THE OIL AGE (1909-…...)
June 17 and 18, 1909, Dayton held a unique celebration. Like the return of Columbus with word of a New World discovered, it marked the arrival of a new epoch.
This was the “home coming” of the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, winners of airplane tests in the United States and France, which demonstrated the practicability of the heavier-than-air machine for flying. The famous brothers were descendants of that Van Cleve family which had been among the first settlers; but the tale of their long, obscure struggle and final triumph does not need retelling here.
Great as is the credit due the Wrights, it must not be lost sight of, the conquest of the air was inevitable, made so by the development of the gasoline motor; the only question was, who would first reach that goal toward which many bold, keen minds were turned. As early as 1893, the Maxim machine, 8,000 pounds, had demonstrated its ability to lift itself and maintain a speed of 30 to 40 miles an hour. The problems of balancing and steering were what remained; and these the Wrights solved.
RESOLUTION OF 1907 The gasoline motor was in its effect on industry almost as revolutionary as the steam engine. It swept away industries, annihilated whole crafts and trades; on the other hand it created new industries, new classes of mechanics, new commercial lines.
Prior to the panic of 1907, Dayton had begun to manufacture some automobiles and other motor vehicles. On the decline of the agricultural implement trade, the big Stoddard plant on East Third street had turned, in desperation, to the making of automobiles; the Speedwell factory in Edgemont had also launched into the new business. But these were pioneers; automobiles were still a novelty.
Then came the panic of 1907. Dayton business went into that panic on horseshoes and came out on rubber tires. It turned for motive force in hauling from hay to gasoline. Business men fled into the new industry and its varied commercial branches as a refuge from the collapsed markets that meant ruin.
The panic of 1907, like those of 1873 and 1893, was out of the periodic stagnations of industry which denote the revolt of modern productive forces against existing property relations. The inexorable onsweep of improvement in automatic machinery, the consequent multiplying productivity of labor, pours on the markets an ever-increasing flood of goods beyond the purchasing power of the public.
Out of these crises of “over-production” industry emerges only by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces, conquest of new markets, more thorough exploitation of old.
NEW INDUSTRIES FOR OLD Dayton’s extensive wagon and carriage industries went down before the invasion of the gasoline-driven vehicle; livery stables and horseshoeing shops disappeared; a dozen crafts directly and indirectly dependent on the horse let out a swarm of wage-workers whose skill had become worthless. In their stead appeared automobile plants, factories for making special parts for automobiles and trucks; auto repair shops; new swarms of craftsmen who with that amazing mechanical genius of the American people had as if by magic mastered the new trades called forth by this new industry.
Notable among the plants springing up with the emergence of the automobile was the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, the “Delco,” incorporated in 1909 with a capital stock of $350,000. Its main spirits and promoters were Edward A Deeds, general manager of the National Cash Register Company, who soon resigned the latter position to assume the role of independent capitalist, and Charles F. Kettering, an inventive genius whose employment at the N. C. R. plant had made him known to Deeds.
The “Delco” began the manufacture of a patented electric starter for automobiles. Obtaining contracts, with several leading lines of automobiles, it grew like a mushroom. It erected large factory buildings in First street east of Foundry, and soon was employing 1,500 men and women.
In 1916, the same group of capitalists incorporated the Domestic Engineering Company, with a capital stock of $3,500,000 for the manufacture and marketing of another of Kettering’s inventions, the “Delco Light,” a lighting system. The factory was established on North Taylor street.
Attempts in Dayton to manufacture an automobile in competition with other cities—the Stoddard-Dayton and the Speedwell—succumbed to the enormous aggregations of capital which popularized other makes. The struggle for survival in the new industry was soon over. The old Stoddard plant passed to outside interests.
In a small part of the plant of the defunct Speedwell, in Edgemont, the Wright Aeroplane Company was already in 1910, undertaking the manufacture of airplanes. It was having financial difficulties; the commercial possibilities of the airplane were not yet generally recognized.
INCREASING UNCERTAINTY OF EMPLOYMENT Under the stimulus of gasoline the sagging industries of the country, generally, revived for a few years; and Dayton business struggled on. But there was much unemployment, a slowly mounting tide of misery among the wage-workers, whose livelihood had become precarious. It had become the common thing for large shops to shut down, about December, turning loose thousands of men and women to await resumption in the spring. The winter of 1913-14 was one of industrial stagnation for which President Wilson coined the phrase, illuminative chiefly of his own economic ignorance, “psychological depression.”
THE WORLD WAR Suddenly in 1914 came the World War. To American industry, perishing for lack of markets, it was like a dose of cocaine. Greedy foreign markets clamored for supplies, chiefly war munitions. European governments were begging American financiers to float their war loans, and as an additional inducement were engaging to spend the funds thus borrowed in purchase of supplies in America.
Here and there among American capitalists, and frequently among American workingmen, was manifest at first a repugnance against making implements of death to be used for the murder of human beings across the sea. But this repugnance withered before the amazing profits and high wages dangled before their eyes.
“THE BULLET WORKS” Dayton business men were swift to yield to the lure. John Kirby, Jr., head of the National Association of Manufacturers, became connected with a war munitions combine known as the Canadian Car and Foundry Company which was placing British was contracts in America. Will I. Ohmer appeared in Dayton after a trip East, with a huge Russian contract for making time-fuses for bombs. The Recording & Computing Machines Company, headed by Will I. Ohmer, had been incorporated in 1904, but had not been conspicuously successful until the Russian war contract. The old Speedwell plant was taken over and enlarged, hundreds of men and women employed under the supervision of Russian army officers, barbed wire run around the plant on top of a high stockade fence, and a large force of armed private detectives kept on duty day and night as guards. It became popularly known in Dayton as “the bullet works.” The high wages paid there had a demoralizing effect upon other Dayton plants; a feud, it was commonly believed, sprang up between Will I. Ohmer and his fellow manufacturers over this question of wages; his refusal of conform to their lower scale of wages was looked upon as an attack upon their class interests.
CAPITALIST CLASS-CONSCIOUSNESS But the spirit of class solidarity had been carefully fostered among Dayton employers by the Employers’ Association; and when in October, 1915, a machinists’ strike occurred at the Recording and Computing Machines Company’s plant, the organized employers came promptly to aid in breaking the strike, although that firm was not a member of the association.
Bulletins passed between the president and secretary of the Employers’ Association, two of which are reproduced here as illuminative of the class-consciousness of Dayton employers:
TELEGRAM: New York, N. Y., 4 P. M., Oct. 25, 1915.
A. C. Marshall, Reibold Building, Dayton, Ohio
But one policy should be pursued. Any other is suicidal. Dayton employers all know what that policy is and I have faith in their wisdom and willingness to stand as one man behind it. This end of the line solidly with you. Suggest avoiding published statements. Outside influence should not be permitted to disrupt revival of industry in Dayton. (Signed) J. KIRBY, Jr.
NIGHT LETTER: October 25, 1915.
Care of Canadian Car & Foundry Co., 120 Broadway, New York City.
Large, enthusiastic and harmonious meeting stood firm and decided on no surrender nor compromise policy. Committee appointed and line of action agreed upon. Telegrams read and applauded. Many men desire to return. Doubt concerning prudence of permitting it now. Girls refuse to join. Some men gone back to old places. (Signed) A. C. MARSHALL.
“In November, 1915, the union molders first at the Platt Iron Works and then at several other foundries went on strike. It was in line with a general “eight-hour drive.” The rapidly growing scarcity of labor was emboldening labor unions to demand better wages and hours.
But in Dayton the employers were too well organized. It was the boast of the Dayton Employers’ association that since its formation in 1900, no strike had been successful in this city. The strikes came to naught, with the exception of a few concessions in some of the smaller foundries. Several arrests for disturbances on the picket lines were prosecuted in the criminal courts by the employers with a ferocity which indicated alarm; and the machinery of the law was effectively applied against the mutinous workers.
WAR AND WAGES Nevertheless the tide was running strongly against the employing interests in their efforts to hold down wages. In 1917, on the failure of the house of Morgan to float in America the latest issue of British war bonds, the United States was drawn into the World war. The military draft quickly withdrew from American industry millions of young workingmen. That essential for holding down wages—a surplus of unemployed men and women-disappeared.
At the same time the government was in the market for enormous war supplies; it was placing huge contracts on the famous “cost-plus” plan by which the manufacturer could increase his profits in proportion to his increasing the cost to the government of what he was making.
Under this incentive American manufacturers were eager to hire workers at high wages, not merely for their labor, but for padding the payroll; they could afford to be generous as the government was really paying the wages and the ten per cent based upon them.
PATRIOTISM AND PROFITS Dayton claimed and captured her share of war contracts, war wages and war profits.
The Dayton Metal Products Company had been incorporated May 5, 1915, by Harry E. Talbott, Edward A. Deeds, Charles F. Kettering, and others of this group of capitalists, to seize the opportunity presented by the war in Europe for making war munitions. The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company had been incorporated by some or all of the same group. The Dayton Metal Products Company was the controlling corporation.
Deeds, according to the subsequent Hughes Report, vowed in May, 1917, he was going to seek a place on the Aircraft Board; and In August he made this good by becoming head of the Equipment Division of Aviation.
In order not to violate the law in letting contracts to his associates, Deeds went through a form of disposing of all his stock in the Dayton Metal Products Company to his three associates, who gave their unsecured notes to be held in trust by a mutual friend; and he transferred to his wife 17,500 shares in the United Motors Company, which was interested in the ignition system used on the Liberty motors.
He let hundreds of contracts throughout the country, but did not overlook his former associates in Dayton. To the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company he let a contract for 4,000 “battleplanes” at $12,000 each, or $48,000,000 for the lot.
“COST-PLUS” September 7, 1917, the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company was given a contract for $30,000,000; the cost-plus was so arranged, they had a fixed profit of at least $3,750,000, and a possible additional profit of $2,600,000. At that time the company had no paid–in capital, and so the government extended to it a war credit for $2,500,000, of which $1,500,000 was made immediately available.
Under such terms any beggar with a pull might become a “captain of industry”; the government furnished the money and guaranteed the profit.
The enterprising gentlemen who had seized this golden opportunity to serve their war-stricken country did not rate their patriotic services cheaply. They voted themselves enormous salaries in the allied and interlocking companies: H. E. Talbott, Sr., $95,000 a year; his son, $48,000; C. F. Kettering $110,000. These salaries were part of the “cost” upon which they figured their percentage of profit.
Sales of Liberty bonds and war savings stamps supplied the funds for such expenditures.
Thousands of workingmen and working women were hired at the huge Dayton-Wright Airplane plant which had been constructed at “Moraine City,” south of Dayton. Thousands more were hired at McCook’s Field, on the northern edge of North Dayton. Wages climbed up and up. It became a scandal among the workers themselves, how they were kept standing around with nothing to do, drawing big wages. The air was fetid with rumors of graft.
“PROSPERITY” Not only in the government airplane industry, but in a hundred branches, an enormous activity was generated by the war. Shops in any way connected with war supplies were booming. Old men, discarded for years, women and girls, who had done only domestic work, preachers, professional men of all sorts, clerks found highly-paid jobs a the bench.
This state-nourished prosperity spread through all business circles of Dayton. Merchants did a rushing trade; retail prices sky-rocketed, but everybody seemed to have money, the inflated paper-money of the war. Landlords charged staggering rentals; the cost of living advanced even more rapidly than wages.
A CIVIC SHAME If Deeds was blameworthy for using his official position to throw huge contracts to his former associates at Dayton, if his patriotism came under severe censure, as it did in the Hughes Report, it does not become businessmen of Dayton to join in that censure. He had fattened them all by his “Do It For Dayton” practices. They were like members of a prostitute’s family who had rolled in luxury on the proceeds of her shame.
Gratitude to Deeds for what he had done for Dayton “business” out of government funds may have prompted the action of a number of war-benefitted capitalists, after publication of the Hughes Report, in holding a “banquet” in his honor at the Miami Hotel and presenting him with a Loving Cup at the hands of Governor James M. Cox.
This dark page of Dayton history may be closed down with the final statement that the aviation program cost the government $1,051,000,000 and succeeded in placing on the American front in France only 223 planes of American make and these of such defective design the were dubbed “flaming coffins.”
PEACE AND PARALYSIS The armistice, November 11, 1918, came like a stroke of paralysis upon the feverish activities of Dayton industries and business. There were a few months of sudden widespread unemployment, as munition plants discharged swarms of wage-workers. Then came a year of “reconstruction” during which mills and factories ran full blast.
But the productivity of human labor was not enormous. It was equipped with automatic machinery which had been rapidly developed under the stimulus of labor shortage and high wages. It soon repaired the market shortage left by war to American bankers and financiers; it had floated the banks far beyond the limit of safety fixed by their reserves and resources. The Federal Reserve Board was forced by impending peril to call a halt on extension of credits. The period of “deflation” set in.
DEFLATING THE WINDBAG Dayton began to feel the industrial and commercial depression as early as the summer of 1919. By winter many men and women were out of work. The masses of wage-workers, however, had, contrary to the popular middleclass conception of them been thrifty during the war times; they had saved up; a social instinct had warned them the rush of war work would be followed by hard times. There was small evidence of destitution.
But with the summer of 1920 unemployment was mounting higher. The mills, shops and factories of Dayton were closed or running a few days a week; only the National Cash Register plant continued to hire approximately a full force; its gigantic world monopoly seemed to hold it immune from depression. Fully 15,000 wage-workers were unemployed; with those dependent upon them they numbered about one-third of the inhabitants of the city. The agencies of organized charity, taxed to the limit, were unable to cope with demands.
BLIND MISERY Slowly through the autumn of 1920 unemployment increased. The presidential elections came and went. A wave of blind popular discontent swept out of federal control the Democratic party and substituted the Republican party. But this brought no quickening of industrial and commercial activity, no relief. It was from Tweedledum to Tweedledee.
The spring and summer of 1921 saw a revival of production in automobile and allied industries, but no general reawakening. It was estimated at least 15,000 workers were out of employment in Dayton. How they managed to exist was a marvel.
SAUVE QUI PEUT! Meantime an “open shop” campaign was started by the Steel Trust and the great financial leaders of the East, which reached Dayton and resulted in a general reduction of wages among those who still held jobs. But the retail dealers were strongly organized; the cost of living was not materially lowered. The old days of competition had entirely vanished. “Price fixing” by capitalist groups in control of supplies was the order of the day. An effort by Prosecuting Attorney Mau, of Montgomery county, to prosecute various groups of firms, notably the meat dealers, bakers, the “milk trust,” and “lumber exchange,” for violation of the old Valentine anti-trust act of Ohio, served only to emphasize the futility of such laws in curbing the dominant classes of the community.
INTERNATIONALIZED INDUSTRY The close of 1921 found a radical transformation in Dayton industries had been quietly effected during and following the World War. The larger manufacturing plants had lost their local independence; they had become subsidiaries of national and international combines. The Maxwell Motor company, of Detroit, had taken over the old Stoddard plant and erected another plant in North Dayton on Leo street to make certain parts of its car. The “Delco” had sunk into the General Motors Corporation, a huge combine controlled by the Dupont “Powder Trust” interests. The Davis Sewing Machine company, after various confused struggling, had passed into the hands of eastern interests as a branch of a combine. The Dayton Scale company was a part of a nation-wide combine. The National Cash Register company was itself the head of a great international monopoly. The Mercantile Corporation was a great envelope manufacturing plant at Second and Front streets, in the hands of outside interests; it had the government contract for printing all stamped envelopes used at the postoffices of the Untied States. The Barney and Smith Car Works, which had been under a receivership for a long time, was to be sold for the benefit of creditors.
THE DEAD LEVEL Dayton stores had also undergone this standardizing revolution. They were mere sales agencies for goods shipped hither from the plants and warehouses of big combines. Their windows displayed the same brands of goods seen in stores from Toronto to Tallahassee. Kresge’s and Woolworth “Five and Ten Cent” stores offered the same trinkets as in a thousand other towns. “United Cigars” stores, a subsidiary of Standard Oil interests, dotted the business centers. Kroger and Piggly-Wiggly groceries, links in chains of groceries spreading over southern Ohio, were everywhere.
Dayton newspapers published the same Associated Press dispatches published everywhere. Dayton news stands carried the same standard magazines sold everywhere. The people’s mental and spiritual outlook was being standardized like everything else.
It was in short, the era of Standard Oil. Capitalism had ironed out almost all local idiosyncracies. It had reduced Dayton with the rest of the country to the same dead level of machine-manufacture.
THE YEAST OF REVOLUTION But there was a revolutionary yeast fermenting. Labor’s share of the products of industry, in the United States, had been steadily shrinking. In 1890 it had been as high as 79 per cent; in 1900 it had been 47 per cent; in 1910 it had fallen to 43 percent. And the census for 1920 showed that the average product was approximately $6,900, while the average wage could not have been $1,500; with all allowance for overhead charge, cost of materials and taxes, still the profits of the owning class were huge, the share of the workers probably not 40 per cent.
Here was a situation as explosive as gas. The purchasing power of the workers, who were in great measure also the consumers, was but a fraction of their producing power. And Dayton was immersed in this situation as a drop in the troubled stream.
No wonder the aisles of Dayton’s department stores were getting more and more empty of buyers, the warehouses full of unsalable goods, the factories and ills shutting down. It was so everywhere.
The productive forces had become too powerful for the conditions of property ownership. The industrial system could no longer assure to the wage-worker a continuance of his existence within his servitude. It could not help letting him sink into such a state it had to feed him instead of being fed by him.
Capitalism was tottering slowly to its grave.
That grave, to informed workers and liberty-lovers, was illuminated by the radiant light of a new dawn.
Had a Dayton Rip Van Winkle fallen asleep in the year 1900, and waked up on Main street in 1921, he would have wondered if he still dreamed.
Gasoline—that once despised by-product of coaloil—had radically revolutionized traffic.
The dominant notes now were Volume—Speed.
HAY MOTORS DISAPPEARED Gone were the old hitching posts, horse and carriage, team and wagon—except an occasional survival that crept along the side-lines. Down the middle of the street rushed automobiles of four, six or eight cylinders, the slowest of which trippled the speed of a horse. At the curbing in almost unbroken lines were parked swarms of these arsenals of speed and power.
Enormous trucks, each carrying a load a dozen teams could not have handled, rolled to and fro.
The air was full of new noises: the honk of horns, the chug of gasoline engines; occasionally overhead came the loud, strident, vibrating hum of a monster airplane, circling and swooping above the skyscrapers. In place of the odor of horse manure were new smells, the smell of oil and gasoline.
PATERNALISM Other innovations would have struck a sleeper thus awakened; direct supervision of this great tide of impatient traffic by the police. At the street intersections, downtown, stood policemen turning sign-posts which commanded “Go” and “Stop.” Also there were “Safety Zones” marked off in the streets to which pedestrians might rush for safety when awaiting an electric street car. This was “rank paternalism,” at which our individualistic fathers would have hooted in scorn.
At some street corners, angling across the corner, with a driveway in front, stood buildings that would have puzzled the unfamiliar eye: filling stations. Over most of them could be seen, however, a name familiar enough: “Standard Oil.” In front of these a flag was run up—higher than the price of gasoline.
ALL BRIDGES FREE Old wooden bridges had vanished; even iron ones had for the most part, disappeared. Massive concrete bridges spanned the streams, constructed by public enterprise to bear the ponderous tides of traffic that rushed and roared across. They were of course, “free”; the ancient toll bridges had sunk so far backward in the abysm of time that to have spoken of bridges as “free bridges” would have dumbfounded the inhabitants.
Not only bridges, but the paving of streets had been constructed by public enterprise of more durable materials in order to bear up under the increased demands of the new traffic. Only an occasional side-street remained still unpaved. And everywhere, in spite of the solidity of the construction, the wear and tear of truck wheels was visible.
A tremendous acceleration had been imparted to the business of getting to and fro, of hauling goods. In measure as productivity of labor in shops had been accelerated, so had the work of transportation been speeded up. The days when indignant pedestrians complained in the newspapers at the speed of bicyclists seemed now very primitive.
PAVED HIGHWAYS Public enterprise having once taken over the pikes had transformed them. The arteries leading into town were, almost without exception, paved with brick, stone or asphalt. This had been done at great expense, amid the groans of taxpayers. But it was necessary on account of the new traffic, which had grown up in the age of oil. Truck transportation between towns had become of great importance. It was solution of the problem presented to manufacturers by high freight rates and inadequacy of privately owned steam railroads. Automobile manufacturers were accustomed to sending strings of new automobiles to their destination along the paved pikes.
But local enterprise, by counties, was not enough.
Already in the early fall of 1921, the State of Ohio, had constructed 659 miles of improved highways with Federal aid under a recent Federal highway act. The cost of these was $24,113,703, of which the Federal Government paid $7,820,521. This was at an average cost of over $36,592 a mile. And by the end of the year it was planned to have 1,000 miles completed.
Although the counties, like the cities, were staggering under huge bond issues for improvements; although State and Federal governments were hard put to raise funds for ordinary expenditures, road building went steadily on.
THE MASTER’S VOICE It had to be so. Imperative need of means of transportation brought continual clamor from the lords of industry. Too, the plutocratic elements of every community, organized in automobile clubs and wielding powerful influence, cried out for better roads as driveways for their pleasure cars. And back of that was the pressure of business interests identified directly and indirectly with the manufacture of automobiles; they reasoned that the expansion of pikes suitable for automobile and truck meant expansion of markets for such commodities. Every added mile of paved pike meant added sales of oil and gasoline for Standard Oil.
In 1910, the consumption of gasoline in the United States had approximated 750,000,000 gallons; in 1920, it was well over 4,000,000,000—more than five times as much. This basic fact explains the energy put forth in road-making not only by the counties and State of Ohio, but everywhere.
It was in short, the reign of Standard Oil. Titanic new forces of production and distribution had been unleashed to meet the continual craving of capitalism.
How was this industrial and commercial revolution, this huge acceleration of productivity and distribution, reflected in the political system and activities of Dayton?
THE CLASS STRUGGLE ENTERS POLITICS
It was inevitable the changing and enlarging industrial structure of Dayton should outgrow the old political system; inevitable a demand should arise for a new political apparatus to meet the new and larger needs. The new wine could not be contained in the old bottle.
“HOME RULE” This demand was not confined, of course, to Dayton. The choking hand of the state legislature upon municipal activities had long been a cause of discontent in business circles. The old provincial way of sending delegations to Columbus to get the general assembly to authorize local acts was adequate while Ohio was dominated by agricultural interests. But times had changed; the dominant interests were in manufacture and commerce. Speed and simplicity were necessary in getting things started and finished.
Already on September 3, 1912, the people of Ohio had met this demand by amending the Ohio Constitution. Chief among the amendments were clauses giving to cities enlarged autonomy or “home rule.”
In Dayton all classes recognized the inefficiency of the old form of city government. It was regarded generally as antiquated and clumsy. The call was for something new. But there was wide difference of opinion on what shape the new form should take.
WAGE-WORKERS’ PARTIES A new and disquieting factor had entered Dayton politics—a political party of the wage-workers as distinct from the indiscriminate aggregations of voters styled Republican and Democratic parties. This was the Socialist Party, based on the belief that the interests of the wage-workers were separate from those of the employers and property-holders, and could not be reconciled therewith under the competitive system of industry.
The growth of this new movement requires some notice. It was another of the inevitable effects following the development of industry.
Already before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, deepening industrial and economic difficulties of wage-earners had produced some political ferment in Dayton of a blind, confused sort. In 1876-77, when John G. Doren, editor the “Democrat,” had his dispute with his union printers, a “Workingmen’s Ticket” was launched, its main object revenge on the Democratic organization, its platform vague. With the ebbing of that wave of discontent it vanished.
Again, in 1896, the “People’s Party” put forth a ticket in Dayton. Doren, who had long ago settled his differences with organized labor, was the nominee for mayor. Willard Barringer, afterwards a prominent Socialist, acted as secretary of the convention.
These sporadic outbursts were the first wavering advances of a rising tide of working class disillusionment. They broke against the rock and sand of popular ignorance and inertia. But the fundamental forces that raised them were all the time active; social inequalities were steadily increasing with the growing aggregation of capital and wealth; the western frontier had now vanished; wage-earners were growing in numbers and in their total dependence upon large machinery for a livelihood, and with rapid development of automatic machinery were finding that livelihood more and more precarious, more and more subject to short periods of feverish overwork and long periods of enforced idleness.
LOCAL DAYTON ORGANIZED In 1899, six Dayton workingmen obtained a charter as Local Dayton of the newly-formed Social Democratic party. Perplexed as yet in principles and tactics, they surrendered their charter to support the picturesque “Golden Rule” Jones of Toledo for governor, but repented and recovered their charter.
With the fusion of radical parties which gave birth to the Socialist Party of the United States, Local Dayton passed into this new organization.
Among the six charter members were: Willard Barringer, a printer; Charles E. Geisler, a machinist; Charles I. Fulwiler, a pattern maker, and Frank I. Allen, an old-time Abolitionist, a Civil War veteran, a bookkeeper. All were of American birth; and inasmuch as the “irreligious” features of Socialism are often adverted to by its adversaries, it is noteworthy that two at least of these were of strong religious conviction: Allen, a Protestant and Fulwiler, a Roman Catholic.
SOCIALIST PROPAGANDA The new political party pursued bizarre methods of propaganda. It rented a room in the Pruden Block at Main and Fifth streets, where open meetings were held to discuss Socialism and ways and means of overturning the industrial and political supremacy of the capitalists. New members were attracted, who received a red card into which dues stamps were pasted. Itinerant speakers dropped into town; sometimes these were sent by the National Office, sometimes invited by the Local. They required neither newspaper advertising, a brass band, nor a hall; a street-corner, a soapbox, and their own stout lungs sufficed to get up a meeting. For expenses and pay they passed the hat and sold cheap Socialist booklets, pamphlets, and magazines.
In the careless pseudo democracy of the frontier, in which American psychology had been molded, one tenet was “free speech.” It had been registered in all state constitutions. It is one of those popular delusions rudely shattered whenever the conflict between classes intensifies. During the ante-bellum Abolition agitation it had been shattered, but had been revived after the downfall of the slave power. And now with the emergence of this new phase of class struggle, the dominant class—the “business interests”—were too smugly complacent at first in their sense of security, too indifferent to what the “soapboxer” might be bawling, to invoke their tremendous political power against him. Why draw the bridle at every little restless motion of the steed?
Thus, the old-time “soapboxer” enjoyed for a while practical immunity. Traffic ordinances, permits from the chief of police, arrests for disturbing the peace, etc., were held in abeyance.
OLD SOAPBOXERS In that liberal atmosphere splendid orators developed. As we recall some that visited Dayton, what memories arise! Charles Oliver Jones, an erratic genius who perished in an experimental airplane of his own invention. Father Thomas McGrady, of Dayton, Kentucky, a fearless Catholic priest who accepted ostracism, poverty and ultimate death by drudgery and privation for his political belief. Father Haggerty, Jack London, Ben Hanford!
Most sopaboxers were men or women of deep research on economic lines; their learning would have put to the blush almost any Republican or Democrat “statesman.” Withal they had a rough and ready humor, a fine skill in handling street crowds. Jones, interrupted by the noise of an automobile, pointed to it. “Look!” cried he. “We’re divided into two classes—the tired and the rubber tired!” “If your brains were dynamite,” said Midney turning on a heckler, “the explosion wouldn’t blow off your hat!”
They had in them, too, that prime requisite of true oratory—a burning sense of the iniquities of a society which heaped luxuries, wealth and power upon the few and condemned the many to drudgery meanly requited or to idleness and want. They were the descendants of those ancient “soapboxers,” the fierce spokesmen of the people, the Hebrew prophets.
LOCAL SPEAKERS Powerful speakers were brought to locate in Dayton or developed locally by the requirements of Socialist propaganda: Frank Midney, lean, tall, with long black hair, his tongue sharper than a razor; Howard Caldwell, big, burly, blonde; Rev. Fred Guy Strickland, a “little giant” of pulpit, platform or soapbox. Walter Millard, a homeless English lad stranded in Dayton, who while waiting on table in restaurants became a Socialist and by aid of members of Local Dayton attained a career as a brilliant professional speaker.
PIONEERS OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY Names of Dayton’s early Socialists swarm about the writer as he writes: William G. Mattern, “Shorty” Motter, John Glen, E. L. Rodgers, Dan P. Farrell, Joseph Woodward, Dr. A. J. Krehbiel, John Grill, Jim Deck, Gabriel Huettner, the Hager brothers, Billy Bailey and his brass band—it is impossible to record them!
The German branch was formed by such sturdy pioneers as Fritz Hohman, Jacob Kohl, Joseph Ehrhard, and Philip Trautman; it disintegrated during the World War; a remnant sought to form a branch of the short-lived Communist Labor party and went “underground” and died.
At first the Socialist vote in Dayton was negligible. In 1902, although the labor unions fiercely attacked the Democratic candidate for congress, Thomas A. Selz, a laundry proprietor, the Socialist candidate, Jacob Wemler, received by 1,667 votes in Montgomery county; and at that he ran more than 800 votes ahead of his ticket. In the presidential year, 1904, the Socialist candidate for congress, Walter G. Critchlow, received only 1,088 votes against 21,347 for the Republican and 14,475 for the Democrat. American workingmen are slow to abandon their ancient idols.
ANOTHER RICHMOND IN THE FIELD Suddenly, in the city election of 1911, the Socialist vote boomed. The competitive wars between local public utility interests had furnished abundant campaign material for demonstrating the capitalist control of the old parties and of the city council, and the wholly mercenary and selfish class purpose of their reign. For mayor, the Republican Phillips, received 10,092, the Democrat, Ely, 9,634 and the Socialist Willard Barringer, 7,306 votes. Socialists were elected to council in the Third and Tenth Wards; and only by oddly belated returns from one precinct (the “red light” district) in the Eleventh Ward, where an inexperienced Socialist watcher left before the count was complete and certified, was a third Socialist councilman prevented.
Thus formidably had the Socialists leaped into the local political arena. Old party politicians, businessmen and employers generally, viewed the apparition with alarm. Their fears that the next city election, if conducted as a three-sided struggle, would give the Socialists the victory over the divided conservative parties, was undoubtedly the compelling motive behind their demand for a “non-partisan” charter.
In February, 1912, the “Miami Valley Socialist” began publication.
Foremost of Dayton’s capitalists to see the need of prompt action against the menace to class interests and class supremacy was John H. Patterson, president of the National Cash Register Company. With characteristic energy, in October, 1912, he appeared before the Dayton Chamber of Commerce. The president of the chamber appointed five leading manufacturers and business heads a committee to consider and recommend a new charter for the city. Patterson was chairman. The committee reported in favor of the “Commission-Manager” plan.
UNDER CAPITALIST AUSPICES It was John H. Patterson’s plan, also his driving force and money mainly that put the plan through. The new charter was to be a model for capitalist interests everywhere. Its class purpose was revealed in a report by the Dayton Bureau of Municipal Research in “Municipal Research” for September, 1916:
“It was the opinion of the committee of five and of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce that the type of administration similar to that existing in their own private business was best fitted to secure the most desirable results in the conduct of public business.”
FACTORY GOVERNMENT Capitalists naturally view factory government as the best. The new charter provided for a City Manager corresponding to the General Manager of a corporation, with power to appoint his department heads, but responsible for everything; a City Commission of five, corresponding to the Board of Directors of a corporation, with power to “hire and fire” the Manager and to make rules for governing the city, but meeting only once a week and drawing only nominal salaries.
According to Marxian theory, every political structure is, at least approximately, the result and reflex to the industrial structure, the interests of which it is designed to serve. How significant, therefore, is this plan of Dayton capitalists to reshape the City Government to resemble their own industrial organisms!
Factory government, however, while satisfactory to capitalists, has disadvantages for working people. It is not democratic; in fact, most nearly approaches the autocratic, so far as they are concerned. The wage-earner and even the petty shareholder have no real voice in it. Its “efficiency and economy” are designed mainly towards benefitting not the workers, but the capitalists. The board of directors is the executive committee of the property interests involved, not of the human lives involved.
SUGAR-COATED PILL So to persuade voters to adopt this new factory government, an adroit and vigorous campaign was begun. The un-democratic origin and nature of the charter was smothered under attractive features and phrases. The Initiative, Referendum and Recall were tacked on, and emphasized as giving “Direct Government to the People.” This “Fixed Responsibility,” “Spotlight of Pitiless Publicity,” etc. A terrific bombardment of the “corrupt political gangs” was opened, although the remnants of the old “Lowes gang” (the Republican organization) were already in the assailants’ camp, and also many prominent members of the “Hanley gang,” or Democratic organization. The new charter would by its “non-partisan” features put an end to all “gangs” and political corruption. Candidates would run as independent individuals.
MONEY TALKS Large funds were quickly forthcoming, their source at first a mystery. John H. Patterson was the main contributor. By October, 1912, he had organized a Dayton Bureau of Municipal Research with Rev. D. Frank Garland as its president and a New York “expert,” L. D. Upson, as its director, employed and brought to Dayton for the initial purpose of “showing up” the existing city government.
PRELIMINARY MANEUVERS Garland was sent at Patterson’s expense on a flying trip to Germany, where he spent some two weeks inspecting municipal governments. On his return Dayton newspapers trumpeted him as an authority on the subject. Of the marvelous development of public ownership in German cities, he said little or nothing; to have told of these matters would have furnished wind to Socialist sails and alienated his patron. But he was loud for the German plan of hiring the “burgomeister,” and for the eliminative primary by which conservative factions when necessary could combine to defeat Socialist Candidates at the final elections.
Paul Tyner, a newspaper man, was sent in November, at Patterson’s expense to a number of commission-ruled cities of the west and northwest, whence he wrote back glowing panegyrics on the idyllic conditions prevailing, love feasts in the city halls, capital and labor locked arm in arm.
The Burns detective agency was employed in December to secure evidence of graft and fraud for the purpose of further discrediting the existing form of government; a great uproar was raised in the press, but the grand jury balked and refused to indict anyone.
The original committee of five, having enlarged itself to a “committee of one hundred,” styled itself the “Citizens’ Committee,” and employed as campaign manager a professional promoter, Lucius Wilson, at a salary afterwards reported at $750 a week. The daily newspapers were subsidized or gagged, billboards covered with grandiloquent promises, tons of printed matter distributed from house to house.
Still the campaign lanquished. The public was apathetic. The common people had had no lot nor part in all this. It was said it would take another flood like that at Galveston, Texas, (where a commission of leading business men was appointed under martial law) to put the Patterson charter through in Dayton.
THE MARCH FLOOD OF 1913 Promptly, like a deus ex machina, the flood came. March 23, 1913, an immense rush of muddy waters swept down the Miami Valley and buried the lower districts and business center of the city. There were rumors and some evidence of the opening of the gates of the Lewistown Reservoir; but there is no doubt the bulk of ruin was wrought by the persistent heavy rains rolling down from the hills which had been denuded of their timber by the short-sighted greed of a competitive civilization.
The National Cash Register plant stood on the southern hill above the flood. John H. Patterson was thus in an exceptional position for public service. He acted with his accustomed initiative and energy. He put the great resources of his great industrial organization to the task of rescue and relief. Boats were built and launched by his workmen with amazing rapidity; families clinging to roofs or in garrets were brought to dry land; a system of supplies was organized. Donations from all over the United States poured in, and these were speedily taken in charge and distributed.
Great honor is due the memory of John H. Patterson for his part in salvaging people and property from the flood. But neither can a just history be silent upon the political use also made by him of the vast disaster.
POLITICAL ADVANTAGE Although Patterson and the officers of the National Cash Register Company were at that time under sentence of the District Court of the United States at Cincinnati for violation of the Criminal section of the anti-trust act (the verdict was later vacated by the upper court), Governor James M. Cox was induced to appoint him, under martial law, the head of a commission to govern Dayton, with the rank of Colonel.
MILITARY RULE This commission, called “The Flood Emergency Commission,” at once superseded the regular city government. When workingclass opponents of Patterson’s commission-manager charter crawled out of the mud of their devastated homes, they found the bayonets of the militia stopping them from holding meetings down town, either indoors or out.
The voice of protest and criticism was silenced. The daily newspapers on resuming publication sang paeans of praise over the wondrous “efficiency and economy” of the new commission government. Not a word of adverse comment appeared in any print that reached the bulk of the people. Only long afterwards, when the accounts of this Emergency Commission were audited, was opportunity afforded of learning something about its workings. Then, indeed, appeared such ridiculous items of expenditure as the approval of an army officer’s cigar and liquor bill at his Eastern club, huge taxicab bills run up by members of the Dayton Bicycle club, etc.
May 30,1913, martial law having been lifted a few weeks before, the special election of fifteen commissioners to draft a new charter was held. Three tickets were in the field. The “Citizens’ ” ticket, with John H Patterson at its head, won by a large majority. The Socialist ticket ran second, the Democratic, third. The Socialists had pledged themselves to draft a democratic charter with wide powers of municipal ownership, the Democrats a slightly modified form of the government then existing.
NEW CHARTER ADOPTED August 12, after a spectacular campaign and huge expenditure of money by the “Citizens’ Committee,” the Commission-Manager plan was adopted by a vote of 13,317 for and 6,022 against. The opposition after the May election had been conducted solely by the Socialists and Central Labor body. The Democratic organization had quietly lain down or gone over to the victor after the first battle.
A statement by Edward W. Hanley, the Democratic “boss,” published August 13, contained significant comments:
“Since the result of the election in May, it has been my opinion that the responsibility for Dayton’s government should be assumed by those who have succeeded in convincing the people, for the time at least, that Dayton is a city of municipal crime, rotten to the core in its various departments and wholly under the domination of political bosses with low and debasing instincts.
“Even if a small percentage of their charges are true, then the change will be worth all and more, than it cost in time and effort. But with my knowledge of conditions, I feel safe in predicting that there will be some amazing surprises and that the people will live to learn that there is a wide distinction between promises and performance and that an ideal government will continue to exist in theory only. And it must not be forgotten that these two elections were conducted and won without limit as to financial resources and by practically the same methods in use by all so-called political machines.”
CLASS STRUGGLE IN POLITICS Hanley’s prophecies were fulfilled during the next eight years. At the September primary all candidates were eliminated but the five presented by the “Citizen’ Committee—and the five by the Socialists. Thus, for the first time a capitalist or business ticket was pitted against a labor or workingclass ticket. The Class Struggle had definitely and openly entered local politics.
At the November election after a campaign of unprecedented bitterness, the Socialists were defeated. The average vote stood 11,767 to 6,240. Thenceforth the Socialist party was the opposition. All other political organizations were perforce merged in the “Citizen’s Committee,” whose campaign funds were systematically contributed by the industrial and commercial interests. A powerful political machine retained entire control for eight years, until an internal revolt shattered it.
January 1, 1914, the city passed under the new charter and the new regime.
DISILLUSIONMENTS The much-vaunted Initiative, Referendum and Recall speedily proved a farce. In 1914 the Socialists tried an initiative ordinance for a municipal electric plant, which was fought and defeated by the united forces of the City Commission, Chamber of Commerce, and Dayton Power and Light company. The mere preliminary expense and labor of getting one-fourth of the registered voters to understand and to sign the petition, as required by the charter, exhausted the resources of Local Dayton, and taught them that this weapon was too expensive and unwieldy for a working men's organization.
The United Trades and Labor Council in 1915, tried a petition to amend the charter. They obtained signatures far in excess of the ten per cent required by the Ohio Constitution, and filed these, certified, with the Clerk of the Commission. Instead of performing his purely clerical function of transmitting the petition to the Commission for its action, the clerk, John B. Harshman, held it for several weeks for “investigation.” A card index of the signers was prepared in his office; members of the “Citizens’ Committee,” which comprised most of the employers of labor, visited a number of the signers employed by them, with requests to withdraw their names. It was a time by of widespread unemployment; fear was instilled into the hearts of the workingclass by this menacing procedure. Finally, on technical quibbles, such as changes of address, hundreds of signatures were rejected and the commission refused to recognize the validity of the petition.
In 1921, another attempt was made to amend the charter, this time by organizations of disillusioned citizens: the Gas Consumers’ League and Taxpayers’ Association. Again a petition containing abundant signatures was presented; but the City Attorney (the same Harshman who had formerly been clerk) advised the City Commission on technical grounds to ignore it as insufficient. A legal fight was carried by the malcontents to the Ohio Supreme Court without success.
WAITE Meanwhile the “efficiency and economy” failed to materialize. The first City Manager, Henry M. Waite, proved an executive of ability, and introduced some minor economies. But the task set him would have baffled a Hercules. He was the salaried political employe of capitalists, bankers, manufacturers and merchants, the very class who owned and controlled the public utility companies and other industrial and commercial interests that require special privileges for city government and fatten upon them. Every real move towards efficiency or economy was of necessity an invasion of the private profit claimed by some or other of the backers of the “Citizens’ Committee.” These were the workers of iniquity who spoke peace with their neighbors, but mischief was in their hearts. Here was no foundation for reform. Waite saw futility facing him at every turn, and after several years’ struggle seized the opportunity of the World War to resign and enter the engineer service of the army.
GOVERNMENT BY DEFICIT The bonded indebtedness of the city in 1900 had been $2,501,500; in 1910 it reached $3,939,100. In 1913, when the cry for “efficiency and economy” was raised by the capitalists, forty-seven per cent of the city’s revenue from taxes was being absorbed by the sinking fund to meet the funded liabilities. At the beginning of 1921, after seven years of capitalist efficiency and economy under factory government, the bonded indebtedness had climbed to $8,106,480 by the admission of the Finance Director; political adversaries said it was really much more. The city was issuing deficiency bonds to meet ordinary operating expenses. Thus, on Friday, May 13, 1921, $450,000 of deficiency bonds were offered for sale. A complicated system of accounting, and the subserviency of the daily newspapers, left the public in the dark as to the rapidity mounting debt and the general breakdown of municipal functions.
CAUSE AND EFFECT All this was but the inevitable result of control of the political machinery by private capitalists, the American capitalists’ policy of fending off municipal ownership so long as private profit could be wrested from public utilities. It was the same disaster into which all American cities were drifting. Everywhere it was the last stand of the private profiteers against the onward march of civilization. And even they, much more the public, were blind to the enormous extent of their impending defeat. They were being weighed in the balance and found wanting.
General disgust at the futility and poverty of the city government manifested itself throughout Dayton. But each succeeding primary election forced the voters to choose between two distasteful alternatives: either to retain the “Citizens’ Committee” in power or elect the Socialists—for whose economic and political principles neither they nor the times were yet ripe.
SPLITS Finally, in the summer of 1921, a split occurred in the capitalist ranks. Once before, in 1917, the Democratic organization quarreling over a division of offices had broken away from the “Citizens’ Committee” and nominated its own three candidates for the primary, filling the Democratic organ, Governor James M. Cox’s paper, the “News,” with sensational and scandalous inside stories by E. E. Burkhardt and others of trickery and underhanded methods practiced on their own following by the inner circle of the “Citizens’ Committee.” But the overwhelming vote for the Socialist candidates at that primary had frightened them into fusion again. Governor Cox had rushed from Columbus with a swarm of Democratic state employes and in a melodramatic speech at Memorial Hall, flung all the strength of his political organization at the feet of the “Citizens’ Committee, “ to “beat the Socialists.”
END OF THE “CITIZENS’ COMMITTEE” In 1921, the split, however, was more serious; it was among capitalist interests. The street railway companies during the World War had raised fares on having to pay higher wages under order of the War Labor Board. Later, the Oakwood and City Railway companies repudiated an agreement with their employes and reduced wages, practically forcing a strike. To conciliate public opinion, the companies at the same time stipulated with the city government to reduce fares. City Manager Barber, a new man recently brought from Joliet, issued a menacing manifesto which in effect told the strikers to get back on the job at their masters’ terms or he would see that the cars were operated. The city elections were approaching. This unguarded and clumsy utterance alarmed the City Commission, who promptly obtained his resignation. But the Winters-Clegg financial interests behind the street railway companies were offended at the timidity and lukewarmness of the administration in their behalf, although it had sworn in Baldwin-Feltz detectives as special police and was arresting strikers and their sympathizers. They broke away from the Patterson leadership. The story was published without denial that Valentine Winters and Harrie P. Clegg were supporting three “independent” candidates at the primary. It was the psychological moment: deep mutterings of revolt had long been heard in business and financial circles against the Patterson regime. At the August primaries the Socialist candidates again swept the field.; but the “independent” candidates won second place.
The ticket of the “Citizens’ Committee” went out in utter and hopeless defeat. Thereafter, to “beat the Socialists,” anti-Socialists of all factions had to support the “independent” ticket which consisted of one Democrat, Hale, put forward by the Democratic “gang,” and two Republicans, Stanze and Kneisly, for whose election the Republican “gang” were openly working and “Boss” Brower acting as chairman at Stanze’s meetings. With the victory of these at the November election, the old “gangs” were back again, all pretense of reform at an end.
PUBLIC ENTERPRISE IN FLOOD PREVENTION Meanwhile economic necessity had forced one more advance of public enterprise. Since Daniel C. Cooper built the first levee to protect his mills, private enterprise in flood prevention had been gradually yielding to public enterprise. The great flood of 1913 definitely convinced the most reactionary that neither private enterprise nor merely local preventive efforts would avail to protect the city against a recurrence of the ruin. Immediately after the waters subsided, a $2,000,000 “Flood Prevention Fund” was raised by voluntary subscription in Dayton. A committee consisting of Deeds, Adam Schantz, H. E. Talbott and other local capitalists was put in charge of it.
The committee spent large sums obtaining engineering advice, with the result it abandoned as futile the old local method of merely building levees or straightening and deepening the river channel. The plan presented by the Morgan Engineering company called for a comprehensive system of dry reservoirs (huge dams through which the stream would flow by apertures at ordinary levels) for the entire Miami Valley, so that in times of freshet the waters could be held back among the hills and let out gradually.
Nothing short of the co-operative effort of the entire valley could construct and pay for such a wide-flung scheme of flood prevention. Public enterprise had to be invoked. The venerable John A McMahon of Dayton, an old-time Democrat and former congressman, legal advisor of numerous corporations and capitalists for half a century, prepared a bill which was passed by the state legislature.
A portion of the $2,000,000 fund was expended in lobbying and securing the passage of this bill, which became the Conservancy Act of 1915.
PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN OF 1920 The Flood Emergency Fund entered somewhat sensationally the presidential campaign of 1920. Governor James M. Cox, who as editor and proprietor of the Dayton “News,” had carved out a fortune and a political career, won the Democratic nomination for the presidency. At once an indefatigable search was begun by both the Republican and Democratic national machines for discreditable incidents in the records of the two Ohio editors, Harding and Cox, the rival candidates, to hurl at each other. An accountant who had assisted in the Hughes aircraft investigation remembered seeing some cancelled checks among the accounts of the Dayton Metal Products company.
One was a promissory note of Cox bearing date of August 16, 1917, for $5,000, which had been cashed by him at the City National Bank and been paid with accumulated interest on June 29, 1918, by the Dayton Metal Products company. It furnished food for suspicion that financial favors had some part in the subsequent appointment of E. A. Deeds, of the Dayton Metal Products, Cox’s friend and neighbor, to the Aircraft Board.
The other cancelled checks concerned the Flood Emergency Fund, of which Deeds was chairman of the committee entrusted with the money raised by public subscription.
CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION A congressional investigation was ordered. Senator Edge of New Jersey and Senator Pomerene of Ohio, came to Dayton to take evidence. It was disclosed that during the presidential campaign of 1916, when Cox was running for governor, a fund of $37,000 had been raised in support of his candidacy by six Dayton capitalists: H. E. Talbott, of the Dayton Metal Products, $7,000; E. A. Deeds of the Dayton Metal Products, $7,000; Adam Schantz, head of the Dayton Breweries, $7,000; Walter Kidder, head of large distilling and manufacturing interests, $7,000 and F. M Tait, president of the Dayton Power and Light company, $2,000. Of the first three, the books of the Dayton Metal Products company showed their accounts were charged and the amounts contributed by checks drawn on the company. The $37,000 were placed in the hands of Adam Schantz, who was also treasurer of the Flood Emergency Fund. In 1918, certain employees were required to submit fictitious charges amounting to $37,000 for services to the Flood Emergency Committee; and on February 3, 1918, at a meeting at which Deeds presided as chairman, these imaginary services were ordered paid. The money thus appropriated was later paid by Schantz to himself and the other five as reimbursement for their contributions to Cox’s campaign.
A lame explanation was given by Schantz of this manipulation of trust funds. The Flood Emergency Committee, he said, felt the re-election of Governor Cox was essential to the passage of conservancy legislation. Withal it was a ghastly illumination of the inner working of politics, of the stealthy handling of politicians by capitalists, and the loose ideas of capitalists regarding a public trust.
MIAMI CONSERVANCY DISTRICT Under the Conservancy Act a separate taxing district was created in the Miami Valley, June 28, 1915, embracing all lands reached by the flood. A board of three directors, clothed with immense powers, was appointed under the act by the common pleas judges of the district.
Profound distrust of democracy was manifest in the letter and spirit of the Conservancy Act. Everything was removed as far as possible from interference by the common people. Those with real estate interests involved were given some slight voice, but those with only their lives or personal property to lose were not.
The directors could change the course of any stream or flow of water; construct and maintain any works; change any streets, roadways, bridges, buildings or railways; acquire by purchase, condemnation, or gift , and own, lease, use, and sell real and personal property of any sort. They were given a dominant right of eminent domain over the right of eminent domain of railroad, telegraph, telephone, gas, water power and other companies, and over townships, villages, counties, and cities. They could make rules and regulations for the use of sewer outlets and disposal of waste; the construction of any works contrary to their requirements was made a dismeanor punishable by a heavy fine.
They were given, in short, almost absolute power over all water ways and water rights in the Miami Valley, and all matters however remotely connected with these. They could, if they chose, develop the water power and lease or sell the rights to persons, corporations, or municipalities. The funds for these immense undertakings were to be collected by levying taxes, by bond issues, by borrowing and by special assessments upon the real estate “benefited.”
MODERN PHARAOHS The board of directors had practically unlimited power also to fix the amount and order the levying. That they used their authority with no niggardly hand is apparent in the original levy upon lands within the city of Dayton and Montgomery county: $27,804,480.64.
No Pharaoh of ancient Egypt enjoyed greater control over a people’s industries and necessities. It was, of course, written in the stars that the men appointed to wield this immense authority should be big capitalists—men who would stand like the angel with the flaming sword at the gates of Eden and keep back the common people from its possibilities of public ownership. The three directors chosen by the common pleas judges were Edward A. Deeds, of Dayton; Henry M. Allen, of Troy, and Gordon S. Rentschler, of Hamilton. In 1922, in spite of the Hughes report upon Deeds’ aircraft activities, in spite, too, of the Edge-Pomerene disclosures upon his connection with the $2,000,000 flood emergency fund, Deeds was reappointed. No judge, no politician, no newspaper raised an objection. The common people were inarticulate, as always, for any practical results.
Thus, quietly was demonstrated the tremendous political strength of the capitalist classes of the community. Out of the World War, with all its hideous exposures of their class rottenness, they had emerged with capital more bloated and power seemingly only the more magnified. They were spreading themselves like a green bay tree.
But day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. In the community were isolated voices already calling attention to the possibilities of the Miami conservancy District for developing a grand system of water power and electricity for operating every shop and farm and street railway and traction line, under public ownership, for the public good! And all that stood in the way was public ignorance!
Here ends our biography of Dayton.
We have followed the development of a social organism, a hamlet born, watched it grow to a town, to a city, and at every step shake off some outgrown form of private enterprise.
In the light of candid research, is it too much to say that Progress—Civilization—has been a passing from Private to Public Ownership? From private wells to public waterworks, from private vaults and sinks to public sewers, from private ferries and toll-bridges to public bridges, from turnpikes to paved public highways, from individual “gun-toting” to policemen, from private volunteers to a paid metropolitan fire department, from private schools to public, from private reading societies to a public library—and so on down to that latest gigantic undertaking, the Miami Conservancy, it has been a steady, inexorable march of necessity towards public ownership.
Is it too much to say also that whatever of hope the future holds out is bound up with this advance towards public ownership? Street railways, electric light and power and other recognized forms of public utility, will, of course, soon be wrested---or dropped—from the clutch of private profit. Following then, tardily, in the track of European cities that long ago reached to similar economic necessity, Dayton’s people will have to own and operate collectively, for their common good, slaughter houses, bakeries, coal and lumber yards—in short, all functions vitally affecting their food, clothing and shelter. The city may have to acquire extensive farming and timber lands as many German cities have done, with mills, elevators, granaries, and other equipment. Where is relief for the masses against the steadily mounting “cost of living,” the increasing tithe of the profit-takers, if not on that road?
But the fundamental problem of exploitation remains. This social organism called Dayton was born in the bright springtime of the great American experiment in political democracy. It was born just 20 years after that mighty menace to kings and privileged classes in the Declaration of Independence:
“That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to secure their safety and happiness.”
Unfettered by old feudal class-lines or old feudal property-rights, the new-born town put forth new political forms in response to swiftly developing industrial and commercial relations of the community. It developed with the needs of a people eagerly seizing upon a virgin continent. It was the social reflex of the competitive struggle among these pioneers to win first food, clothing, shelter, and next wealth, power, ease.
It grew with the industrial growth; it took shape from that. We have seen the handtool age pass, the water-power age arise; the water-power age pass, the steam-power age arise; the steam-age passing, the oil age arising—perhaps soon the age of electricity, with power-plants at mine-mouth and waterfall transmitting energy to railways, mills and factories a thousand miles distant, saving the enormous waste of energy in the present anarchical hauling of coal. Coincident with these industrial revolutions, we have seen the political structure of Dayton shaking off outgrown forms like the eucalyptus tree shedding its outgrown bark, and assuming new to meet the new times.
With accumulated wealth and capital and increased size and cost of tools, that delightful primitive equality of the pioneers vanished. As it vanished, the city government slyly discarded equalitarian forms; and it assumed a more and more class character, under pressure of the dominant minority, who sought thus to protect property rights and privileges against the human right of the dispossessed majority.
But along with this increasing capitalist dominance, linked to it in fact as shadow to sun, we have beheld the development of a dispossessed class—men, women and children who own little or nothing, forced to seek their livelihood at the big shops of the capitalists where are the big modern tools that have confiscated nearly all handicraft. We have beheld their growing disillusionment, their budding class-consciousness. We have seen them slowly coming to realize that their interests as wage-earners, as renters, as consumers, are distinct and divergent from the interests of employers, landlords and all others who live by profit instead of labor. As their minds have grasped this hard fact we have seen them, forming first their labor unions, next their own political parties, to win their American rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
In this awakening of the wage-workers lies the hope for Dayton’s future. Not a “radical,” but the most orthodox of capitalism’s political economists, John Stuart Mill, said in 1869:
“No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by force of poverty; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred by the accident of birth, both from the mental and moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently of desert.”
And he, this English writer, whose works on political economy have been for two generations textbooks in the most conservative American colleges, says further:
“The working classes are entitled to claim that the whole field of social institutions should be re-examined, and every question considered as if it now arose for the first time; with the idea constantly in view that the persons who are to be convinced are not those who owe their ease and importance to the present system, but persons who have no other interest in the matter than abstract justice and the general good of the community. It should be the object to ascertain what institutions of property would be established by an unprejudiced legislator, absolutely impartial between the possessors of property and the non-possessors; and to defend and to justify them by the reasons which would really influence such a legislator, and not by such as have the appearance of being got up to make out a case for what already exists. Such rights or privileges of property as will not stand this test will, sooner or later, have to be given up.”
Do we over-estimate the dawning social vision of Dayton’s wage-workers when we behold them soon grappling with that greatest and most fundamental problem of exploitation—private ownership of the huge shops and factories where armies of them are now forced to seek their daily bread at the power-driven machines?
We have seen those plants gradually grow, through conquest, confiscation and destruction of smaller tools and older forms of production, into the great collective tools of the community. The private ownership of these plants, after they have developed thus into social necessities, creates a new feudalism in which the wage-workers are the serfs, the owners their lords.
The path to freedom plainly lies in transforming those collective tools in to the property of the community.
This problem of transition from private capitalism to a co-operative commonwealth presents in America features not prevalent in Europe. The difference may be summed up in the two works: Western Frontier. The existence of the frontier explains the comparative scarcity and therefore higher social and political status of labor, the odd conservatism and class-blindness of the American workingclass, its clinging to obsolescent forms of labor unionism and political faith. It explains the super-development of labor-saving machinery in America, the traditional aversion to government interference in “business,” the retention of private enterprise to the last gasp, the strength of individualism, the weakness of co-operative effort.
European workingmen stand aghast at the antiquated ideas of such American labor leaders as Samuel Gompers and the controlling element in the American Federation of Labor. Immigrants and their immediate descendants in our big industrial centers form what they call “militant” industrial and political organizations for the American workers, and issue manifestoes modeled on those of Europe, filled with the philosophical phrases popular in European workingclass literature. But to the ordinary workman these appeals are as the chattering of sparrows on the housetops; he passes apathetically by. Thereupon the foreign-born radical calls him dull, slow, lacking in both brains and spirit.
The American-born wage-worker is neither dull nor slow, compared to the European; he is lacking in neither brains nor spirit. But the European wage-worker has behind him a landless ancestry of centuries; it was in the days of King Henry VIII that Sir Henry More described the expropriation of the English peasantry from the land to make way for sheep walks; and that pictured the process going on throughout all Europe, in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. The class-wisdom of the European radical is the bitter fruit of six centuries of land-starvation.
No such centuries of family tradition environ the mental outlook of our American wage-worker. Almost invariably he has been reared in a home whose foundations were in dirt to which his family held the title-deed—he has not yet understood the process by which he declined into a city renter. Around his childhood were the rustle of ripening corn, the glow of pumpkins, the crowing of roosters. He is the descendant of pioneers. He still dreams, not wholly without reason, of owning his home, his garden-patch, perhaps even his farm. That Western Frontier colored his imagination; it colors it yet—although the Frontier itself has vanished. It is the mainstay of the cheaper moving picture houses of all our American cities. While the Western Frontier lasted, land everywhere was cheap. Land is still cheap in America, compared to Europe. The ordinary wage-worker may still, by extraordinary thrift and effort, acquire some of it. The outskirts of Dayton, as those of other towns, swarm perennially with springtime lot-buyers and home-seekers from among the workingclass. The rural environs are sprinkled with shop-workers struggling to re-establish their family on the soil; these heroic battlers against economic destiny travel daily to and from the shops on traction cars or in Fords, and spend the hoarded remnants of their time and energy cultivating fields and gardens.
Thus the proletarian—the hopelessly landless and propertyless wage-worker of Europe—is of very recent origin among our Americans. The present generation has to pack into its skull what six centuries served to teach the European.
But things move fast in America, once started. There will be no centuries of supine endurance of oppression by our American wage-workers. Learning with comparative swiftness, they will become class-conscious long before they shall have altogether lost the indomitable spirit of liberty of their pioneer sires, their social pride and individual initiative.
The American workingclass, in the ripeness of the on-rushing time will prove themselves not unworthy of their revolutionary fathers. They will demand industrial democracy—the common ownership of the common tools. They will accept nothing less.
The men and women of the working class of Dayton will be a part of that great movement towards freedom.
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