Opening of Mosler Safe Co. continued festive mood in 1891 as Hamilton celebrated its centennial year

Employee reunion scheduled July 19

Opening of Mosler Safe Co. continued festive mood in 1891 as Hamilton celebrated its centennial year

(The Mosler Safe Co. employed thousands of residents of the Hamilton area for 110 years. Mosler closed its local plant in 1996 and its corporate headquarters in 2001 when the company went bankrupt. Saturday, July 19, former employees will share memories at the Mosler 2014 Reunion at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hamilton. For more information and registration, e-mail Gene Gabbard at Gene@GeneGabbard.com. This article is the first in a series on Mosler history.)

Compiled by Jim Blount

Hamilton’s festive mood continued into October 1891, although its exuberant centennial celebration had officially ended in mid September. Parades, fireworks and numerous festive events highlighted the city’s 100-year observance Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 17-19. Two days later -- Monday, Sept. 21, 1891 -- citizens and civic leaders remained upbeat as the Mosler Safe Co. began moving into its new plant in East Hamilton.

That day, Mosler started its transition from Cincinnati's river front to a mostly rural area southeast of Hamilton’s corporate limits. Production began Oct. 12 at the facility at the southeast corner of Grand Boulevard and the Miami-Erie Canal (later Erie Highway). On the east, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Cincinnati-Chicago mainline bordered the site.

Hamiltonians had good reason to hail Mosler’s arrival. It capped a 15-month community effort during which Mosler considered other locations, including Canton, Piqua, Sidney, Toledo and Columbus in Ohio and Aurora, Ind.

Mosler officials, the Hamilton Democrat reported, "have bound themselves in writing to locate in Hamilton" if citizens [will] provide 10 acres and $85,000, including $70,000 toward plant construction and $15,000 for moving expenses.

In June 1890, as the competition began, the Democrat accurately prophesied that "there is an opportunity to make Hamilton the center of the universe in the manufacture of safes." The newspaper said "you cannot bring an industry employing 400 or 500 men into the city without benefiting every person in the town in some manner."

As the Mosler factory neared completion, Moses Mosler, president of the company, chartered a 12-coach train to transport more than 200 employees and their families from Cincinnati to inspect the facility and it environs.

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In 1890, it was two companies -- the Mosler Safe and Lock Co. and the Mosler Bank Safe Co. -- identified by a reporter as "the largest and most successful companies of the kind in the United States." The newspaper said "their shops in Cincinnati are utterly inadequate." In the move, managers planned to double manufacturing space from the 150,000 square feet of floor space in Cincinnati to about 300,000 square feet in a new plant. Employment was expected to increase from 400 to 600.

Mosler Safe and Lock Co. occupied several buildings at Front and Elm streets in Cincinnati while Mosler Bank Safe Co. was on Front Street between Park and Smith streets. Both sites were described as in flood-prone areas of Cincinnati.

A reporter who visited the plants found Mosler using Hamilton-made machine tools from Niles Tool Works, Long & Allstatter, Bentel & Margedant and Hooven, Owens & Rentschler.

In 1890, Mosler operations were directed by Moses Mosler and William Mosler, sons of the founder, Gustav Mosler, who had died in 1874. Gustav Mosler -- who had been a newspaper editor in his native Austria -- started the firm in Cincinnati in 1867 as the Mosler-Bachmann Safe Co., manufacturing safes, vault doors and insulated, fire-proof storage and security products.

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Two civic-minded citizens -- not city officials -- steered the campaign to bring Mosler to Hamilton. They were industrialist Lazard Kahn and businessman Oakey V. Parrish.

They headed a diverse local committee that negotiated a contract signed by both parties July 5, 1890. Besides bringing Mosler to town, the agreement gave birth to development of East Hamilton. Earlier, a news report said "a number of [Hamilton] gentlemen stand ready to donate 40 acres of land adjacent to the city." Ten acres were for the factory with 30 remaining acres to be divided into 240 residential lots. Money raised from the sale of the 240 lots would provide the $85,000 incentive for Mosler.

Kahn described the impact of Mosler’s relocation as "far reaching." He said "we must not figure on the amount of money they would spend in our town in one year, but must figure on the amount that will accrue to the businessmen here in the years to follow. . . . I look for the time . . . when the citizens of this city will be astounded at the growth resultant from this effort" said Kahn, whose Estate Stove Co. had moved to a nearby East Avenue site in 1884.

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Hamilton’s first safe manufacturer was Macneale & Urban Co., not Mosler. Macneale & Urban -- which traced its history to Cincinnati in 1855 -- began Hamilton operations June 11, 1890. Two years earlier, the Edgewood Finance Co. had organized to persuade the firm to move to Hamilton.

The safe company had sought $50,000 from local leaders to buy land for a new plant. Members of the successful Edgewood group were Dr. S. L. Beeler, W. F. Sauer, B. F. Thomas. Ed B. Roger. John M. Long. James R. Webster, Lazard Kahn, F. W. Whitaker. George A. Miller. C. E. Heiser and William Dingfelder. Webster represented the group in signing an agreement Jan. 4, 1889, that brought Macneale & Urban to 10 acres on Hamilton's west side.

The company erected a brick factory on the northwest corner at Millville and Edgewood avenues, where the former Belt Line Railroad joins CSX's Hamilton-Indianapolis mainline. Most of the complex, which has had several owners and occupants, remains.

Macneale & Urban spurred development in the surrounding area, once known as Edgewood. The city extended several streets south and west of Main Street and Millville Avenue, encouraging residential building.

At its peak the company employed 600 men and produced from 50 to 60 safes daily. But discord among stockholders led to a Jan. 20, 1903, decision to seek bankruptcy. A receiver was appointed while a buyer was sought. Mosler acquired the Macneale & Urban property in February 1907.

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Mosler fueled an industrial and residential boom in Hamilton in the early 1890s. During the decade, Hamilton population jumped 36% from 17,565 in 1890 to 23,914 in the 1900 census. (Hamilton’s 2010 population was 62,130.)

"The fame of the city of Hamilton as a manufacturing center, as a home for the busy bread-winner has gone abroad in the land," boasted the Democrat. "Old residents of this valley stand amazed at the rapid steps made by our prosperous and thriving city... Our success is largely due to the personal enterprise of a few men, who in their endeavors to persuade mammoth manufacturing establishments to locate here, have extensively advertised the town of Hamilton. We are growing and we must have more room," the newspaper said.

"The daily record of real estate transfers in the county recorder's office tells the story of the success of the Mosler syndicate" that has "already disposed of a large number of lots" in East Hamilton." The report said "since the building of an electric railroad, the full length of East Avenue has become an established fact, the demand for property in that vicinity has greatly increased, and the best located and cheapest lots are controlled by the East Avenue Lot Association," which had an office at 6 North Third Street in downtown Hamilton.

* * * * *
A second safe manufacturer -- Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. -- moved to East Hamilton in the mid 1890s. A 100-gun salute highlighted groundbreaking ceremonies Sept. 1, 1896, for HHM’s new 100,000 square foot factory. The HHM building was at 1550 Grand Boulevard, across the street from Mosler. Credited with convincing Herring-Hall to relocate in Hamilton were Lazard Kahn, Oakey V. Parrish and Moses Mosler, who headed the Hamilton Improvement Syndicate.

Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. was a consolidation of Hall's Safe & Lock Co., Cincinnati; Marvin Safe Co., New York City; and Farrel & Co. and Meyers & Smith, Philadelphia, according to Stephen D. Cone in A Concise History of Hamilton (1901).

HHM was purchased by Diebold Inc., based in Canton, Ohio, in September 1959. Because of a legal challenge, the sale was delayed until March 1961. Diebold announced in October 1990 it would begin a phased shutdown of the 200,000 square foot Hamilton plant in January 1991. Diebold came back to Hamilton in October 2001 when it purchased the closed Mosler facility at 8309 Berk Blvd.

* * * * *
Another industrial addition to Hamilton during the decade was the Champion Coated Paper Co., incorporated in 1893 and in production in the spring of 1894. By 1900, according to an article in the American Printer, there were 21 paper-coating mills in the U. S. and Champion was "the youngest and also the largest" and "twice as big as the second mill, and larger in capacity than all the others combined."

* * * * *
In 1891, Hamilton welcomed Mosler into its family of industries, a point emphasized in a 100th anniversary publication, The Centennial Anniversary of the City of Hamilton, edited by D. W. McClung.

"It is of interest to note the diversity of products of Hamilton's factories, and the tendency of these products toward the formation of a complete economic system," said an excerpt.

"An example may be found as you peruse the morning newspaper. The paper on which this newspaper is printed is made in Hamilton. The paper-making machines which fabricated the paper were made in Hamilton. The machinery which made the ink with which the printing is done was made in Hamilton. The engines which furnished the steam power for making the paper and for running the presses were made in Hamilton.

"The boilers which furnish the steam for the engines were made in Hamilton. The boiler-making machinery-employed in making the boilers was made in Hamilton. The steam pumps which supply the boilers with water were made in Hamilton.

"The sawmill that produce the limbers of the paper mill and printing office were made in Hamilton; and the iron working machinery employed in. making the printing presses, and the paper-making machines, and the ink-making machinery and the engines were made in Hamilton.

"Massive-pumping engines for the waterworks of cities are made in Hamilton. Treasure throughout the world is stored in safes and vaults made in Hamilton. The evening drive is taken in buggies from the buggy factories of Hamilton. The beautiful and artistic tiling which forms the mantel facing and the hearth of the home is made in Hamilton.

"The finest of woolen blankets are made in Hamilton. The running felts upon the paper-making machines are made in Hamilton. The furniture is made in Hamilton. The woodworking machinery employed in making the furniture and employed in making the buggies is made in Hamilton.

"The spring mattresses of the beds are made in Hamilton. The overalls of the workmen are made in Hamilton. The stoves in the kitchens and living rooms are made in Hamilton. The canned fruits and vegetables are made in Hamilton. The cans that contain these articles are made in Hamilton. The laundry machinery is made in Hamilton."

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In retrospect, the timing of Mosler’s relocation and Champion’s startup was challenging. One came on the eve of the Panic of 1893 and the other during the worldwide economic crisis that crippled industry and agriculture for several years. For example, in the first 10 months of 1893, business failures totaled 4,935, more than twice the number that had closed in all of 1892, and well above the one-year high during the previous decade (2,853 in 1884). Some historians regard the last years of the ‘90s as second only to the Great Depression of the 1930s in severity.

Mosler had experienced a healthy start in Hamilton. As the panic continued, a company history said "business declined rapidly for most industry, but Mosler workers were kept on the job at least two to three days a week."

Mosler had started an expansion in 1893, adding an office building. "The two-story structure and clock tower became a landmark in Hamilton and employees and citizens alike depended on the weight-operated clock, which had to be wound weekly," noted a Mosler publication.

* * * * *
A Mosler history, compiled in 1973 by Bob Rosberg, said the company’s early years in Hamilton were "prosperous," because" demand for the popular screw-door safe, bank vaults and insulated products were particularly good."

But it was not all business for Mosler executives. "The founding family was acutely aware of personal need," Rosberg noted, "so a mutual aid society was formed to assist employees during periods of illness and personal distress.

"Also, a volunteer fire department was formed and continued in operation even after a city fire station was built," Rosberg explained. "In order to provide power for the plant, private homes and street lights, Mosler built a power station called the East Hamilton Power and Light Co. It then sold power to the City of Hamilton." Mosler also subsidized the building of churches in East Hamilton, setting the company’s pattern of community service that continued for more than 100 years.

The expanding neighborhood needed a name. J. W. Paff won a naming contest with his suggestion -- East Hamilton. The neighborhood was annexed to Hamilton in 1908.

The Pennsylvania Railroad built a depot to serve Mosler employees and East Hamilton residents. Mosler Station had a 200-foot passenger platform. Railroad timetables listed Mosler Station as 29 miles north of the PRR’s Cincinnati station and two miles south of the Hamilton depot at South Seventh Street between High Street and Maple Avenue. It was 269 miles from Chicago.

* * * * *
In August 1891, as Hamilton prepared to commemorate 100 years since the building of Fort Hamilton in the wilderness of the Northwest Territory, centennial leaders received a letter from Mosler. It said: "As prospective citizens with you, we feel privileged to claim a community of interest in all that relates to the prosperity and welfare of Hamilton and it is in this fellowship of feeling that we wish to join with you in substantial recognition of 'Forefathers Day.’ It is our desire in this connection to present to you . . . a suitably fitted, finished and inscribed safe to be selected by you for the purpose of securely preserving such records and curios connected with your local history," said the letter, which bore no personal signature.

The committee accepted the offer of what became known as the Centennial Safe. It was displayed on a horse-drawn float in the centennial parade Saturday afternoon, Sept. 19.

A few days later it was placed in the Butler County Courthouse because the city didn’t have a place for it. For decades, the "forgotten safe" remained in county control. In 1988, it was inadvertently sold by a county employee who was unaware of its historical significance.

Its absence was reported early in 1991. In June that year it was located and returned to the Hamilton Bicentennial Commission, which arranged for restoration by Mosler for the city’s 200th birthday festivities in September 1991. Since the bicentennial, it has been displayed at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 North Second Street, Hamilton.

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In conjunction with the July 19 Mosler 2014 Reunion, the historical society is featuring a display of Mosler products, photos and memorabilia in its museum in the Emma Ritchie Auditorium. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, phone 513-896-9930.


Jim Blount's local history books are available in Hamilton at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 N. Second Street, and the Ross Avenue Barber Shop, 907 Ross Avenue. His history columns are posted periodically on the Lane Libraries web site and are also available via email subscription. A searchable archive of these columns, including Mr. Blount's columns from the Journal-News dating back to 1988, is available at www.lanepl.org/blount.htm.

 

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