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Brief History of Dayton 
The City of Dayton > City Commission Office > Brief History of Dayton

During the latter half of the 18th century, the area which is now Dayton was the site of almost constant warfare between the French and Indians. American colonists lent aid to the British and conquered the area's French population just before the Revolutionary War gave birth to the new nation.

The young
United States began opening and settling the Northwest Territory. Christopher Gist was among the first explorers to visit the junction of the Miami and Mad Rivers, and described the land as very fertile and needing only cultivation in order for it to become great country.

General George Rogers Clark  

General George Rogers Clark began the taming of the wilderness in 1780 with a military expedition from Kentucky. Clark was to return to the area two years later with 1,000 men when the Indians resumed raids on the territory. His efforts were successful in a skirmish at the mouth of the Miami on November 9, 1782, at the present site of Dayton.

The power of the tribes was finally smashed in 1789 by a new army under the command of "Mad Anthony"
Wayne. One year later, 35 miles north of where Dayton now stands, Wayne and the leaders of the Six Nations signed a treaty establishing supremacy over the Indians in the Ohio country. The initial plan to settle the area in 1789 ran into difficulties over land costs and had to be abandoned. Major Benjamin Stites and two associates had visualized a town to be called Venice.

In 1795, the land was purchased from John Cleve Symmes, a Revolutionary War soldier to whom Congress had awarded the land.


Jonathan Dayton

The purchasers were General Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory; General Jonathan Dayton; General James Wilkinson; and Colonel Israel Ludlow. A town site was then laid out by a surveying team led by Daniel C. Cooper. The plan of central Dayton was to name streets for each of the other three.

The first group of settlers -- the Thompsons, Newcoms, Van Cleves, Hamers, and a few others --poled their way up the
Miami River from Cincinnati, landing at the foot of St. Clair Street on April 1, 1796. These original founders and settlers of Dayton were faced with disaster in the winter of 1798-99 when it was discovered that congress had refused to legalize the original sale of the land. The settlers were offered the land at two dollars per acre, but the offer meant financial ruin to the people who had no money nor prospects of accumulating any.   

Daniel Cooper

Daniel Cooper became the city's first benefactor when he offered to purchase more than 3,000 acres of the land, including the site of the city, from the government. Clear titles were passed to the individuals who settled here, and the first taxes, totaling $29.74, were collected from the 22 taxpayers in 1798.

With the admission of
Ohio to the Union in 1803, Montgomery County was formed. The county originally consisted of about 6,300 square miles, now known as the Miami Valley. Dayton itself was incorporated in 1805, with a government of seven trustees acting as council, a supervisor and a Marshall. The first school opened in 1804; the first library society in 1805. The present school board system was beginning to take shape in the spring of 1806.The census of 1810 credited Dayton with a population of 383. By 1812 Dayton was a thriving town, complete with a new brick courthouse, five new taverns, grist and sawmills, and frame houses springing up to replace log cabins. A nail factory, dyeing plant, weaving mill, and tannery were all in operation. About this time, rumors of Indian outbreaks around Lake Erie circulated. The rumors were true and war was declared June 16, 1812. When the Ohio Militia was surrendered to the Indians and British within weeks, Montgomery County organized six militia companies under the leadership of William Henry Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe. Harrison succeeded where the original militia had failed. The British and Indians were defeated, and the War of 1812 was over.

A great stir was caused by the first stagecoach arrival on June 4, 1816. Twice-a-week service had begun between Dayton and Cincinnati consisting of a two-day trip with an overnight stop in Hamilton.

The first bridge was built in the city over the
Mad River in the vicinity of Taylor Street, replacing the ferry crossing. Today, Dayton is thought of as the city of bridges.

At this time, the valley was overwhelmed by the abundance of its own supplies. Because of the lack of the proper transportation, flour sold for two dollars a half barrel; grains for twenty cents a bushel; beef and pork at three cents per pound; and whiskey, twelve cents a gallon. This condition gave rise to a statewide movement for canal construction, soon authorized by the legislature. Work on a Dayton-to-Cincinnati Canal was begun by 1827 and completed in 1829 at a cost of more than half a million dollars.


The canal, later extended to Lake Erie, passed through Dayton at what is now Patterson Boulevard. Dayton abounded in industrial growth. Many industries began the manufacture of goods in the Dayton area in this period. By 1829, guns, hats, cotton, iron, plows, silk, wool, flour, paper, machinery, furniture, stoves, carpets, clocks and pianos were all flowing from Dayton's busy plants. By 1840, Dayton had 6,000 inhabitants and was granted its city charter on March 8, 1841.

For 30 years, the canal was the primary reason for progress and prosperity for the whole
Miami Valley until the railroad offered serious competition. The community had remained largely unaffected by the spread of the railways for almost 20 years. The lines at first stopped only at Xenia and Springfield, and in this period the population grew by another 8,000 people. In the next 20 years, however, the railroads bringing travel and new industries, Dayton gained 23,000 more. The first public high school was opened in 1857.

Dayton contributed more than 6,000 soldiers to the North in the Civil War. When the war was over, the nation created military homes for the disabled. The central branch of these homes was built in the hills of west Dayton. Since then the present Veteran's Administration Center has been in constant operation.

The first industrial plant to grow in size was the Barney and Smith Car Co. established in 1849. At one time the plant covered 59 acres and employed 3,500 workers. In 1870, the Dayton Malleable Iron Company, National Cash Register, Ohio Rak, Ohmer Fare Register, Aetna Paper, Computing Scale, and Dayton Rubber were all major contributors to growth and prosperity in the region.

The 50 or so stores of 1829 multiplied quickly after the canal opened. Soon after that, Rike-Kumler and Elder and Johnson began their climb to popularity. Industry, trade and financial operations have been stimulated in
Dayton by a succession of organizations. The first of these, the Dayton Exchange, was formed in 1873. Later came the Board of Trade, the Boosters Club, and the Commercial Club. All of these organizations merged and became the Dayton Chamber of Commerce in 1907. This became the Greater Dayton Association in 1913. In 1918, it again became the Dayton Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has played an ever-increasing role in promoting the industrial, business and community life in the area.

Wilbur and Orville Wright

   

        Wilbur Wright                        Orville Wright

Wilbur and Orville Wright, owners of a bicycle shop on West Third Street, brought worldwide recognition to Dayton when they gave the world the wings to fly shortly after the turn of the century. Success came on December 17, 1903, when they flew the powered aircraft plane in a controlled flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That success, originally viewed skeptically, was almost immediately credited as the world realized the significance of what had happened. The work of the Wrights was the start of a long record of aviation accomplishments which has earned Dayton the reputation as the "Birthplace of Aviation." The first parachute jump, first solo instrument landing, night flying advances, world altitude records, and pioneering in aerial photography have all been part of Dayton's heritage of progress in aviation. 

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born, in poverty, here in the city of Dayton in the 1872. Dunbar wrote his first poem at the age of six and later recited publicly for the first time at age nine. When he entered Dayton's Central High School, he was the only black student in his class, but he did not let that impede him. He was named to the school's debating society and became president of the prestigious Philomatrean Literary Society. He also edited the school newspaper, High School Times , and wrote for various community newspapers.

After graduation,
Dunbar continued writing poems for the Chicago newspaper syndicate and various national black newspapers. He published his first book, Oak and Ivy, in 1892 while he was an elevator operator at Dayton's Callahan Building.

Like most artists, Dunbar struggled to make a living. Oak & Ivy brought him a certain amount of praise and attention, but it did not afford him financial independence. Having borrowed money for its printing, he paid his debt by selling the book to those he met on the elevator. He continued to sell poems to various magazines, but the small payments barely paid for the paper and pens Dunbar used to write them. A break in his career came after he met and was befriended by the superintendent of the Toledo State Hospital, Dr. H.A. Tobey. Together with Toledo attorney, Charles Thatcher, Dr. Tobey provided money to publish Dunbar's second book, Major and Minors, which came to the attention of the famous literary critic William Dean Howells. Howells' favorable review in Harper's Weekly made Dunbar a national figure. 


Flood of 1913

The worst flood in Dayton history came in March, 1913. Several days of heavy rain produced a raging torrent that claimed 300-400 lives, and caused one hundred million dollars in damage in just a few hours. The residents of the city raised two million dollars immediately as a contribution to permanent prevention of another such disaster. From this came the Miami Conservancy District, America's first comprehensive flood control project, an engineering undertaking which has protected the Miami Valley since and served as a model for other areas around the country.

In the next few years, following the growing European conflict which involved the
U.S. in World War I, Dayton and Montgomery County poured thousands of youth into the armed forces, and many lives were lost. The city hummed with wartime production of planes, tanks, guns, and other war materials.

Many names highlight this period of Dayton's history. John H. Patterson, who has been called the father of American salesmanship and America's first humanitarian industrial leader; Charles F. Kettering, who brought the world the electric starter, anti-knock gasoline and other mechanical marvels; John Q. Sherman, who built a business on holes punched in paper; and Frank M. Tait, the dean of America's electric industry, were all Daytonians who dotted the map of history with their contributions.

The Frigidaire built in
Dayton became a household word as the electric refrigerator replaced the ice box. Other divisions of General Motors grew as Dayton became one of the concentrations of GM talent in the country. Dayton Computing Scale merged with other units to become the nucleus of the giant International Business Machine Company.  

From the beginning of World War II, Dayton industries turned to the manufacture of defense goods once again. In 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nearly every industry in the city went on a complete war footing. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base became a great center of activity for the U.S. Army Air Force. The site of the base, as well as its facilities and personnel, were immediately increased. With the end of the war, the base continued as the nerve center of the Air Force. Today, it is one of the largest employers in the area.

Since then, Dayton has continued to progress in a growth of industrial power, in its blossoming as a center of high technology, research and information services, and in its development as a service and distribution center. In transportation, Dayton is the hub of one of the largest "90-Minute" markets in the nation.

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