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Ohio in the 1900s


Oil refining
Oil refining

In the decades after the Civil War, Ohio continued to be a leading producer of grain and livestock, even while vast new farmlands were opened up west of the Mississippi River. However, the most important development during that period was the enormous growth of heavy industries, especially steel manufacturing. Northern Ohio became a major center for producing iron, steel, and related products such as machinery, machine tools, and fabricated metal items. Oil refining also developed into a major industry in northern Ohio in the late 19th century. The industry was centered on Toledo, Findlay, and Cleveland, where industrialist John D. Rockefeller organized the Standard Oil Company of Ohio in 1870. Within ten years, the company controlled more than 90 percent of the oil refining in the United States. Initially most of the oil was drawn from Ohio wells, but when that supply began to decline in about 1900, crude oil was brought in by pipeline from other states.

The glassmaking industry developed around Toledo after natural gas was discovered in the area in the 1880s. Rubber manufacturing was begun in Akron in 1870 by Benjamin Goodrich, becoming a very large business in the early 20th century when an enormous market developed for automobile tires. Ohio played an important role in the early history of the automobile, supporting a substantial auto-manufacturing industry until the 1920s.

As heavy industries came to be concentrated in northern Ohio, so did an increasing proportion of the state’s population. By 1900 Cleveland had surpassed Cincinnati as the state’s largest city. Many immigrants arrived in Cleveland and other industrial centers between 1880 and 1920 from Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere in eastern and southern Europe.

In addition, many farmers moved to the large cities to work in the giant mills and factories. By 1900 Ohio had more than 4.1 million people, of whom only one-third lived on farms.

Ohio’s industrial growth also brought growth of a strong labor movement. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1886, during a period of widespread strikes by workers seeking an eight-hour day. Its purpose was to organize skilled workers into unions, support legislation beneficial to labor, reduce working hours, and improve working conditions and wages. By 1920 it had 4 million members nationwide, and from 1924 to 1952 it was led by William Green of Ohio, a former mineworker and state legislator. In 1937 the Congress of Industrial Organizations split off from the AFL to organize unskilled and semiskilled workers in mass-production industries such as steel, automobile, and rubber. The United Rubber Workers union led strikes in the 1930s in Akron, capital of the rubber industry.

Violent strikes occurred in 1937 in Youngstown, Massillon, and Cleveland after the steel companies refused to negotiate with workers. Several strikers were killed, more than 300 were injured and the state militia was called out before a court decision eventually upheld the workers’ right to collective bargaining. Union-organizing rights were guaranteed in 1935 when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. In 1947 U.S. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio cosponsored legislation to curb the power of organized labor. The Labor-Management Relations Act, known as the Taft-Hartley Act, emphasized the right of employees to refuse to join a union or participate in collective action. "Ohio" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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