Article published September 24, 1999
Visionary mayor used Golden Rule in business, politics
Apolitician almost by accident, he struck fear into the hearts of the political elite of the day.
A sitting U.S. president, the speaker of the U.S. House, and the leader of the Senate traversed Ohio campaigning against him, trying to mute the strong appeal of his populist message.
He was Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, a penniless man who became a millionaire businessman before turning his attention to politics, where he was one of the nation’s foremost political reformers as mayor of Toledo. A stubborn man who hated political parties because of the corruption they encouraged, Mr. Jones ran his company and his administration based on the Biblical precept that one should treat others as one would want to be treated.
He gained national attention for his municipal reforms and for his success in fighting corruption.
He died during his eighth year in office, but the legend of Samuel Jones lives on – nearly 100 years after his death, experts have rated him the fifth-best mayor in United States history.
Mr. Jones arrived in Toledo from Wales via Pennsylvania and Lima, establishing the Acme Sucker Rod Co., which made oil drilling equipment. He won the nickname “Golden Rule Jones” for the policies he implemented at the firm, including the eight-hour workday, paid vacations, and a company park for his employees.
In 1897, with the local Republican Party badly split over whom to offer as a mayoral candidate, they settled on him as a compromise. He won but quickly fell out of favor with the GOP because of his refusal to fulfill their patronage demands. He ran and won re-election as an independent in 1899, winning 70 per cent of the vote.
He served until his death in 1904.
While in office, he implemented many reforms, including a civil service system for police officers and firefighters, and he was known for bringing his “Golden Rule” philosophy to city government, preaching love and forgiveness and light sentences for petty crimes.
When a group of local ministers urged him to force prostitutes out of town, he asked “To where?” Mayor Jones suggested that the ministers take the girls into their homes to shelter them and pledged that, if the ministers would comply, he and Mrs. Jones would do the same.
He was criticized for not closing city bars on Sundays, but he maintained Toledoans worked long and hard six days a week and deserved their beer on the seventh.
In 1899, a few months after winning re-election, he became an independent candidate for governor, though some in the state Republican Party tried to entice him to run for the GOP nomination.
To quash Mr. Jones’s candidacy, New York Gov. Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. House Speaker David Henderson, U.S. Senate President Pro Tem William Fry, and both of Ohio’s senators traveled the state campaigning against him, and for George Nash, who won. Even President William McKinley, an Ohio native who did not campaign for his own presidency three years before, traveled the state to speak on behalf of Mr. Nash, causing the Toledo News Bee newspaper to wonder: “What office is William McKinley running for this year?”
On election night, as the vote totals flowed into election headquarters in the Valentine Building in downtown Toledo, Mayor Jones called his strong third-place finish and his effort to fight the two-party system a “moral victory,” saying his independent candidacy won more votes than any other such effort in Ohio history.
He carried Toledo by 2,270 votes after having spent $250 on his campaign here. In Cuyahoga County, he won 54 per cent but lost badly in rural areas.
Eventually, the reforms that Mr. Jones fought for became commonplace in the American work force and in government. But because of his foresight and commitment to the “Golden Rule,” he has earned a lasting place in American political history.