powerhouse ohio -- 2/19/18

Today's selection -- from William McKinley by Kevin Phillips. Eight U.S. presidents came from Ohio: William Harrison, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft, and Warren Harding. It is no coincidence that Ohio was one of the country's premier industrial powerhouses. Will McKinley, arguably the finest of this group, attributed Ohio's manufacturing success to the country's protective tariff, which he claimed encouraged innovation, and he became one of the country's experts on the tariff system:

"At the Civil War's outbreak, Ohio led the nation in railroad mileage, and when Buckeye soldiers got leave, all they had to do was reach the Baltimore & Ohio line in the east or the Louisville & Cincinnati in the west. Home would be only hours away.

"Like Ohio's centrality in late-nineteenth-century politics, its significance to U.S. manufacturing is hard to exaggerate. Between young Will McKinley's birth and his election to the presidency in 1896, the state's industrial innovation was the stuff of record books -- literally.

(Electric Arc Lamp)

"Cleveland had John D. Rockefeller at work in the Ohio oilfields and refinery district, as well as Charles Brush, whose invention of the arc light illuminated America's cities. Young Thomas A. Edison spent some of his boyhood puttering in the town of Milan. Charles Martin Hall, based in Oberlin, in 1886 discovered the electrolytic process for making aluminum. Toledo to the northwest claimed Edward Libbey and Michael Owens, whose inventions and local company, Libby-Owens-Ford, revolutionized the glass and bottle business.

"Dayton boasted the Wright brothers, who tinkered with the forerunners of flying machines in their local bicycle shop, as well as the Patterson brothers who started National Cash Register in 1884. The inventions of Charles Kettering, who started Delco, ranged from electric starters for automobiles to the iron lung. Fifty miles to the south, candle molder William Procter and soap maker James Gamble were already building the company that eventually made Cincinnati a household-product word.

1837 - William Procter & James Gamble's first office

"In McKinley's own backyard, B. F. Goodrich and Harvey Fire­stone made Akron the rubber capital of the world in the 1870s and 1880s. The National Inventor's Hall of Fame, located there, has been described by the Wall Street Journal as 'a Cooperstown for gadgeteers and tinkerers.' The Studebaker brothers grew up in Wooster before building their cars. J. Ward Packard produced elec­trical equipment in Warren before putting his name on a luxury automobile.

"Few remember Joshua Gibbs, whose newfangled iron plows turned Canton, Ohio, into the nation's leading pre-Civil War pro­ducer of farm machinery. Without that base, the city might not have lured youthful lawyer McKinley in 1869. William H. Hoover developed the vacuum cleaner, and his company remains a Canton institution.

"Small wonder that innovation became part of McKinley's argu­ment for the protective system. 'It encourages the development of skill and inventive genius as part of the great productive forces,' he said as a young man awed by what he saw around him. He identi­fied the tariff with national development and patriotism, and, in the words of biographer H. Wayne Morgan, 'through the dull tax [tar­iff] schedules that bored other men, he found the romance of his­tory in the unfolding development of the nation's wealth.'

"The best parallel is to the Britain of 1750 to 1820, with its early Industrial Revolution convergence of communications, foundries, factories, and, most of all, innovations. The most notable were James Hargreaves's spinning jenny (1766), James Watt's steam engine (1768), Henry Cort's patents for puddling and rolling iron (1783-84), and Richard Arkwright's power loom (1787). Like post-Civil War Ohio, early industrial Britain had secured and mobilized itself with tariffs, strict patent laws, government assistance, and military procurement, as well as the Navigation Acts that gave preference to British shipping and parliamentary statutes that sought to prohibit skilled workers and engineers from leaving the country."

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Kevin Phillips


William McKinley: The American Presidents Series: The 25th President, 1897-1901


Times Books


Copyright 2003 by Kevin Phillips


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