Toledo, from bicycle giant to the automobileWritten by Nick Shultz | | email@example.com
Perhaps there is no other industry in the world that has driven technology and innovation as much as the design and manufacture of the automobile. This was true in the early years of the automotive industry and is even truer today. The United States of America became a world giant both industrially and economically as a direct result of this industry. If we ask the question “how fares America?” Then we must ask how the automotive industry fares. Two world wars, which tested the character and the mettle of men and nations, were fought and won because, in part, of the manufacturing strength of this nation. It was, and is, this nation’s ability to meet new and demanding challenges that ensures the future of our community and our nation.
There may be no other place in America that symbolizes better that which is this great nation’s strength than Toledo. If Ohio is the “Heart of it all” then Toledo is the life blood for that heart.
I wonder if most Toledo natives are aware of our city’s rich automotive history. Toledo residents did not sit and watch the early automotive industry grow around her. We Toledoans were a key component in the success of the automobile industry and, therefore, a key component in the success of America.
America, and the Midwest in particular, was a dramatically different place in the late 1800s and the earlier 1900’s. There were very few paved roads connecting the major cities of our nation. In fact, there are more paved roads in Toledo today than in the entire nation in 1900. Most of America was rural, and the horse was king when it came to transportation. Nearly every town of significance had its own carriage manufacturer. The same was true for Toledo. Because of the rural nature of most America, and because there were no major highways connecting the many cities, most folks lived within or near the city centers. These crowded city centers could not support the number of horses required for everyday transportation needs. There was a logistics nightmare that required the feeding and watering and removing of waste from that many horses. There were great health issues caused by the horses as well. The insects that the horses attracted aided in the spread of disease. An alternative means of transportation was desperately needed. A “horse drawn” society could not survive into the 20th century.
One such alternative transportation method was the bicycle. It was cheap, easy to build and required very little space to store. America fell in love with the bicycle. In the 1890s, Toledo became home to the largest producers of bicycles in America. There was the Gendron, the American Bicycle company, the Kirk Manufacturing Company, The Lozier and Yost, The Dauntless Bicycle Co., the Union Manufacturing Co., the Colton Cycle Company and many others, all producing bicycles in Toledo during the 1890s and into the 1900s. This huge manufacturing business required a significant amount of skilled labor, which brought large numbers of immigrants to Toledo. Life was good in Toledo during the late 1800s and early 1900s and chiefly because Toledo was an industrial giant.
Although the bicycle solved many of the problems associated with the horse, within the cities of America, it did little to resolve the problems of transportation between the urban and rural areas that dominated most of America. An alternative means of transportation was necessary. Out of this need came the automobile industry.
Toledo was in a unique position during the early years of the automotive industry because of its bicycle production facilities. It was only natural that those bicycle manufacturing plants take on new roles within the automotive industry. And that is exactly what occurred. Some of these Toledo manufacturers began production of their own automobiles and others converted all or a portion of their plants to producing components for the “Horseless Carriage” industry.
One such manufacturer was the Lozier manufacturing company. By 1900 Lozier had become a part of the Pope bicycle Company and in that year they began production of the “Pope Toledo.” The “ Pope Toledo” was a steam powered passenger car. It was a luxurious vehicle that sported many amenities. It was, however, expensive. It was dropped from production in 1902 and replaced by the “Type IV” in 1903. The “Type IV” utilized a ten horsepower gas engine instead of the steam power plant used in earlier versions of the Toledo. It too was expensive. These early cars were adorned with Brass and Bronze parts. This period of automobile production, therefore, is referred as the “Brass era.” Few cars represent this era as well as the “Pope Toledo.”
The “Pope Toledo” in no way represents the only contribution by this city to the industry. Perhaps the most famous electric car of this period was produced here as well. The Ohio Electric Company produced its “Ohio Electric” in Toledo from 1909 until 1918. In late 1914 the Milburn Wagon Company, (the largest manufacturers of farm wagons in the world) began production of the “Milburn Electric” based on a design by Karl Probst. Probst later would design the famous “Bantam Jeep” which was also built in Toledo. The “Milburn Electric” was a very popular car. It was used by the US Secret Service during the Wilson administration. Woodrow Wilson even owned one himself.
The contributions that John North Willys made to the industry are legendary. After Willys acquired the Overland Company and moved all operations to Toledo he built the company into what would become Toledo’s largest employer. The Willys Bantam was adopted by the US military and 360,000 were built by 1945.
From bicycles to cars, Toledo has been a major player in the industry since its inception. Today’s cars are technological wonders that can incorporate dozens of on-board computers. This technology requires sophisticated manufacturing processes. Toledo still remains a leader in the automotive industry. If Toledo is to continue in this role as an industry leader, then emphases must be given to attracting and retaining the industry necessary to support the new technologies.
The level of technology on today’s vehicles is remarkable. In order to properly diagnose today’s vehicles and, ultimately repair them, requires sophisticated diagnostic equipment and strategies. I will be happy to discuss some of your automotive related problems in this column. I will also continue to write informative information regarding this exciting industry.
Nick Shultz is an instructor of Automotive Technologies at Owens Community College in in Perrysburg Township. He is an arbitrator for the Better Business Bureau who specializes in cases involving the Ohio and Michigan lemon laws. He is a certified master automotive technician by ASE, General Motors and Ford Motor Co. Schultz, a Toledo native, will take automotive technical questions from readers.