Above: Example of varied protective products manufactured by Mosler Safe Co.
From Miami Slaughterhouse to City of Sculpture
Most Hamilton slogans have boasted of city’s proud industrial achievements
Compiled by Jim Blount
Before it was the "City of Sculpture," several slogans and labels -- some positive, others unwanted -- have been attached to Hamilton and environs over more than 200 years. Most have emphasized the city’s business and industrial prominence and its advantageous location.
Probably the first unwelcome catch phrase -- which covered an area much larger than future Butler County and circulated before Fort Hamilton was built in 1791 -- was "Miami Slaughterhouse."
John Cleves Symmes paid the federal government for thousands of acres north of the Ohio River and between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers, including most of Butler County. Symmes intended to sell the land for a profit. But some personal letters and eastern newspapers called it the "Miami Slaughterhouse" because of periodic Indian raids on the few settlers in the region.
That derogatory designation -- which didn't help Symmes -- faded away by 1800.
Regarded as the first extensive effort to invite industry and jobs to the city was the Hamilton Hydraulic, built by local investors and opened in 1845. Promoters employed the slogan, "Hamilton, the Lowell of the West," projecting that "Hamilton is destined ere long to become to Cincinnati what Lowell is to Boston." Lowell, Mass., in the 1820s had developed as a model industrial town, tapping the Merrimac River for water power and using the Middlesex Canal to haul raw materials and finished goods the 20 miles between Lowell and Boston’s ports.
The hydraulic took water from the Great Miami north of town and channeled it down N. Fifth Street to Market Street, then west to the river, falling 29 feet along a four-mile course. There wasn’t a shop along the route when built, but it eventually powered several industries and employed hundreds of people during its 40 to 50 productive years.
Although never used, Butler County in the mid-1800s could claim to be part of "the Birthplace of the Corn Belt" that stretched west for about 800 miles. Early residents capitalized on the rich, fertile soil in Southwestern Ohio. They had a quick transition from subsistence farming (enough to feed the family) to surpluses and the need to trade outside the area.
"The Garden of Ohio" was Henry Howe’s description of Butler County in his encyclopedic Historical Collections of Ohio, published in 1847 and reprinted in 1889. Howe quoted as expert as saying the county has "an unquestioned claim to be styled the Garden of Ohio."
In the 1830-60 era, local positions on transportation improvements -- the canal and railroads -- placed the Hamilton area in the middle of another wide labeled region, "the U. S. Manufacturing Belt." It extended from Portland, Maine, and Richmond, Va., on the east coast to St. Louis and Minneapolis on the Mississippi River, divided by the Appalachian mountains.
Besides location and transportation, factors contributing to Hamilton's boom were bold entrepreneurs, an able labor force and its proximity to Cincinnati.
"Hamilton: Centered for Growth" was a city slogan in the late 1950s, but it also would have been appropriate in the decades before and after the city’s 1891 centennial celebration. Hamilton was within 100 miles of the nation's population center during the last third of the 19th century. Those centers were: 1860, 20 miles southeast of Chillicothe, Ohio; 1870, 48 miles northeast of Cincinnati; 1880, eight eight miles southwest of Cincinnati in Kentucky; 1890, 20 miles east of Columbus, Ind.; and 1900, six miles southeast of Columbus, Ind.
In 1900, Hamilton called itself "the Fastest Growing City in Ohio." Other claims included "the greatest manufacturing city of its size in the world" and that "more skilled artisans are to be found in Hamilton than in any other city of equal size in all the world." Those boastful assertions were unchallenged. Also by 1900, Hamilton was known as "the Safe Capital of the World" because of three major safe manufacturers in the city. Fifty years later, The Ohio Guide, published by the Federal Writers Project in 1940, said Mosler and Herring-Hall-Marvin companies produced "more than 50 percent of the world’s safes and vaults."
At the same time, Hamilton was part of "the Paper Valley," thanks to the area’s excellent water supply. The title was earned because of numerous paper mills -- at least 23 by one count -- along the Great Miami River, extending north from Hamilton through Woodsdale, Middletown, Franklin, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, Dayton and beyond. Middletown claimed the "Paper City" distinction. George Crout, Middletown historian, said in 1948 the city had "12 companies engaged in making some kind of paper products, ranging from fine tissue to heavy box board."
"Known in the World's Markets" was Hamilton’s slogan before the 1913 flood. That was based on the worldwide demand for local industrial products by 1910.
The 1913 flood was a setback, but it produced a memorable pledge by those who suffered and survived Ohio’s worst natural disaster. "Remember the Promises You Made in the Attic" was the reaction from Hamilton to Dayton.
People in 10 counties, including Butler, didn’t forget. The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) was formed by citizens and local governments along the Great Miami River. Flood prevention dams and levees were built with local money. No state or federal funds were involved.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the city and vicinity acquired the name "Little Chicago," indicating the degree of public and local government apathy to state and federal prohibition laws. Although conditions changed, the moniker hasn’t died.
Hamilton’s industrial image survived during the Great Depression. In the 1930s, it boasted of being "the City of Diversified Industries."
In the 1940s, including the World War II years, local pride included the city being home to "the World's Largest Coated Paper Mill" (Champion); "the World's Largest Machine Tool Factory" (the combination of Hooven Owens Rentschler and Niles Tool Works); and "One of the World’s Largest Stove Factories (Estate) while remaining "the Safe Capital of the World" (Mosler and Herring-Hall-Marvin).
Hamilton’s best known of many contributions to World War II was the Liberty Engine, manufactured by the General Machinery Corp. The 140-ton engines powered Liberty Ships, cargo vessels regarded as "the Shopping Baskets of World War II" for feeding and supplying U. S. and allied military and civilians.
Also during the ‘40s and ‘50s, Hamilton was "The Postmark of Distinctive Trademarks."
An earlier similar rave was "The Best Postmark is Hamilton, Ohio."
The federal government authorized the Interstate Highway System in 1956, promising the road network would connect every city with a population of 50,000 or more. Despite Hamilton soaring from 57,951 people in 1950 to 72,354 in 1960, it was bypassed. By the mid 1970s, Hamilton could claim to be "the Third Largest City Not on the Interstate System." It wasn’t until 1999 that a 10-mile link (Ohio 129) opened between Hamilton and I-75.
In the 1970s, Butler County became part of the "Rust Belt," roughly the same area formerly regarded as "the Manufacturing Belt" or "the Factory Belt." Once proud, massive factories and mills shrank, closed or relocated. Some moved the South and West or overseas. Hardest hit were communities from the Northeast through the Midwest. Hamilton wasn't alone in its losses.
Hamilton has tried to bolster its image and economy in recent decades with such slogans as "Hamilton Has It All" and "Hamilton!" with an exclamation point.
Notations at the top of the City of Hamilton web site include "County Seat of Butler County" and "An Award Winning Community." The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce web site boasts "Business is Our Business -- Past, Present and Future."
Identification as "The City of Sculpture" is more than 10 years old. During dedication of One Renaissance Center Aug 16, 2000, Gov. Bob Taft, recognized Hamilton as Ohio’s official "City of Sculpture" as he commended "the people of Hamilton and Butler County for your dedication to preserving and promoting the arts." The city’s image hasn’t escaped literature.
Of recent vintage (1982) is Hometown by Peter Davis, a controversial and selective six-year portrait of Hamilton. Davis, not a Hamilton native or resident, asked the U. S. Census Bureau to select a typical American town with "the conflicts and harmonies that unite and divide the townspeople."
The bureau suggested Hamilton because it had a population between 50,000 and 100,000, was ''northern enough to be industrial, southern enough to have a gently rural aspect, western enough to have once been on the frontier, eastern enough to have a past." A New York Times review of Hometown said "We never get a sense of how Mr. Davis introduced and ingratiated himself into Hamilton. Imputing thoughts to his real-life characters, he sometimes passes beyond the boundaries of credibility."
Youthful images of Hamilton have been offered by writers who resided in the city about 80 to 90 years apart.
Hamilton was more than a hardworking town to William Dean Howells, a world renowned author and editor, who spent his boyhood in Hamilton in the 1840s. Writing as an adult in his 1890 book, A Boy’s Town, he said: "It seems to me that" Hamilton "was a town peculiarly adapted for a boy to be a boy in."
Hamilton native Robert McCloskey, an artist and children’s author, is best known for Make Way for Duckling, set in Boston. Three of the 1932 Hamilton High School graduate's other highly-acclaimed books -- Centerburg Tales, Lentil and Homer Price -- are based on his boyhood in Hamilton.
Hooven, Owens, Rentschler shops in Hamilton -- artist's view, 1905
Example of decorative work on Estate Stove Co. products
2004 San Francisco Chronicle photo of a Mosler bank vault that survived 1957 atomic test in remote section of Nevada.
Diagram of Hamilton-built Liberty Engine for World War II cargo ships.
1882 advertisement for Hamilton Agricultural Works.