CITY FLOURISHED UNDER GOLDEN RULE OF JONES
Blade, The (Toledo, OH) – Wednesday, December 15, 1999
Author: GEORGE J. TANBER BLADE STAFF WRITER
In the annals of Toledo’s political history in this century, one man stands out. His name is Samuel Jones .
Best remembered by his nickname, Golden Rule, Mr. Jones was Toledo’s 28th mayor beginning in 1897. He won re-election three times but did not live to run again as he became the first mayor to die in office. Such was his popularity that Toledoans lined the city’s streets to view his funeral cortege in July, 1904.
Mr. Jones is considered one of the founders of the progressive reform movement that emerged at the turn of the last century, elevating Toledo in the process.
“He dramatized the issue of the whole progressive period on a national scale,” says Dr. Charles Glaab, professor of history at the University of Toledo. “Toledo became one of the centers of the intellectual movement of urban progressivism. Jones had a great deal to do with getting the movement under way at the city level.”
At the university, Dr. Glaab teaches a course in urban history and gives lectures on Mr. Jones. He co-wrote a book on Toledo history, Gateway to the Great Lakes, that contains a chapter on the former mayor, who also was a successful, innovative businessman.
Mr. Jones was born in Wales in 1846. His parents, seeking a better life, immigrated to the United States around 1850 with their five children. They ended up in the Black River Valley region of New York state, where Mr. Jones’s father worked as a stone mason and farmer. Young Samuel disdained farming and began working 12-hour days in a sawmill at age 14. His work, an economic necessity for the family, limited his education to less than three years. At 16, Samuel began spending his summers working on a steamer. The mechanical skills learned during a three-year stint aided his later career.
At 19, he left New York for Pennsylvania’s oil fields, where he found limited success. He went back to New York, but returned to Pennsylvania at 22. After saving several hundred dollars, he began buying oil leases, earning a decent living. Mr. Jones married and fathered three children. The family moved around Pennsylvania, following the oil strikes.
A pair of catastrophic events changed Mr. Jones’s life. His 2-year-old daughter, Eva Belle, died in 1881. Four years later he lost his beloved wife, Alma. The losses sent Samuel Jones into a year-long funk. Finally, in 1886, on the advice of family and friends, Mr. Jones and his two sons moved to the newly opened oil fields around Lima, O. There he drilled the state’s first large well and helped found the Ohio Oil Co., which later was bought by John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co.
During his years in Lima, Mr. Jones became active in the local YMCA and a Methodist church where he met his second wife, Helen Beach, of Toledo. The couple settled in the city in 1892. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones continued drilling for oil, using his mechanical expertise to make valuable improvements to the equipment. In 1894, he secured a patent for an iron pumping rod, known as sucker rods, that aided deep well drilling. He opened a plant in East Toledo and later moved it to Segur Avenue near Field Avenue.
At the time, Toledo was experiencing unprecedented growth. Its population jumped from 50,000 in 1880 to 81,000 in 1890 to 130,000 in 1900, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Immigrants flooded Toledo to work in the city’s growing glass, bicycle, and foundry industries. Such growth created many problems, most of them costing the city money it did not have. As Dr. Glaab wrote: “Streets need paving, public utilities had to be expanded, more public transportation was required, housing had to be built, and taxes had to be raised.”
Meanwhile, an economic panic in 1893 threw the country into a depression. In Lucas County, numerous businesses went bankrupt and, according to Dr. Glaab, 7,000 paupers resided in Lucas County and the city of Toledo was $7 million in debt. At the same time, the city’s location on Lake Erie and its lively port trade festered prostitution, larceny, and other forms of petty crime.
Into this environment came Samuel Jones , who had never lived in a large city. He carried with him memories of his poverty-ridden childhood and a morality gained from his faith.
Free-lance writer Elaine Court wrote in a Blade profile of Mr. Jones: “[He was] a Christian who rejected the gospel of wealth in favor of the social gospel. [He] envisioned cities and business not as traps for the working man, but as the new frontier on which to build economic and political democracy. [He] knew the discouragement of the unemployed and underpaid and determined to do something about it for his employees.”
Although the going wage at the time was $1 to $1.50 a day, Mr. Jones paid his employees $1.50 to $2 a day at his factory, the Acme Sucker Rod Co. All employees received one week of paid vacation after six months on the job, and he reduced their workday from 12 to eight hours – radical decisions for the time.
Even more astounding, Mr. Jones developed a revenue-sharing program for his workers, provided health insurance, and subsidized hot meals in the Acme cafeteria.
Unlike other companies, which had a long list of regulations and requirements for their employees, Samuel Jones posted only one rule on his company’s notice board.
The golden rule: Do unto others as you would do unto yourself.
As his company prospered, Mr. Jones expanded his goodwill. Next to the factory he built Golden Rule Park, where his employees could exercise or relax, where invited guests with similar philosophies could speak, and where the employee ensemble, the Golden Rule Band, could entertain.
In time it became clear that Mr. Jones was using Acme as a model for social change, and that he would soon apply his method to city politics.
In 1897, as a political unknown, he emerged from a deadlocked Republican Party convention as the group’s choice to run for mayor. He beat Democrat Parks Hone by 518 votes out of 20,164 cast.
According to Dr. Glaab and his co-author, Morgan Barclay, the form of city government at the time was based on an old state law that called for a two-house assembly, and 14 boards and commissions. With so many decision-makers involved, taking decisive action was a cumbersome process. Nevertheless, as Dr. Glaab and Mr. Barclay wrote, Mr. Jones managed to achieve some measure of success during his first term. He introduced a merit system for police officers and firefighters. As a man who abhorred violence, he won acclaim from national reform leaders for his edict that called for police officers to replace their clubs with canes in an effort to reduce police brutality.
For the poor, one of his largest concerns, Mr. Jones helped develop a program that gave them food and shelter in exchange for working for the city’s street department.
Brand Whitlock, a journalist and lawyer who was Mr. Jones’s legal adviser and later became mayor, liked to tell a story underscoring his mentor’s generosity, which Dr. Glaab and Mr. Barclay recounted in their book:
“[Mr. Jones and Mr. Whitlock] were strolling in downtown Toledo when a stranger asked for 50 cents to obtain lodgings for the night. Mr. Jones reached into his pocket and, finding no change, gave the man a $5 bill and asked him to return the change. Mr. Whitlock said he never expected to see the man again. But as Mr. Whitlock and Mr. Jones continued to talk, the man appeared with the change. The mayor put it in his pocket and the man asked why he had not counted it. Mr. Jones replied: ‘You counted it, didn’t you?’ A faith in mankind – sometimes approaching naivete – became the hallmark of the Jones administration.”
Mr. Jones formed his unique style of governing by consulting the writings of the period’s major reformers. But he was most influenced by the humanist works of Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, and Leo Tolstoy.
By the next election, in 1899, Mr. Jones had fallen out of favor with the Republican party because conservative members were fed up with his reform policies. He lost the support of the local moral reform group. Although he did not drink, Mr. Jones felt saloons were a good place for workers to gather. And he angered church leaders when he refused to boot prostitutes out of town.
Lacking party support, Mr. Jones ran as an independent on the slogan “Principle Before Party.” He received 70 per cent of the vote.
Later that year he ran for governor as an independent. Although he lost, Dr. Glaab and Mr. Barclay note that Mr. Jones somehow carried the Toledo and Cleveland regions.
One of Mr. Jones’s talents was recruiting bright talent to his administration. Aside from Mr. Whitlock, one of his most accomplished aides turned out to be Sylvanus Jermain, Dr. Glaab said. Mr. Jermain, with Mr. Jones’s support, developed the city’s public park system, expanded the zoological gardens into one of the country’s best, opened Ottawa Park, one of the country’s first public golf courses, and constructed a network of boulevards.
Mr. Jones aggressively pushed for educational reform, improving conditions and teaching methods in the city’s schools.
Mr. Jones won again in 1901 and 1903. His last battle, according to Dr. Glaab, involved the city’s street railway company, which wanted to extend its franchise 25 years. Mr. Jones opposed the extension and, furthermore, asked the company to lower its fares to three cents. City council sided with the streetcar company. But much to the delight of angry citizens, who packed council chambers during the decisive vote, Mr. Jones vetoed its decision. He was carried out of city hall by his happy supporters, Dr. Glaab recounted.
After a brief illness in early summer of 1904, Samuel Jones died at age 57. According to Dr. Glaab and Mr. Barclay, 55,000 people viewed his body as it lie in state. Five thousand people, including thieves and prostitutes, attended his funeral.
During his lifetime, Mr. Jones achieved great success,but less so in his later years. Although his company continued to prosper, his personal fortune had dwindled from $900,000 to $300,000, surprising family members, according to the free-lance writer Ms. Court. In keeping with his beliefs, Mr. Jones had given much of the money to charities.
Meanwhile, according to Dr. Glaab, Mr. Jones was rapidly falling out of favor as a politician, and there was no guarantee he would win the next election.
“In a sense,” Dr. Glaab says, “he was like so many political leaders who became famous. He died at the right time.”