchased almost all of Cleveland’s refining capacity in the 1870s and made the city the center of the American refining industry. By exercising a virtual monopoly in the industry, and attempting to control an enormous network of shipping, refining, and distributing enterprises, Rockefeller became a pioneer in modern corporate forms. He experimented by establishing in Cleveland theSTANDARD OIL CO. (OHIO) of Ohio (1870), and then the Standard Oil Trust (1879). While Rockefeller’s methods of business control were ruthless, and his industrial combinations were eventually broken up by court action, he was one of the first businessmen in the U.S. to recognize that rapid industrialization required new forms or organization.

Cleveland’s CHEMICAL INDUSTRY arose in part out of the refiners’ need for sulfuric acid. The Grasselli Co. of Cincinnati established a Cleveland works in 1866 specifically to supply sulfuric acid to refineries, but in succeeding years it supplied a wide range of industrial chemicals. Relying in part on petroleum products for their raw materials, Cleveand’s large paint and varnish companies were founded in the 1870s. Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams joined in 1870 to form a paint-manufacturing company (SHERWIN WILLIAMS CO.), and 10 years later they introduced a ready-mixed paint, which found immediate success. Francis H. Glidden organized his company in 1875 and based its sales on varnishes and enamels. Electrical equipment was another new industry of the later 19th century. Although telegraphy had become the first viable electrical technology in the 1840s, its power and apparatus requirements were low and did not stimulate major industrial development. Clevelander CHAS. BRUSH† pioneered in new electrical technology in the 1870s by developing an effective dynamo to generate large amounts of electricity, and an outdoor arc-lighting system to consume electricity. First put into continuous use on Public Square in Apr. 1879, Brush’s dynamo and arc lights were soon installed in major cities throughout the world. In 3 years they could be found in San Francisco, London, and Shanghai, among others. Brush pushed his company into the production of batteries and streetcar equipment as well, before it was absorbed by GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. in 1891. Other electrical businesses were founded by persons trained in Brush’s company, includingNATIONAL CARBON CO. and LINCOLN ELECTRIC CO., while Brush’s personal influence continued to be felt at the Brush Laboratories. The success of Brush’s business soon attracted numerous other firms to the electrical industry.

The AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY was the final major industry to emerge in Cleveland. The automobile was brought to a workable form by European inventors of the 1880s and early 1890s, but when Americans took to the “horseless carriage” after 1895, it was still not clear whether it would be gasoline-, electric-, or steam-powered. Cleveland boasted 3 of the earliest manufacturers of each type: ALEXANDER WINTON† (gasoline), WALTER BAKER† (electric), and ROLLIN WHITE† and the White Co. (steam). A Winton sold in 1898 is often claimed to be the first American automobile made for the open market. The Cleveland automobile manufacturers mostly specialized in high-quality and luxury cars. Baker’s electric vehicles, for example, were favored by wealthy women for quiet, pollution-free driving. White specialized in heavy touring cars, a tradition that served the company well when it decided to make only trucks. Other well-known Cleveland luxury cars included the Stearns, Jordan, and Peerless. In spite of having several hundred brands of automobiles made in Cleveland up to the 1930s, the city lost the leadership of the auto industry to Detroit as early as 1910. Henry Ford, whose vision of a car for the common man carried the day, chose to concentrate his efforts in what became the Motor City. However, Cleveland remained one of the most important assembly and parts-manufacturing centers in the U.S. Major automakers continued to build and operate new facilities in the Cleveland area after the mid-1900s. Several smaller industries arose in conjunction with automobile manufacture, including diesel engines, construction and industrial vehicles, and aircraft parts.

Cleveland’s industry came to the end of its period of rapid growth by 1930. Cleveland was then second only to Detroit among American cities in the percentage of its workers employed in industry. This dependence affected society in a variety of ways. The public schools, for example, provided industrial training for their pupils, and in 1930 the city’s Industrial Development Committee reported that industrial training could be found in all school grades. Moreover, thousands of workers were enrolled in the public schools’ adult-education classes. Trade and industrial unions were also a means of accommodating industrialization. The city early acquired a reputation for strong trade and craft unions, which joined workers of similar skills to maintain or improve wages and working conditions. In the 1930s Cleveland workers were also receptive to the formation of industrial unions, especially the UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA and the UNITED AUTO WORKERS, which crossed over trade or craft lines. A sit-down strike at the General Motors Fisher Body plant on Coit Rd. in 1936 was a catalytic event in unionizing the automobile industry. The consistent training of Cleveland’s workers, and the unionization of important industrial sectors, made the city attractive both to job-seekers and to businessmen, and did much to promote Cleveland’s industrial growth. In 1931 the U.S. Census of the Cleveland metropolitan area (including Cuyahoga and Lorain counties) ranked it 8th nationally by the number of industrial employees, and 7th by value of its products. This ranking held essentially the same through the economic depression of the following decade, and through the ensuing war years. During World War II, manufacturers and workers strained the city’s productive capacity. Cleveland Twist Drill’s outstanding record earned it the first Army-Navy Star Award in the nation. Several Cleveland firms, including HARSHAW CHEMICAL CO., Victoreen Instrument, Brush Beryllium, McGean Chemical, and H.K. Ferguson, contributed materially to the Manhattan (atomic bomb) Project. Nevertheless, the concentration of Cleveland industry on producers’ goods, such as machine tools or construction equipment, which made it a wartime arsenal, also made it especially susceptible to economic fluctuations. Measured by national averages, Cleveland workers suffered more during depressions and recessions but did better in times of economic growth. Cleveland’s industry entered the 1950s with its boom years in the past and no obvious directions for change. The census of 1954 indicated that its traditional leading industries were essentially in the same positions as before the Great Depression. In terms of employment and value of products, the Cleveland area’s leaders were transportation equipment (1st, 1st); machinery (2nd, 2nd); iron-and-steel making (3rd, 3rd); metal products (4th, 4th); and electrical machinery (5th, 6th). During the next 3 decades, these industries remained the leaders (though their rank order varied) and accounted for more than 60% of the city’s industrial employment. By the 1980s, some sources of future change were visible. Most notably, the international iron and steel market was adverse to American industry as a whole and Cleveland in particular. The impact was symbolized by the dismantling of the U.S. Steel blast furnaces in Cleveland, and severe fluctuations in production levels at REPUBLIC STEEL CORP., the JONES AND LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP. (CLEVELAND WORKS), and other iron and steel companies. In the late 1970s, Cleveland’s decline in manufacturing was led by its basic steel, motor vehicle and equipment, and metalworking industries, with aging facilities, mismanagement, and outside ownership among the reasons for their departure. Challenges from Japanese and European automakers and drastic increases in gasoline prices changed American automobile buyer’s habits and required shutdowns or retooling of many Cleveland plants. By 1986 blue-collar employment represented only 29% of the total employment in Cuyahoga, Lake, Medina, and Geauga counties.

Few new industries seemed likely to take a major role in Cleveland soon, although the making of instruments and medical equipment grew significantly during the post-World War II years, and the manufacture of chemicals and plastics and the printing and publishing business remained strong. As Cleveland looked to the future, organized research seemed likely to assume a major role in new industrial development. From the establishment of the National Electric Lamp Assn. laboratories at NELA PARK (1911) and the National Carbon industrial research facility at about the same time, Cleveland business supported research leading to new technologies. Later the federal government’s Lewis Laboratory (1941) and the facilities of Case Institute of Technology became important sites for pioneering development. By the mid-1980s, the Cleveland area had over 200 corporate industrial research laboratories.

While Cleveland became a major American industrial center during the century after 1830, dependence on an industrial economy has brought periods of high unemployment and air and water pollution, among other problems. Nevertheless, Cleveland area industry appeared to be stabilizing in the 1980s, with numerous new small manufacturing companies forming, and major employers such as FORD MOTOR CO., General Motors, and LTV STEEL making substantial investments in their existing facilities.

Darwin H. Stapleton

Rockefeller Archive Center


Teaching Cleveland Digital