Journal-News , Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2002
Rentschler engines powered air wars
By Jim Blount
When Frederick B. Renstchler formed the Wright Aeronautical Corp. in 1919, his intention was to develop engines and aircraft that would establish the United States as a world leader in aviation technology. His World War I service convinced him that the U. S. trailed European nations in aeronautical engineering.
Although 30 years old, the Hamilton native enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1917 when the U. S. declared war on Germany. The military took advantage of his industrial experience in family businesses in Hamilton, assigning him to inspect assembly of European-designed aircraft engines. The first lieutenant spent the war in a Wright-Martin plant in New Brunswick, N. J., where Hispano-Suiza engines were built under a French license.
After the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice ended World War I, Wright-Martin closed and Rentschler assumed he would return the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co. in Hamilton.
Instead, with $3 million in capital -- a Wright-Martin residual -- he formed a new firm, Wright Aeronautical Corp., to design and build improved aircraft engines. He also inherited some engineers and other employees from defunct Wright-Martin and began operations in rented facilities in Paterson, N. J.
Rentschler -- with engineer Charles L. Lawrence -- produced air-cooled engines to replace bulkier liquid-cooled power plants. Known as the Whirlwind, the 225-horsepower engine was in army and navy planes by 1924. America's first high-powered, air-cooled radial engine helped American flyers establish record-setting flights in the 1920s and 1930s.
Rentschler and Chance Vought, a plane designer, combined forces to develop aircraft for the U. S. Navy. This led to his departure from Wright and formation of a new company, the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Corp., in 1925.
That same year his engineers built a new light weight 425-horsepower engine that became the standard power in Vought's Corsair, fighter planes built by William F. Boeing, and commercial and private aircraft. The new engine was named the Wasp by Faye Belden Rentschler, the Hamilton woman who had become his wife July 25, 1921.
In 1928 Rentschler ventured into flight operations, forming United Aircraft and Transport Corp. in cooperation with Vought and Boeing. That company -- later known as United Airlines -- completed the first coast-to-coast passenger network in March 1928.
In the 1930s, Rentschler committed Pratt & Whitney to helicopter experimentation. In 1939, an associate, Igor Sikorsky, designed and built the prototype for the modern helicopter. Although about 400 served in World War II, it wasn't until the 1950-53 Korean War that the helicopter came into common military use.
But horsepower was always Rentschler's priority, and it became his nickname. In the four years of World War II, 1941-45, Pratt & Whitney manufactured 137,436 engines. Time magazine said the company and licensees "furnished half of all U. S. piston horsepower flown in the war."
World War II aircraft powered by these engines included the B-24 Liberator bomber (about 18,100 built); the B-26 Marauder bomber (about 5,150); the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter (about 15,600); and the C-47 Skytrain transport (about 11,000).
After the war, Rentschler turned his attention to developing jet engines, once again striving to help the U. S. close the gap in the international aircraft competition. The result was the J-57 jet engine in 1953 which powered the first B-52 Stratofortress in 1954. About 100 of the global bomber of the 1950s remained in service at the start of 2002, including some used in recent attacks on Taliban enclaves in Afghanistan.
When Frederick Rentschler died April 25, 1956, the New York Times editorialized that "his outstanding qualities of balance and judgment, combined with a lifetime of technical and business experience, made his contributions to the United States aircraft industry -- and to the security of the nation -- major and lasting."
Evidence of his success had come earlier, in 1951, when a Time magazine cover story declared that Rentschler "has probably done as much for U. S. aviation as anyone since the Wright brothers."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002
Revival of Hamilton cigar industry promoted in 1914
By Jim Blount
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce scheduled a smoker in March 1914, not as a social event, but to promote and revive a declining Hamilton industry -- cigar manufacturing. The public event included an exhibit of Hamilton-made cigars and discussions of possible marketing strategies. A meeting announcement said "the cigar makers and manufacturers want the advice, opinions and criticism of the dealers and consumers . . . that will result in a vigorous revival of the industry."
Henry Brinker, representing local cigar makers, said there were 29 cigar makers in Hamilton in 1914, but only four men had steady work. A local worker, if sales demanded, could produce about 1,500 handmade cigars a week.
The 29 cigar makers represented a drastic drop from 83 in the business in 1867, when Hamilton had a population of about 10,000.
In addition to cigar makers, in 1900 Hamilton was the home of the Louis Newburgh Co., which processed Ohio-grown tobacco, mostly from Warren and Montgomery counties, before shipping the fermented leaves to cigar and chewing tobacco manufacturers in the U. S. and abroad. The Newburgh plant, on what is now Erie Highway, employed 200 people, plus hiring about 200 seasonal workers.
11 "It is estimated that only about 6,000 Hamilton-made cigars are smoked here each week, out of a total of over 200,000 cigars consumed" in the city of about 35,000 people, the Republican-News said in reporting on the 1914 chamber meeting. (That would have been an average of almost six per week for every man, woman and child residing in the city.)
If only locally-made cigars were smoked, the newspaper said, "it would give employment to 300 cigar makers at an average wage of $15 per week, thus giving the city a payroll of $4,500 per week. If half the cigars used were homemade, it would still furnish a large payroll for the city."
Those in attendance agreed that one problem was that local smokers no longer patronized Hamilton manufacturers. "The cigar industry isn't the only local business that is hurt by this thoughtless lack of loyalty to Hamilton and her home institution, but it furnishes a very acute example of what happens when we forget our obligation to our own town and our own people," the newspaper observed.
Another problem, according to one of Hamilton's largest cigar dealers, was the product.
"Our local manufacturers make almost entirely five-cent cigars," said Armin Berkowitz, a wholesaler of liquor, wines, cigars and chocolates at 243 High Street. "Government reports show that in the past 10 years there has been only a 20 percent increase in American cigar production and this increase has occurred almost wholly in cigars selling either for more than five cents or less than five cents." Berkowitz said "I do not think the manufacture of five-cent cigars has increased at all."
Berkowitz also noted a change in smoking habits. Cigarette smoking, he said, "has increased 500 percent in 10 years, while the cigar industry has increased 20 percent. Our population has increased 12.5 percent in 10 years."
"Ten years ago, cigarettes were sold in only 11 places in Hamilton," he said. "Today they are sold in 42 places. There is no doubt about the effect of this on the cigar industry."
The 1914 chamber of commerce event produced a resolution that included an "appeal to all dealers and smokers to give favorable consideration from this day forward to the product of the cigar manufacturers of Hamilton."
Despite good intentions, the cigar industry continued its decline.
By 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, the city directory listed only four cigar manufacturers in Hamilton: Bernard J. Mick at 509 S. Front St.; Sherman Miller, 106 Sherman Ave.; J. Fred Pippert, 13 Sycamore St.; and Robert Howard Smith, 605 S. Seventh St.
As World War II approached, the 1940 directory included only Pippert and Mick. From 1944 through 1947, Pippert was identified as the only cigar manufacturer in Hamilton.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2002
Ailing Civil War horses sent to Hamilton camp
By Jim Blount
In the early years of the Civil War, horses were expendable, succumbing to a combination of misuse, poor care, ignorance and battle hazards. In the final years -- with belated reform and improvements in the north's cavalry service -- the Union army opened a horse rehabilitation camp in Hamilton.
Until 1863, little, if anything, had been done to prolong the useful service of wounded or sick horses. This omission was corrected with creation of the Cavalry Bureau. The convalescent camp in Hamilton -- probably a branch of the Cincinnati quartermaster depot -- was a small part of the new program.
The Hamilton horse camp was along North Third Street, between present Vine and Black streets, in an area later occupied by the factories of the General Machinery Corp. and paper warehouses of Champion International.
In 1861 and 1862, it had been the location of Camp Hamilton, a training center for new soldiers entering the Union army, including hundreds of Butler County men. The camp had been moved from its original location -- the Butler County Fairgrounds -- because the North Third Street site offered a better source of water.
Local histories don't mention the horse camp's existence, but limited descriptions have survived in newspapers. Dates of its opening and closing are uncertain, but at least one report said it operated "for quite a while" after the Civil War ended.
"There were, at the height of the camp's prosperity," one report said, "as many as 1,000 horses housed in it at one time." During the war, its purpose was to restore horses for additional army service -- as mounts for the cavalry or to pull artillery or supply wagons.
When the war ended, the horse camp's task was to "put them [horses] in a condition so that they could be put on the market and sold, as the government had no use for them," a newspaper writer explained.
The stables were "large enough and commodious to run two rows of stalls through each and placed a corn crib on one side in about the middle of the stalls to make it convenient for the animals," the writer said.
"As you entered the camp on Third Street, to the right, the government had a reservoir built that was used to water the horses. The water was piped throughout the entire camp as well as the stables." The complex also included a powerhouse "to pump water into the reservoir, and also to grind feed for the horses and run the cutting boxes to cut straw."
"This plant was eventually, after Uncle Sam got through with it, converted into a distillery, called the Little Giant, and was operated quite a while by George Elliott, and finally abandoned," the writer noted.
A veterinary stable was built at the north end of the camp where horses received care or, if beyond hope, were destroyed and buried. Hides removed from dead horses were sold by the doctors, who retained the revenue, a benefit that would seem to have discouraged rehabilitation.
In the absence of records, the ratio of horses rehabilitated to those destroyed is unknown.
After the camp closed, an enterprising entrepreneur operated a bone factory there, grinding the remains and selling the product as fertilizer.
During its operation, the camp also provided some sporting activity for wartime Hamilton. A newspaper said "they had a race track in connection with the camp, which furnished a lot of fun for the neighborhood boys, who were given a chance to exercise convalescent horses on it."
A writer also commented on the expense of operating the horse camp. Uncle Sam, he said, "would have done better if he had given the horses away and perhaps paid the men to whom they were sold for taking them as it was a very expensive camp," he said.
"Besides the cost of the large amount of feed the animals required, the government had quite a bunch of men necessary to take care of the horses -- one man for every 16 animals -- besides the superintendent, who also had a clerk to pay, and the veterinary surgeons," the writer explained.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2002
Fairfield's birth recalled in book by first mayor
By Jim Blount
Robert F. Wessel helped make history in Fairfield as its first mayor and later as city solicitor and law director and as a member of the planning commission and board of zoning appeals. Now he's added the title of historian with the publication of a book, appropriately titled Fairfield at Creation.
Wessel traces Fairfield development from formation of the village and its quick evolution to city status to events that have shaped the present community, which had 42,907 inhabitants in the 2000 census.
"When someone notes that you were the first mayor of Fairfield now, some 47 years after the event, they envision you as a ribbon-cutter and custodian of the key to the city," he said. "It wasn't that way."
In Fairfield's early stage, Wessel says, "I was not only the chief executive officer of the municipality, I was the only executive officer. In addition to the ribbon-cutting, I was presiding at council meetings; working with the treasurer and solicitor in budgeting; working with the solicitor in preparing necessary ordinances and resolutions to get the village up and running; supervising all street repair and the fire department; representing the village in all of the many legal situations -- which were many at that time -- and disposing of dead animals. It was both a prestigious and humbling experience," he recalls.
Although described as a "personal memoir," the book is not just about Wessel. He emphasizes that "the history of Fairfield is, essentially, a story of people and how they shaped events."
The move to incorporate, he explains, began in a meeting in July 1953. "To the Fairfieldians assembled, there was little question that the southward expansion of the City of Hamilton was a real and eminent threat. It was time to circle the wagons." A few days later, the Journal-News reported a Hamilton plan to annex areas around the city, including a portion of Fairfield Township.
"The ink" on the newspaper "was not yet dry when those Fairfieldians who had been investigating incorporation called an emergency meeting to devise a plan that would save our community and preserve our way of life," according to Wessel.
"The road to Fairfield incorporation was a rocky one," he writes. "It was strewn with obstacles and impediments."
There were three plans presented for incorporation in 1953 and 1954. The first vote -- proposing to incorporate the entire township -- failed, 1,219 to 831. That was the first of a series of elections, plus numerous petitions, hearings and appeals before the first elected village officers took the oath of office Nov. 22, 1954.
That pioneering group included Wessel as mayor; Walter L. Hunter, Charles N. Vance, Ellis R. Muskopf, Kenneth L. Faist Jr., Ben K. Groh and Dr. Robert Mansfield as council members; Winifred C. Field, treasurer; and George Zimmers, clerk. They had no public place to meet and no established procedures, Wessel says.
There were several more legal moves as the village took shape. Initial problems included clarifying sources of revenue and gaining a share of township property, including a fire station and fire equipment. "The overriding problem," Wessel explains, "was to prevent annexation of territory by the City of Hamilton on the one hand, and to prevent detachment from the Village of Fairfield by farmers, some of whom felt that incorporation of any kind was not to their respective benefits."
At the same time, he says, the village had to "establish its credibility by performing in a satisfactory manner those services that every citizen is entitled to receive. That is, police protection, fire department services, public utilities, regulated zoning and development."
Oct. 20, 1955 -- based on a special census of 6,202 -- Fairfield was proclaimed a city by the Ohio secretary of state. Another important date in Fairfield history, Wessel believes, was Oct. 1, 1959, when the city income tax was enacted.
For information on the availability of Wessel's interesting book, Fairfield at Creation, contact Wessel & Wessel Lawyers, 315 Key Building, 6 S. Second St., Hamilton, OH 45011-2846; phone 863-0083.