Journal-News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004
Niles Tool Works leader in machine tool industry
By Jim Blount
Among Hamilton's vanished industrial credits is a claim to being one of the nation's leading centers of machine tool production. Most notable among several firms was the Niles Tool Works that moved to Hamilton in 1872 and eventually became part of the General Machinery Corp. "The production of machine tools involves the highest grade of skill in design and of workmanship in production," noted a souvenir book published during Hamilton's centennial in 1891.
Machine tools, the book explained, include lathes, planing machines, drilling machines, slotting machines, boring machines, gear cutters "and a host of other machines designed for operating on cold metals by the operation of a cutting tool."
"Wherever machinery of any kind is built, machine tools are employed in doing the work," said the centennial publication. "The accuracy and low cost of any kind of manufacturing in metal must therefore find its foundation in the accuracy and efficiency of the machine tools employed in the work."
Niles traced its history to two brothers, James and Jonathan Niles, who had moved to Cincinnati from their native Connecticut. Sources vary on the starting date, usually listing 1843 or 1845.
The brothers began by repairing steamboats on the Ohio River, but expanded to other products. After designing their own power plant, they built steam-powered sugar mills for plantations in Louisiana. By 1853, Niles -- with between 400 and 500 workers -- was a major employer in Cincinnati..
Most accounts say the Niles Works entered the machine tool business by accident. During the Civil War, when their boat building and rebuilding business boomed, the shop needed another lathe, but none was readily available. Instead, two young employees, George A. Gray Jr. and Alexander Gordon, assumed the task. Their success led to formation of a new Niles department devoted to machine tools.
In 1866, with the Civil War ended, the Niles brothers sold their business to Gray and Gordon who formed a partnership with James Gaff, a wealthy businessman in Aurora, Ind. Gordon provided the technical expertise, Gray the business skills and Gaff the capital.
Gray, Gordon and Gaff purchased the Niles name, calling their venture the Niles Tool Works to emphasize the firm's main business, the manufacture of machine tools. Their success encouraged expansion, but it had to be in a different location. The Cincinnati factory occupied land that was a logical site for a new railroad station.
Hamilton civic leaders -- with initiative from Job E. Owens and William Beckett -- offered incentives, including land, stone and locally-made bricks for factory construction and free water power from the Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic canal for a few years.
In 1871 work started on a new factory facing North Third Street and extending west to North Second Street along Mill Street (north of Vine Street). A year later the Niles Tool Works began operating in Hamilton. The firm was incorporated in 1874 with Gaff as president, Gordon as secretary and Gray as treasurer and superintendent.
Expansions, changes and reorganizations followed as the company built a national and then an international reputation for quality work while surviving periodic national business slumps, called panics in the 1800s.
New and expanding American industries and the westward extension of railroads were customers for Hamilton-made machine tools in the 1875-1900 period. The U. S. Army and U. S. Navy also relied on Niles for large guns and naval equipment. In 1882 Niles opened an office in Philadelphia, and others followed in New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
Alexander Gordon, who directed operations, was a constant during several management changes and additions. Gray withdrew from the company in 1877, replaced by R. C. McKinney. Gaff died in 1878. He was succeeded by his son, James W. Gaff, also an Aurora businessman, who died in 1889. Other additions in the late 1870s were James K. Cullen in sales and George T. Reiss in engineering. McKinney, Cullen and Reiss became leading civic citizens in Hamilton as well as a strong management team for Niles Tool Works.
Niles acquired companies in other cities in the U. S. and Canada, built a healthy export business and in 1899 became part of a national conglomerate, Niles-Bement-Pond Co., which became the largest machine tool company in the world.
In 1928, George A. Rentschler merged his Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co. and Niles to form the General Machinery Corp. In a series of post-World War II mergers, GMC was transformed into Lima-Hamilton and finally Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton before completing relocation to Eddystone, Pa., by January 1960.
Next week this column will trace the career of Alexander Gordon, under whose leadership Niles became a major Hamilton employer and a stalwart in the machine tool industry.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Alexander Gordon led Niles to international fame
By Jim Blount
Alexander Gordon, who had helped form the company a few years earlier, was instrumental in bringing the Niles Tool Works to Hamilton in 1872. Under his leadership, the firm became a major employer in Hamilton and internationally recognized in the machine tool industry in the late 19th century.
Gordon was born Dec. 16, 1830, in Belfast, Ireland. His parents immigrated to the United States, but soon returned to Ireland where their son was educated for the Presbyterian ministry at Marshall College in Aberdeen.
As a young man, he came to Cincinnati and attained U. S. citizenship, but he didn't enter the ministry. Instead, Gordon worked as a machinist at the Niles Works in Cincinnati, a company primarily involved in repairing steamboats on the Ohio River.
During the Civil War, he served aboard Union ships on the inland rivers. As a result of that service, he was afterward known as Colonel Gordon. His life took a dramatic turn during the war while a civilian worker at the Niles Works.
The firm was busy building and refitting steamboats for war service when another lathe was needed in the shop. When none could be purchased, Gordon and another employee, George A. Gray Jr., built one. Their skill led Niles to open a new department to manufacture machine tools.
In 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, James and Jonathan Niles sold their machine tool business to Gray and Gordon. They formed a partnership with James Gaff, a wealthy businessman in Aurora, Ind. The trio also purchased the Niles name, changing it to Niles Tool Works to emphasize the manufacture of machine tools.
Gordon and Gray moved their expanding operation to Hamilton in 1872, occupying a new factory that extended from North Third to North Second streets along Mill Street (north of Vine Street). Under Gordon's direction, Niles grew despite periodic business downturns. Niles acquired other machine tool operations and opened a sales office in Philadelphia in 1882. Others followed in New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh in following years.
Gordon was responsible for building much of the national and international business. His obituary said "he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean almost 100 times, been to most all the ports of the Pacific, knew the Mediterranean by heart as well as the Baltic Sea, the River Rhine, the Nile and all those other bodies of water and interesting parts of the old world." Some of that travel was on his private yacht, the Asteria.
Colonel Gordon founded Deutscher Niles in Berlin, Germany, and, at the invitation of the Russian government, built a version of the Niles Tool Works in St. Petersburg.
He also acquired real estate throughout Hamilton, and in 1882 moved into a large house at 319 North Third Street. The brick octagon house had been built in 1863 for Clark Lane, a Hamilton industrialist and philanthropist who was responsible for starting what is now the Lane Public Library across the street.
In 1875, Lane sold the house to John L. Martin, an industrialist and banker. Gordon acquired the property from Martin in 1882. Gordon, a frequent business traveler, also maintained a residence in New Jersey and at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
Gordon and his wife, Caroline (Carrie), had a son, Fred, and a daughter, Lillian. They also adopted Frederica Jane Smithson, known as Jenny, who was the orphaned daughter of Alexander Gordon's sister. Lillian and Jenny were raised as sisters. Mrs. Caroline Gordon died in 1894.
A year later, in 1895, Jenny Gordon married C. Earle Hooven, a grandson of John P. Hooven, who came to Hamilton in 1877 to begin an agricultural implement business. In 1882 Hooven had been involved in organizing the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co.
Jenny and C. Earle Hooven and their family occupied 319 North Third Street for about 47 years. Until his death in London in September 1910, Colonel Gordon also resided there while in Hamilton.
In 1942 the house passed to the Hooven's daughter, Mrs. Marian (Rennick) Hallowell of Middletown. The next year, 1943, Bertrand Kahn acquired it and presented the Lane-Hooven House to Hamilton for civic and charitable uses. He donated it as a memorial to his father, Lazard Kahn, a Hamilton industrialist (Estate Stove Co.) and civic leader.
In 1951 the Lane-Hooven House was conveyed to the Hamilton Community Foundation. That organization, which has its office there, has restored and maintained the building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Big Blue wins overshadowed fabled 1954 'Milan Miracle'
By Jim Blount
It rated only a small story on a Journal-News sports page in 1954, but in the intervening 50 years Milan's victory in the Indiana basketball tournament has become the nation's best known triumph in high school basketball and the basis for a popular movie, "Hoosiers." The "Milan Miracle" -- recently voted the No. 1 story in sports Indiana history -- was overshadowed in this area by Hamilton's success in the Ohio Class A tournament.
Milan -- about an hour southwest of Hamilton -- had only 75 boys among 161 students March 20, 1954, when the Indians beat four-time state champion Muncie Central (1,200 students). With that victory, Milan became the smallest school to win the single class Hoosier tournament. It still held that distinction in 1998 when 387 Indiana high schools divided into four classes, based on enrollment.
Other elements of the Milan story were that four of five starters resided in neighboring Pierceville in Ripley County, and its home games were played in nearby Versailles because the Milan gym was too small. In the title game, with the score tied, 30-30, Milan held the ball for four minutes and 14 seconds. With 18 seconds left, Bobby Plump started moving into position for a final shot. It went through the net with about two or three seconds remaining, earning Milan a 32-30 win.
That drama and the David vs. Goliath comparison were part of the 1986 movie, "Hoosiers," that captured the spirit of the "Milan Miracle" with the usual Hollywood liberties. In the film, the unlikely champs were the Hickory Huskies, not the Milan Indians.
"Little Milan wins Hoosier cage title" said the headline on a brief Associated Press story in the Journal-News. Most of that page detailed Hamilton's 64-53 win over Portsmouth in the Class A regional finals at Cincinnati Garden the same night, March 20.
The previous night, Friday, March 19, attendance records were set as Hamilton beat Dayton Roosevelt, 71-53. The crowd of 13,617 was an Ohio high school record and the most to see a basketball game in the Garden, including college and professional.
The regional victory sent the Big Blue to the four-team state finals in Cleveland, not Columbus, the tournament site since 1923. Hamilton beat Canton McKinley, 62-51, in the semifinal before facing Columbus South in a rematch in the title game. South had edged the Big Blue, 68-67, in Columbus near the end of the regular season.
But Saturday night, March 27, before 11,568 fans Hamilton exacted revenge, 66-56, with Alex (Boo) Ellis leading the way with 27 points. South was led by Frank Howard (17 points), better known as a major league first baseman and outfielder for 16 years. He batted .273 and hit 382 home runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Senators, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers from 1958 to 1973.
The Journal-News said Ellis "established himself as the greatest player in Hamilton High history by shattering every record in the book." A week earlier, he became the first HHS player to surpass 1,000 points in a career. He ended the 1953-54 season with school season marks for total points, scoring average and most points by a Big Blue player in a tournament game (29 twice).
His 27 set a state record for a title game. Ellis -- who later played at Niagara University and in the NBA -- topped previous Ohio highs for a two-game tournament in points, field goals and free throws.
But Ellis wasn't a one-man show for Coach Warren Scholler's team that finished 25-3. Joining Ellis on the 10-man all-tournament team were Phil Phelps, John Rodgers and John Bercaw. Their supporting cast included Bob Henderson, Bob Sweeten, Rusty Bowermaster, Woody Herzog, Doug Rodgers, John Holcomb, Bob Crist and Dave Allen.
The team returned to Hamilton Sunday, cheered by an estimated 40,000 people along a parade route. The Journal-News said it was "the largest all-out civic gathering in this city's 163-year history."
Hamilton's 1954 success came during a 19-season period, 1944-62, when Hamilton and Middletown schools won 10 state big-school championships, including six out of seven years from 1952 through 1957. Hamilton had won the county's first Ohio championship in 1937. The Big Blue won again in 1949 and 1954. Middletown reigned seven times -- 1944, 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1957. Unbeaten Hamilton Taft took the 1962 crown, three years after Hamilton High had been divided into two schools.
After an 18-year lapse, Ross won a championship in 1980, Middletown Fenwick in 1982, Badin in 1988 and Lakota in 1992, the latter before the district opened two high schools in 1997.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Stewart surprised Waterloo Wonders in 1935 tournament
By Jim Blount
Badin, Hamilton, Hamilton Taft, Ross, Middletown, Middletown Fenwick and Lakota have won Ohio high school basketball championships since the state tournament began in 1923, but the first Butler County school to advance to a final game was Oxford Stewart in 1935. Coach Delbert P. (Curley) Walton's team lost to the legendary Waterloo Wonders, 25-22, in a surprisingly close championship game Saturday, March 23, 1935.
Waterloo -- known for showmanship as well as winning -- is to Ohio high school basketball what 19 years later Milan became to Indiana hoop history -- a small school that rose to the top in state competition. Waterloo's success spanned two seasons, 1934 and 1935. Milan's was limited to 1954.
Stewart was 25-1 before heading to Columbus for the eight-team showdown in the Fairgrounds Coliseum, losing only to Cincinnati Elder during the regular season. The team was 9-0 in the Butler County League before beating Wayne, Ross and Reily in winning its third straight Butler County Class B tournament to a pot in district play. Stewart had out scored opponents 865-426 in 26 games.
In Columbus, Stewart beat New Matamoras, 39-26, and Maumee, 29-14, to advance to the finals while Waterloo coasted over Groveport, 39-22, and Fremont St. Joseph, 48-21.
The Waterloo Wonders had won the 1934 Class B tournament, compiling a perfect 29-0 record. Its closest game in the three-game 1934 finals had been an 11-point victory. Coach Magellan Hairston's 1935 team had a 46-3 record before winning three more in Columbus. Among their regular season victims were several bigger Class A schools, including Springfield, Portsmouth, Columbus Central, Dayton Fairview and Cincinnati St. Xavier.
"During the latter half of each game, the Waterloo quintet just practiced up on its passing game, as if the contests were just dress rehearsals for the real performance tonight," the AP said as the defending champs advanced to face Stewart.
"They come from the little town of Waterloo, down in the Lawrence County hills, where the school boasts 31 students," wrote Fritz Howell, then the Associated Press Ohio sports editor. Waterloo is in southeastern Ohio, about midway between Gallipolis and Ironton.
Before the championship game, Howell said "for the first time in history it doesn't seem to matter much who wins the Class A crown -- the folks just want to see the Waterloo quintet perform. The basketball circus from down in the Lawrence County hills, good for a point and a laugh at any time it steps on the floor, is the big magnet at the annual tourney."
The Class A title game was a blowout, Akron North whipping Coshocton, 47-15 -- no comparison to the three-point thriller with Stewart challenging Waterloo until the final minute. Ohio schools competed in two divisions then. Schools with large enrollments were in Class A.
"Oxford Stewart holds the distinction today of progressing further in a state high school tournament than any other Butler County team," the Journal-News noted. "They advanced to the final game only to lose to an almost super team."
The 10-man 1935 all-tournament team included Earl Chears and Francis Wallen of Stewart and four Waterloo players, Beryl Drummond, Orlyn Roberts, Wyman Roberts and Curtis McMahon.
No player scored in double figures in the Stewart-Waterloo showdown. High scorers were Waterloo's Drummond with eight points and Stewart's Chears with seven.
Other players on the 1935 Stewart team were Tom Shockey, Carlyle Triick, Don Inloes, Harold Schriever, Joe Tanner, Frank Kyger, Carl Forbriger and Ken Wisecup. The manager was Clinton McKay.
Before Stewart, the only Butler County schools to advance to Columbus had been Hamilton to the Class A second round in 1927 and the first round in 1931, and West Chester to the Class B first round in 1929. The county's first state title came in 1937, Hamilton beating Massillon, 37-32, in the Class A final.
Stewart was one of two high schools in Oxford in 1935. Stewart was the public high school for Oxford and Oxford Township. Miami University's McGuffey Laboratory School also had high school classes until 1955-56. Stewart's last year as a high school was 1955-56. The Talawanda Local School District began to take shape in 1953, combining the Oxford, Milford and Hanover districts with Stewart as the high school until Talawanda High School opened in the fall of 1956. The Reily district was added in 1968.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Statue to join tributes to Alexander Hamilton
By Jim Blount
Fund raising continues for an Alexander Hamilton statue planned by the City of Sculpture and Historic Hamilton Inc. The likeness to be placed on High Street at Journal Square will honor the founding father who fought in the American Revolution, helped write and ratify the Constitution and served in President George Washington's first cabinet. The local sculpture will join others honoring the New York patriot.
In Washington, D. C., the Capitol Rotunda has a 7-foot 9-inch likeness, and there's a full length Hamilton statue outside the Treasury Building, a tribute to his service as the nation's first secretary of the treasury, 1789-95.
None of Hamilton's federal service was in Washington. New York City was the seat of government from 1781 until 1790, followed by Philadelphia until the move to Washington in 1800-1801. The Constitution was written in Philadelphia in 1787. He resided in New York City from 1772 -- arriving as a 17-year-old from the West Indies -- until his death July 12, 1804.
As a student at King's College, now Columbia University, he advocated independence. At 20 he left the New York school, never to return as a student, to enter the colonial army. He is honored at Columbia by Hamilton Hall, built in 1907. It is fronted by a full length statue.
Another statue in Central Park honors the man whose New York City contributions included founding the Bank of New York and the New York Post.
Hamilton Grange National Memorial is at 287 Convent Avenue in NYC. The federal style mansion was built in 1802-03 as his country retreat. The Grange, the only home Hamilton ever owned, was on a 32-acre rural site then. The mansion in Lower Manhattan became the responsibility of the National Park Service in 1962. At the Grange is a seven-foot bronze Hamilton statue on an eight-foot granite base. The statue, originally built for the Hamilton Club in Brooklyn, was moved to the site in 1936.
The Alexander Hamilton Customs House, 1 Bowling Green, is now the National Museum of the American Indian, a branch of the Smithsonian. The seven-story structure, completed in 1907, has been called "one of the finest beaux arts buildings in New York City."
Opposite Bowling Green Park, at 26 Broadway, is the site of Hamilton's law office. On the site is a structure that has represented Hamilton's belief that the U. S. should be based on an industrial economy. In 1922 it opened as the headquarters for the Standard Oil Company. Since 1988, it has housed the Museum of American Financial History, which is associated with the Smithsonian Institution. A web site says the museum is "dedicated to celebrating the spirit of entrepreneurship and the democratic free market system."
Also in Lower Manhattan is Trinity Church, where Wall Street dead ends at Broadway. Hamilton is buried in the churchyard with his wife, Elizabeth, and their oldest son, Philip.
Up state at Clinton is New York's third oldest college. Hamilton-Oneida Academy opened in 1793 for children of Indians and settlers in the region. Later, as a liberal arts institution, it became Hamilton College, honoring one of its original trustees.
In Weehawken, N. J., overlooking the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline, is the Burr-Hamilton duel site in Hamilton Park on Boulevard East. A bust rests on a stone said to be the one on which Hamilton reposed after being shot by Aaron Burr July 11, 1804.
Elsewhere, Boston's Commonwealth Avenue Mall includes a granite statue of Hamilton. Chicago has a full-length statue in a park at Cannon and Stockton streets. In Cleveland, busts of Hamilton and his rival, Thomas Jefferson, are in the Cuyahoga County Courthouse.
There have been at least seven Fort Hamiltons in the U. S., but not all named for the revolutionary army officer. The first, in 1791, was the local log outpost that straddled what is now High Street between Court and Market streets on the Great Miami River.
The most enduring Fort Hamilton is in Brooklyn at the entrance to Upper New York Bay. It was completed in 1831 and once covered 155 acres with about 100 buildings. It remains an active military installation.
Ten dollar bills have Hamilton's portrait on one side. That tribute is in peril because the Reagan Legacy Project is urging that Ronald Reagan replace Hamilton on new $10 currency.
To help bring the local Hamilton sculpture to reality, donations may be sent to City of Sculpture, P. O. Box 545, Hamilton, Ohio 45012.