1910-1920: Change was on the horizion
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The decade of the 1910s began quietly enough.
But change was on the horizon.
Within a few years, World War I would begin, and the calm that had ushered in the 20th century would disappear.
Findlay entered the decade with a population of 14,858, its lowest since 1890. The development of oil interests in Indiana and Illinois was blamed, in part, for drawing men and families away from the area.
City leaders, believing that more jobs would mean greater prosperity for the community, spent the period working to build Findlay’s industrial base.
The popularity of a newfangled mode of transportation called the automobile had a remarkable effect on the country. People could travel farther and faster, thanks to Henry Ford. At least four companies manufactured motor vehicles in Findlay for a time.
At that period of time, there were hundreds and hundreds of car manufacturers, said Paulette Weiser, former curator/archivist at the Hancock Historical Museum. Most were short-lived.
The Adams Brothers Co. made trucks in Findlay for about six years. The company, located on West Main Cross Street just east of Hurd Avenue, had been in the foundry business several decades before it entered the automotive field.
In early 1911, six Adams trucks were taken to an automobile show in Chicago. The vehicles received an enthusiastic response, and demand for the Findlay-made product steadily increased. The assembly plant moved into larger quarters on Putnam Street. By 1917, however, truck production ceased and the company moved into the production of automobile axles.
The Findlay Motor Car Co. produced passenger cars from 1910-13 in the old Findlay Axe and Tool plant at the foot of Santee Avenue. Then the company failed, and was taken over by a group of Detroit businessmen. For a few years, the new company manufactured the Grant motor car in Findlay.
The Morning Republican newspaper gave a glowing review of the two-passenger, four-cylinder Grant roadster in November 1913, saying the car “is believed destined to become one of the sensational bargains of years ahead.”
The firm did substantial business and demand for the $425 car increased here and abroad. The line expanded to include a six-cylinder coupe, a cabriolet and a racing car.
By 1916, Grant officials announced that the company had outgrown its quarters in Findlay. Operations were moved to Cleveland, where the firm dissolved in the early 1920s.
The Findlay Carriage Co. entered the automotive field in 1909 after producing carriages and buggies for 17 years. The firm’s first vehicle was called the Superior and operated at speeds up to 60 mph. The company continued in business until fire destroyed its West Crawford Street plant in 1916.
A related business came to Findlay from Akron. The M&M Co. had started by making tire patches, cement and repair kits for bicycles. The name was changed to Giant Tire Co. and operations moved to Findlay in 1917.
The new firm manufactured rebuilt tires on Western Avenue, utilizing a four-story building that had once housed a lantern company. Fire destroyed the original plant, which was rebuilt.
I.J. Cooper of Cincinnati joined the company and the first all-new tire was made in the new plant in 1919 under the name of the Cooper Corp.
Ohio Oil Co. continued to be a driving force in the community. J.C. Donnell was elected president of the company in 1911.
The decade also saw a number of other industries begin operations in Findlay. Among them was the Continental Sugar Co., which built a refinery southwest of town along the Nickel Plate Railroad in 1911. The same year, the Deisel-Wemmer Co. began producing handmade cigars here. A new plant was constructed at 214 Broadway.
Findlay and Hancock County responded patriotically to the nation’s declaration of war in 1917. The local Ohio National Guard unit, Co. A of the 2nd Regiment, was called into service as part of Ohio’s 37th Division, and served with distinction in Belgium and on other fronts.
Back home, residents responded to the country’s appeal for war funds. Liberty loan campaigns were conducted every four or five months with successful results. The Red Cross chapter also was organized. The unit’s headquarters were established at the Elks lodge during the conflict.
At the end of the war, 20 men, including Col. Ralph D. Cole of Findlay, met in Paris to found the American Legion. John Hancock Post 3 was formed here soon after. The post was later renamed for Cole, in recognition of his role in starting the organization.
The city received an interesting piece of history in 1913 — the bathtub from the U.S. battleship Maine. The ship sank after an explosion in the Havana, Cuba harbor in 1898, triggering the start of the Spanish-American War. Once the ship was raised in 1912, requests for relics poured in to the White House and War Department.
Congressman Frank B. Willis of Ohio originally secured the bathtub for the city of Urbana. Citizens there were less than enthusiastic, so Willis offered the tub to Findlay. The cast iron memento was placed in a special case and displayed at the courthouse for years.
In civic matters, Findlay’s tax rate fell to a new low in 1914. The rate was 6.2 mills, the lowest in Ohio. Findlay’s new slogan became, “Lowest tax rate and purest water in the state.”
A local liquor option stirred the public’s interest that same year. The county had been dry for six years when the state Rose law was repealed. That law had allowed counties to decide whether to allow the sale of liquor. The dry forces circulated petitions calling for a new vote on the issue in 1914. The campaign sparked intense interest among citizens. As a result of the election, Findlay remained a dry community until 1933.
The first county road pavements were laid during the decade. The Dixie Highway, which connected Michigan and Florida, was among the first to be hard-surfaced. Brick was used over most of the route.
The coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway also was officially routed through Hancock County for the first time in 1919.
Findlay’s building boom continued during the decade. With voters’ approval, Washington and Lincoln schools were constructed to replace structures that dated back to gas boom days.
The South Park addition, the first new addition of any size in Findlay since the boom, was opened. An ox roast auction was held to launch the sale of lots in the area that included Glendale, Greenlawn and McPherson avenues.
The city also saw progress in other areas. A new county home was built to replace an outdated structure west of the city, and an addition was constructed at the Home and Hospital of the City of Findlay.
The Fire Department also obtained its first motorized vehicle, a locally-made Adams fire truck.
In 1914, Associated Charities of Findlay was formed to provide emergency financial assistance to local and county residents. The 4-H and Boy Scout programs also were organized.
On the social scene, a week-long celebration marked the centennial of the establishment of Fort Findlay. (The fort was erected in 1812 by Col. James Findlay at the northwest corner of South Main and West Front streets.) A replica of the fort was built on Broadway, and a number of arches, each bearing 50 electric lights, were constructed across Main Street. The city continued to use the arches for some years after the celebration because they were attractive and afforded improved street illumination.
Hancock County native Tell Taylor wrote the popular song, “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” around 1910. Taylor told friends that the inspiration for the tune came to him while he was seated on the bank of the Blanchard River, not far from the Findlay Country Club.
The following year, Findlay’s Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis motor speedway race.
Several celebrities visited Findlay during the decade. President William Howard Taft spoke before a crowd of 5,000 people on Park Place in 1912, and actress Sarah Bernhardt entertained audiences at the Marvin Theater in 1917. That same year, Billy Brock of Flint, Mich. set his Wright pusher plane down at Hobart and Western avenues. It was the first recorded landing of a plane in Hancock County.