Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2000
Middletown woke up to Armco in 1901
By Jim Blount
The sound of factory whistles in the middle of the night usually signaled disaster or bad news, but Thursday morning, March 7, 1901, the blast that woke Middletown residents was a celebratory broadcast. It marked a milestone in the city's history, a successful test at the new plant of the American Rolling Mill Company.
The steel mill, the Middletown Signal reported, "took off its first heat of molten iron at its great furnaces last night." The newspaper said "on completion of the first pour off at 2:03 o'clock this morning, the great whistle on the factory blew, announcing (the event) to the people of the city."
It was part of a series of events that began in May 1900 when George M. Verity agreed to move the American Steel Roofing Company from Cincinnati to Middletown, a city of 9,215 people in that year's federal census. .
In 1899, Verity -- who had managed the company for 12 years -- had changed the corporate name to the American Rolling Mill Company. For decades, the Middletown plant was commonly known as Armco. It became official in 1948. Since 1989 it has been AK Steel, an Armco spin-off that became independent in 1994.
According to a 1900 pact with the city, Verity promised to employ 150 people and pay at least $25,000 in wages each month. For its part, Middletown donated 12 acres on Curtis Street and created a $100,000 relocation fund to aid the transition.
A few weeks later, the Middletown Signal predicted that the mill "is destined to prove of immense value to Middletown's future welfare." It expressed that outlook before construction started.
"It was a glorious event, the opening of a new era of prosperity for this city in the establishment of a great industry," observed the Signal in reporting the July 12, 1900, cornerstone ceremonies that saw much of city decorated in red, white and blue bunting.
"Today the people of Middletown were in holiday attire," the newspaper said. Stores and factories closed for the celebration. The festivities included a parade to the mill site with bands and military units, plus a variety of marchers and horse-drawn vehicles.
As mill construction progressed at Doty's Grove, the optimistic Signal said "Middletown is certainly on the crest of the prosperity wave and the outlook for the next decade is more flattering than ever it has been in the history of the city."
In its Jan. 1, 1901, edition, the newspaper said "the buildings are all completed and the machinery is now being put into place." On that date, the company's office staff numbered five people, including Verity, president, and his brother-in-law, Rufus C. Phillips, secretary.
After testing in February and March 1901, the company was soliciting business. By its fifth year of operation, it produced more than 13,400 tons of steel with sales topping $1.2 million.
By 1910, with expansions and improvements, Armco turned out 4,500 tons a month and its annual sales exceeded $3.6 million. By that time, employment had reached 1,500, or 10 times the 150 jobs Verity had guaranteed to city officials 10 years earlier.
Armco operations eventually spread to other cities and states as it became an international company.
One of its acquisitions was the Hamilton Coke & Iron Company in 1936. Its coke ovens and blast furnaces at New Miami were regarded as part of the Middletown Works.
In 1999, AK Steel and Armco Inc. were reunited in a merger with the name of the off-spring surviving.
In a 1999 press release, AK Steel said the combined company "produces flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products for automotive, appliance, construction and manufacturing markets, as well as standard pipe and tubular steel products." It employed about 11,500 people in varied operations at Middletown, Coshocton, Dover, Mansfield, Warren and Zanesville in Ohio; Butler, Sharon and Wheatland, Pa.; Ashland, Ky.; Rockport, Ind.; and Houston, Texas.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2000
George Verity left his mark on area
By Jim Blount
George M. Verity was "as stalwart and rugged as the product he developed" and the "initiator of virtually every worthwhile community enterprise in Middletown for more than four decades," said a newspaper upon his death Nov. 6, 1942. The Armco leader was known as "the dean of American steelmakers." He was accorded the business humanizer award by Forbes in 1939. The magazine's described him as "a man of leadership and outstanding character, who brought to his daily task a rich store of spiritual resources."
Accolades for Verity's community service are endless. "In Middletown, it would be impossible to briefly record his contributions," a newspaper said. "Better say that everything valuable to the physical, cultural, spiritual and moral life of the city is traceable to him."
"No one can . . . adequately pay tribute to the life of George M. Verity," said the Hamilton Journal-News in noting his part in acquiring coke ovens and blast furnaces at New Miami in 1936. The editorial said "there have been few communities, anywhere anytime, that have been blessed with the life of a man so capable, so understanding, so completely human."
"It seems that the great underlying philosophy of Mr. Verity's life and the principal, single motivating influence was his interest in and understanding of people" a Middletown newspaper said. "He never seemed to lose, even momentarily, that perspective, whether in business or private life."
"Busy -- yes, but never too busy to be interested in the welfare of others -- never too engrossed in his personal problems to be kindly, sympathetic and helpful," the report said.
His concern for people was noted by George Crout, Middletown historian, who considers Verity that city's top leader of the 20th century. "Before building the new East Works plant here in 1909, Verity insisted on certain civic improvements -- a YMCA, library, hospital, more homes, schools and churches, He refused to bring in additional people before these were available," Crout wrote.
Middletown showed its gratitude with a Verity appreciation day June 7, 1936, complete with a parade and laudatory ceremonies. The city grew from 9,215 people in 1900 to 31,220 inhabitants in 1940, two years before Verity's death.
The Armco founder was born April 22, 1865, at East Liberty in Logan County, the son of a minister. He completed high school in Georgetown, Ohio, before taking courses at a business college in Cincinnati.
In 1886, after the death of the owner, he became manager of the W. C. Standish Wholesale Grocery Company in Cincinnati. Three years later, he convinced the widow Standish to sell the one-store business in the face of increasing chain-store competition.
In 1889 he assumed management of the Sagendorf Iron Roofing and Corrugating Company that reorganized in 1891 as the American Steel Roofing Company. Verity's worry about Ohio River flooding at the Cincinnati plant prompted his search for a new location.
In May 1900 he decided to move the operation to Middletown as the American Rolling Mill Company, which had incorporated Dec. 2, 1899. Although he been selling steel products for nearly 12 years, the 35-year-old Verity had no experience in making steel.
Joining him in the move to Middletown was his wife of 13 years, Jean (Jennie) M. Standish, daughter of the owners of the wholesale grocery concern that Verity once managed.
The couple eventually resided at 230 South Main Street, in a house that is now part of a historic district just south of downtown Middletown. They had three children: a son, Calvin W. Verity, later an Armco executive; and two daughters Leah (Mrs. Charles R. Hook), whose husband also became an Armco executive, and Sara (Mrs. Newman Ebersole).
A Middletown writer said Verity "was the man who brought democracy to industry and whose fixed belief in understanding between men and management became his chief source of strength." He "defied all of the old-time, ill-considered treatment of employees." He practiced "what old-timers . . . called 'coddling' -- a system of cooperation between employer and employee." The writer said Verity believed that "if the employee failed, so did the employer."
Verity formulated the "Armco Spirit." That philosophy said "work -- honest labor -- is one of the noblest things in life." It stated that the "Armco spirit is, in fact, simply an exemplification of the highest standard of real American citizenship."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000
Television age arrived in February 1948
By Jim Blount
Watching television is considered a right today, and having a wide choice of programs is taken for granted, but it wasn’t always that way. The TV age dawned for a limited number of Butler County viewers Feb. 9, 1948, when WLWT began operations. As WSXCT, it had been telecasting on an experimental basis since June 1947.
The Cincinnati station telecast its first Cincinnati Reds game April 19, 1948, the season’s opener at Crosley Field. It was the first of 34 weekday games scheduled for TV that year. That day another local favorite, "Midwestern Hayride," debuted.
With a reach of 45 miles, Ohio’s first TV station was available in most of Butler County, but few people had invested in TV sets at that time.
A 10-inch set, providing black and white reception, cost $299.95 in local stores in April 1948. Allowing for inflation, that would be equivalent to about $2,175 in recent dollars.
Also available was a 1948 GE floor unit, priced at $725. It featured AM and FM radio reception, and an automatic phonograph in addition to television. The 10-inch TV screen wasn’t much larger than the radio dial.
A table model -- which sold for $449.95 -- also offered FM and AM radio. The manufacturer described it as "so compact, so space-saving -- yet such a big picture."
The newspaper ad also boasted that it provided "all 13 U. S. television channels . . . each with its own factory pre-tuned circuit."
WLWT boosted its effective power to 50,000 watts Saturday, April 17, 1948.
"Hamilton has received WLWT programs, even when the transmitter operated on 500 watts," reported the Journal-News that day, "but Crosley officials discouraged promoting television here on the grounds that such reception was spotty and undependable."
Even after its April 1948 boost in power and erection of a higher transmitter tower, the station offered only 20 to 30 hours of programs a week. That meant viewers saw only the test pattern for the remaining 138 to 148 hours of the week.
It was common in the 1948-1950 era for set owners to invite relatives, friends and neighbors into their homes to watch the few shows that were available.
Most local programs were live, but not network presentations. The station advertised that NBC network shows "will be flown to Cincinnati . . . many within 24 hours after they have been shown in New York."
WLWT also promised viewers "such outstanding features as the latest newsreels, finest Broadway plays, Madison Square Garden boxing bouts (Joe Louis vs. Joe Walcott in June), the Republican and Democratic national conventions, and the country’s biggest sports events."
For nearly a year, WLWT was the only TV station seen by Butler County viewers.
In 1949, two more Cincinnati stations started telecasting. April 4 WKRC-TV signed on, and July 19 was the first day for WCPO-TV.
In that era of local programming WLWT scored with the introduction of the Ruth Lyons show Sept. 19, 1949, simulcastings on radio and TV. Her popular 90-minute "50-50 Club" was a noon fixture until her retirement Jan. 27, 1967. Bob Braun continued the show on channel 5 until 1984.
Other familiar names among Cincinnati TV pioneers were Paul Dixon, Dottie Mack and Wanda and Al (Uncle Al) Lewis on WCPO-TV.
In Dayton, WLWD -- then under the same ownership as Cincinnati’s WLWT -- went on the air in 1949. The station has been known as WDTN since 1976.
Such long-standing TV favorites as "Meet the Press," "Howdy Doody" and "Kraft Television Theater" had debuted in 1947. Premieres in 1948 included Allen Funt’s "Candid Camera," Ed Sullivan’s "Toast of the Town," "Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts," Milton Berle’s "Texaco Star Theater" and National Football League games.
New in 1949 were Ted Mack’s "Original Amateur Hour," "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "Hopalong Cassidy," "The Fred Waring Show," "Captain Video and His Video Rangers" and "Crusade in Europe," considered the first documentary.
Television viewing choices began to expand in 1972 with the gradual introduction of cable service in the Hamilton-Fairfield area.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2000
Charlie Root part of World Series folklore
By Jim Blount
A Middletown native -- once a familiar athlete throughout Butler County -- has been part of World Series folklore for almost 68 years. Every fall since 1932, baseball writers and commentators have revived the story of Babe Ruth "calling" a home run.
It was the New York Yankees vs. the Chicago Cubs Oct. 1, 1932, at Wrigley Field, the third game of the best of seven series. The Yanks had won the first two games in New York. Ruth was batting in the fifth inning with the score tied, 4-4.
The Yankee slugger, according to varying accounts, either waved his finger, hand or bat toward center field, a motion interpreted by some observers as a prediction that he would hit a home run to that spot. Some reports say Ruth "called his shot" twice -- once after each strike.
Whatever happened -- and whatever the gesture meant -- Ruth smashed the next pitch over the center field fence, leading the Yankees to a 7-5 victory. The next day, the Bronx Bombers coasted to a 13-6 win to sweep the series.
Pitching for the Cubs that day was Charlie Root, a 33-year-old right-hander in his eighth major league season. Root -- born March 17, 1899, in Middletown -- rejected the "called shot" reports. He denied it for 38 years, until his death Nov. 5, 1970.
"He didn’t point," said the 190-pound, 5-foot-10 Root. "If he had, I’d have knocked him on his fanny. I’d have loosened him up," he explained. "I took my pitching too seriously to have anybody facing me do that."
Root compiled a proud record in his 17 seasons, one with the St. Louis Browns in the American League and 16 with Chicago in the National League.
In regular-season play, he had a 201-160 won-lost record, pitched 177 complete games in 341 starts and had a 3.58 earned run average before retiring after the 1941 season. Twenty-one of his victories were shutouts. As a relief pitcher, he had a 42-26 record with 40 saves.
Overall, he pitched 3,198 1⁄3 innings in 632 games, struck out 1,459 batters, walked 889 and gave up 3,252 hits.
As an amateur, he had pitched for teams in Middletown and Hamilton leagues. While pitching for Hooven in Hamilton, Root impressed Carl Weilenman of Hamilton, a pitcher for the St. Louis Browns. The Browns signed Root and sent him to their Terre Haute, Ind., farm team for two seasons.
He appeared in 27 games with an 0-4 record in his rookie year with the Browns in 1923. Then in 1924 and 1925 minor league seasons in Los Angeles, he had a pair of 20-win campaigns, attracting the attention of the Cubs.
His best seasons were 1927 when he was 26-15 and was the winningest pitcher in the major leagues, and 1929 when he won 19 and lost only six games for the Cubs, his team from 1926 through 1941.
Root helped Chicago win four pennants, 1929, 1932, 1935 and 1938. He had an 0-3 series record, losing to Philadelphia, New York, Detroit and New York, respectively.
In a 1929 game, Root was the victim of one of the biggest series comebacks. The Cubs had an 8-0 lead over the Athletics in the seventh inning, but Philadelphia rallied to win, 10-8. Contributing to the collapse was Hack Wilson. The Cubs outfielder lost two fly balls in the sun, including one that turned into a three-run inside-the-park home run .
During his career, after the National League season ended, Root often returned to Butler County to pitch a game or two for local amateur teams.
Later, Root was a minor league manager and a pitching coach for the Cubs (1951-1953 and 1960) and the Milwaukee Braves (1956-1957). In 1957, he was finally was part of a World Series championship team as the Braves beat the Yankees.
Root is one of 10 pitchers on the 31-man "All-Ivy Team," considered the best to ever play for the Cubs. Joining him on that all-time pitching staff are Grover Cleveland Alexander, Mordecai Brown, Fergie Jenkins, Lee Smith, Albert Spalding, Rick Sutcliffe, Bruce Sutter, Hippo Vaughn and Lon Warneke.
Root pitched more seasons (16), more games (605), more innings (3,137 1⁄3) and won more games (201) than any other pitcher in Cubs history, and is among the top 10 in most other Chicago career categories.
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