Box A

A century of industrial leadership, followed by decline

Blessed with abundant forests, iron ore, water, coal, petroleum, and other natural resources, Ohio was able to generate agricultural and then industrial wealth almost from the time of its initial European settlement. First surveyed by George Washington during the 1750s, Ohio introduced and adopted new industries throughout the 19th century. One of the nation’s first iron manufacturing plants opened near Youngstown in 1804. By the mid-nineteenth century, 48 blast furnaces were operating in the state. By 1853, Cleveland was the third largest iron and steel producer in the country, and its Cleveland Rolling Mill Company became part of U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar U.S. corporation.a Cyrus McCormick of Cincinnati invented the McCormick reaper; Dayton was home to the National Cash Register Co.; Herbert Dow, a chemistry graduate of Case Western Reserve, founded Dow Chemical with financing from Cleveland investors. All three of the nation’s giant tire companies, Goodyear, Firestone, and Goodrich, grew up in Akron. By the end of the 19th century, northeast Ohio was a global industrial center, linked by the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and new railroads to markets around the world.b

In addition to its natural resources, the state was home to important innovators. William Procter and James Gamble of Cincinnati built a company around an inexpensive floating soap called Ivory; today P&G is the world’s largest consumer products corporation. Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in Dayton; Michael Owen’s glass-blowing company gave rise to Owens-Illinois and Owens Corning; and Charles Kettering co-founded Delco Electronics around his invention of the automatic starter for automobiles. Researchers at Battelle Memorial Institute perfected xerography; Albert Sabin developed the first oral polio vaccine; Noah McVicker concocted a resilient wallpaper cleaner for the Cincinnati school system that became Play-Doh.

‘Unparalleled’ Decline

During the first half of the 20th century, Ohio’s economy was buoyed by its steel, auto, rubber, and aerospace industries. By the 1970s, many of these key heavy industries were subject to growing competition from abroad; at the same time, the state failed to invest sufficiently in the university infrastructure and to attract rapidly growing industries such as electronics and biomedicine.

The Impact

A steady decline in jobs, population, and competitiveness followed, particularly in Ohio’s industrial cities. During the recession of 2009, the state

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement