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The Dayton Idea

The Dayton Idea


Highlights of an Article Written by

Elbert Hubbard

And Reprinted by Permission


The FRA of July 1914

Issued by the Greater Dayton Association

Dayton, Ohio



Down in Dayton, things are doing.  Out of the mud and mire of the flood have been distilled loyalty, love, organization and brotherhood~ ~

From an overgrown village, Dayton comes into the limelight as a city set on a hill ~ ~

If the things being done in Dayton had only a local significance, they would not be worth recording, but the fact is, the eyes of the world are upon Dayton.  There, a new system of municipal government is being worked out.  Dayton is moving in the right direction.  She is in the vanguard, pointing the way.


Municipal Politicians


Twenty-give years ago, Ambassador Bryce in his book, The American Commonwealth, presented us a few literary snapshots of ourselves.  At first we were inclined to argue the matter; now we acknowledge the truth.

Ambassador Bryce among other things said, “American municipalities are governed by the worst in the worst possible way.” 

What he had in mind, of course, was the system of party politics, whereby aldermen are elected to represent certain wards.  Each alderman is true to his ward.  His business is to give work to the voters, and to siphon as much ready money in his own particular direction as possible.  Often his official limit of life is very short.  He pays his political debts in patronage.  Water, gas, light, transportation, paving, parks—all have to pay tribute to the political ward-heeler.  Men in one ward hold up all improvements in other wards.  The matter settles itself down to a system of barter and sale, and the taxpayers foot the bills ~ ~

We can not possibly imagine a successful business concern managed on the political party plan.  In party politics we elect the man who presents the most plausible palaver, who spends most money, secures the greatest applause and finally captures the most votes.


No legitimate business could hope to secure success under such a form of management.  For a superintendent or a foreman to dissipate the funds of a manufacturer, the way municipal politicians usually do, would spell bankruptcy, and quickly too.

It is but a truism to state that private business today must be carried on in the line of simplicity, truth, directness, economy, to the end that employees stockholders and the public shall prosper.

A municipality in one sense is a stock company where every citizen holds one share.  And city business should be conducted exactly on the same lines of economy and efficiency as are brought to bear in private affairs.  And this is the great central truth in the Dayton idea~ ~

The city affairs in Dayton are managed by a board of five Commissioners, who are elected by the people ~ These in turn employ a Manager—more frequently called the City Manager—who serves during good behavior, subject to recall.  He is given full swing to go ahead and use his best judgment in all matters relating to the welfare of the city.  He hires and fires and fixes salaries.

Macaulay said, “There is no government in the world equal to an absolute monarchy where the monarch is wise and true.”

Someone else has said that a committee is a thing that takes a month to do what any one man can do inn an hour.

One-man power is the effective thing at the last.  Yet we recognize that power unrestrained tends to by tyranny, and any general manager must be responsible to his stockholders; and to secure the very best possible service from your general manager and not allow him to misuse his power is the problem. 


The idea of a commission form of government had its rise in Galveston, born of a calamity, when a tidal wave swept the city and among other things carried out every vestige of city government.  The municipal government must have been a very impermanent, unstable affair—otherwise it would not have given way.

Benjamin Franklin once made a remark to the effect that in the dark all cats are gray.  We could also say that in the sunlight, in peace and prosperity, all men look much alike.  Men can not be judged by the size of their heads, by height, or weight, complexion or color of eyes.  The important things in life are intangible and unseen.  It is danger, difficulty, seeming disaster that test the human fabric.


Galveston’s mayor, comptroller, city treasurer, board of aldermen, and chief of police, went out with the tide.  They sought personal safety, and were appalled and reduced to nothingness by the force of the rolling waters.  To bring cosmos out of chaos was the work of the few intrepid, dauntless, heroic souls who rose to the level of events and took charge of things by divine right.

By popular acclaim one man was appointed as general manager.  All looked to him.  He outlined his organization, appointed men to look after certain things and perform certain tasks.  And without hate or fear or panic or apology he took charge, and the city was rehabilitated and rebuilt.

Exactly the same thing happened in San Francisco.  The regular city government disappeared in the day of difficulty, and the businessmen of the town stepped into the breach and did their tasks thoroughly, almost jauntily and joyfully, building on the ruins of the old a city beyond compare.


The New Deal


Party politics, with the idea that “to the victors belong the spoils,” is a rudimentary survival of the Roman idea of exploitation and annexation.  One wielded the spear and sword, the other is satisfied with the power of tax.  The folly, futility and waste of the old-style partisan government have been apparent in Dayton for several years.

Now and again efforts have been made to get the people together to stamp out the feud spirit that prevailed.

The party not in power always sets itself to making life uncomfortable for those who are in office.  Partisan newspapers take up the cry, and all the time the expense goes on and the people pay the bills.

In Nineteen Hundred Twelve an effort was made to secure a new civic charter that would put city affairs on a commonsense basis, but it was not until after the flood that party lines were sufficiently washed out to eliminate the professional politician.  On May Twenty-fifth, exactly two months after the flood, the city was cleaned up and was in a more sanitary condition than it had been before the flood.~ ~

Outhouses have been done away with, cellars had been flooded and fumigated, and the bacteria, dirt and refuse eliminated from a thousand corners where they had accumulated.  Martial law backed up by science had worked a wondrous change.  The enemies of a commission form of government had been given an example of what a few strong, earnest businessmen could do when banded together for a common purpose, in welding the city into a bond of brotherhood.

One job having been completed, the people sighed for other jobs to conquer.  They got together and subscribed two million dollars to put into working order a scientific plan to prevent a repetition of the flood.

The next endeavor was to get the very strongest man available as City Manager.  Some of the men wanted could not be secured, and many of the applicants for the job were not desirable.

In cities where the Commissioner is elected by the people, there is apt to be a duplication of the old-time conditions.  The man elected is chosen because he is popular, has a pull, is an orator, and has a way of kissing the babies and paying pretty compliments to the ladies, passing out promises.

Dayton elected five Commissioners.  These men are practical businessmen—four are merchants and one a printer.  All are practical, simple, hard-working, level-headed men .~

The first business of these men was to choose a City Manager.

The choice finally fell on Henry M. Waite of Cincinnati.


Waite has decision, intellect, physical strength, sincerity, simplicity.  With it all he has a saving sense of humor.  He is not a partisan.  He does not have to get even with enemies nor reward friends.  The fact that he comes from outside of Dayton is also greatly to his advantage and benefit.  He picks up the duties of the situation exactly as if it were a great factory or department store.

Waite has the distribution of one million two hundred thousand dollars, which are expended in city affairs each year.

From present indications he will cut down the cost of running the government fully twenty-five per cent, and give, in addition, fully twenty-five per cent better service than the city has ever seen.

The commission form of government has never been the success that its advocates expected, for the simple reason that the commissioner, no matter how strong and worthy, was not backed up by a body representing the will of the best people.

In order to get a first-class government every individual governed must take a hearty interest in the affairs pertaining not only to his own well-being, but to every one else ~ This lack of support is a fatal thing in the commission form of government ~ Usually there has been a Board of Trade, a Chamber of Commerce, an Advertising Club, or some other sort of boosting organization, back of the commission ~ The membership in a Chamber of Commerce in a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants is usually about three or four hundred men.  These are the businessmen of the town.  I know of several cities where the population is over three hundred thousand and the membership in the Board of Trade or Chamber of Commerce is under one thousand men ~~

A municipal manager without an organized, intelligent body of citizens behind him would be like a general without an army.

The business of the City Manager is technical.  He deals with finance, law, real estate, engineering and the police and fire departments.

But back of him is The Greater Dayton Association, which is a permanent institution, untouched by politics or denominationalism.  The Commissioners themselves receive an insignificant compensation, and of course member of the Greater Dayton Association are not on the payroll.  Theirs is the sweet privilege of paying, not of being paid.

Any government that is not electrified with the spirit of humanity is a cold, lifeless, tyrannical, parasitic thing.  Good government should spring out of the hearts of the people.  Liberty in its widest sense should be their sweet privilege.  Spying on their personal affairs should be eliminated.  To look after the needs of others requires a man with great faith in the Infinite Intelligence, great faith in humanity, great patience, great forbearance.


Dogmatism, which is the mother of tyranny, springs out of a belief that we are right and others wrong.  The real fact is men are not good or bad—they are good and bad.

All government should be on a friendly basis, animated by the actinic ray of intellect, flavored by love.  Service is the one big thing.


The Greater Dayton Association


The Greater Dayton Association is strictly unofficial ~~

It is a permanent organization with a membership of about seven thousand people, some of whom are women, and a great many are wage-earners.  Dues are five dollars a year, and a great many people consider it a privilege to belong to this Association.

I spoke in Memorial Hall to an audience of about four thousand people who were mostly member of The Greater Dayton Association.


Dayton has a population of one hundred twenty-five thousand people.

It is expected that within a year The Greater Dayton Association will have a membership of ten thousand people.

The slogan of the Association is:  “For a greater and more beautiful Dayton.”

The Greater Dayton Association creates a public sentiment which makes the work of Manager Waite effective and efficient.  It works with and for Dayton’s new plan of government, and is in very fact an integral part of the government ~~ Why government should be something apart from the people I have never been able to fathom.

In Dayton there are no slums—also there are no very rich people.  There are a good many, however, that are fairly well-to-do ~~

“Give me neither poverty nor riches,” said the philosopher, and Dayton is happy in having no poverty to speak of and in the fact that her riches are invested.  You will look long before you find any idle rich in Dayton.  And Dayton is not a city made up of mere men.  Here women play a prominent part in municipal affairs.  On many of the committees appointed by The Greater Dayton Association, women serve in various capacities, and as the women of Dayton met calamity and disaster unafraid and wore the garb of laborers, not fearing the most menial tasks, so are these brave women now meeting in fair fight the issued of the day.  They are standing shoulder to shoulder with the men of The Greater Dayton Association, striving earnestly for a greater and more beautiful city.

Dayton is a city thoroughly alive, wide-awake, where the smug and the self-satisfied and the supercilious and all that makes for the silly “frat,” with its train of feud and jealousy, is well-nigh eliminated.

Dayton stands a solid phalanx against the powers of laziness, ignorance, weakness, and the gravitation with the downward pull.  In Dayton, levitation prevails.  There is an upward lift, thanks to calamity and disaster which were capitalized and now represent tangible assets in the way of reciprocity, mutuality, loyalty and love.

Dayton is nearer democracy than any other city of its size in the world.  And the end is not yet!