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What, Never?


Why is Dayton called the Gem City? Roz tries to find out...
The first article appeared in The Journal Herald, December 28, 1972

The second article appeared in the Journal Herald, January 3, 1973


By Roz Young

      One thing no kindly, altruistic woman would do, especially one who has just resolved to be sweet and loving all during the new year, one thing she would never, never do is say “I told you so.”

     After all, the folks at Gem City Savings didn’t exactly say that the reason Dayton is called the Gem City is that back in 1845 a reporter named only “T” in the Cincinnati Daily Chronical wrote in a story “Dayton is the gem of all our interior towns.”  What they said is that this is the first documented evidence that somebody called it a gem.

     Documented evidence means in print, I guess.  But they did have Congressman Chuck Whalen stop by the president’s office and they did give him a picture with the newspaper story in it and he did say that he would now be able to tell people why we are the Gem City.

     And a certain character, who writes a column in this space five days a week, did point out as late as last Thursday right in this same spot that she had an idea that one of these days a better explanation would pop up.  This character is too modest and too noble to say she told you so, but you can read a message here between the lines if you look close enough.

     Carl M. Becker, a history professor at Wright State, has been working for several years on an industrial history of Dayton, government grant and all.

     In his research he has read from front page to back every single newspaper published in Dayton from 1840 to 1900.

     This in itself is a prodigious accomplishment, in recognition of which we have put it in a paragraph all by itself.

     In his reading, he found that in no Dayton newspaper was the city referred to as the Gem City during the 1840‘s (when the Cincinnati story was written and subsequently reprinted in Dayton, but I won’t say I told you so), nor in the 1850’s, nor in the 1860’s nor in the 1870’s.

     During those decades the two epithets used to refer to the city are “Rochester of the West” and “Valley City,” the latter term appearing more frequently.

     However, during 1882-1883, Major William D. Bickham, editor of the Dayton Journal, this paper’s esteemed ancestor, began through his editorials a definite campaign to have Dayton called the Gem City.  It did not catch on very well until 1887, when a new board of trade was organized and began to use the nickname Gem City with regularity.  “Although I was not particularly searching for any reference to the term in my reading,” says Carl, “If it had been used at all earlier, I would have picked it up.”

     IN CORROBORATION of Carl’s memory, no business firm in Dayton was named Gem City until 1885-6 when Henry Gummer, Adam J. Conover and J. Lee Natchez set up the Gem City Stove Company at 321 N. Taylor St.  Gem City Carpet Cleaning Work, John H. Finley, proprietor, is listed in the 1886-87 directory at 73 W. Mead St., (Gem City Building and Loan was founded in 1887 but is not listed in the directory.) and the following year the Gem City Soap Works was set up by the Fansher brothers on N. Broadway St.  In 1889-90 five more companies opened: Gem City Brewery, Schantz and Schwind, proprietors, Perry Street; Gem City Engraving Co., E. M. Jeancon, manager, Fireman’s Insurance Building, 2nd and Main; Gem City Feed Mill, Wellington T. Silver, proprietor, W. 3rd near Mound; Gem City Floral Co, Anna M. Troup, proprietress, 21 E. 5th, and Gem City Roofing and Paving Co., F. J. McCormick, proprietor, 15 N. St. Clair St.

     From then on the Gem City companies sprouted like lettuce seed.

     ONE FINE DAY some researcher, a local history buff, a librarian, a history professor or an interested citizen will start at the library reading Bickham’s editorials beginning in 1882 and find the first time he suggests calling Dayton the Gem City.

     Then we’ll get Warren Ross of Gem City Savings Co. to have a picture made of it and we’ll call Congressman Whalen back to town and put the new picture in the old frame and we’ll have this matter settled once and for all.

     And old Ad Lib will be there; four words she will never, never say on that glorious occasion are “I told you so.”




By Roz Young


     It has always been pleasant to enjoy the flurry that rises occasionally over why Dayton is called the Gem City.  I can recall reading in the telephone book years ago that it is so called because it sits like a gem in a mounting of surrounding hills. Of course, it is sunk down in the setting rather than elevated, which may be why the telephone book no longer carries the explanation.  Around 1885 or 1890 a race horse named Gem lived here, another explanation.

     The Gem City Savings Company is 85 years old now and brought out a quarterly this fall on the history of Dayton the past 85 years.  Jeanne Walters, researcher for Kircher, Helton and Collett, set out to find the origin of the term.   She called the Chamber of Commerce.

     They gave her the race horse story and another about diamond mines in Africa that seemed far fetched.

     SHE CALLED The Dayton Public Library.  “When high school students call us on this,” said the library researcher, “we tell them about a story in an 1845 Dayton advertiser in which a reporter called it the gem city.”

     Jeanne looked at the reporter’s story and discovered it had originally appeared in the Cincinnati Daily Chronicle.

     She called the Chamber of Commerce in Cincinnati and the two newspapers, but nobody knew anything about the old Chronicle.  Then she called the Cincinnati Historical Society and found that among the artifacts given to the society from an estate was the very newspaper she was interested in.

      THE ORIGINAL PARAGRAPH in which the reference occurred, written by a reporter known only as “T,” said, “The most indifferent observer will not fail to notice Dayton. The wide streets, kept in excellent order, the noble blocks of stores, filled with choice and, of course, cheap goods, and more than all, the exceeding beauty and neatness of the dwellings, you at once mark with a ‘white stone,’ It may fairly be said, without infringing on the rights of others that Dayton is the gem of all our interior towns.  It possesses wealth, refinement, enterprise, and a beautiful country, beautifully developed.

     This, so far as Jeanne could find out, is the earliest reference in print to Dayton as a gem.  And so a copy of the original story was made and just before Christmas, Warren Ross, president of Gem City Savings, presented the framed copy to Congressman Charles Whalen, who said he would hang it in his office in Washington and will tell anybody who asks how we happen to be known as the Gem City.

     AS FOR ME, I KEEP thinking that one of these days another explanation will pop up.  Knowing how fleeting is newspaper copy, read today and fireplace starter and birdcage liner tomorrow, I can hardly believe that one little sentence would have started all this.  Right now we have 36 companies in the telephone book named Gem city something or other.

     I shall file it away in my list of Things to Find Out in 1973.  Others in the list are the names of the boys in Kilkenny who watch the traffic light, is there a Loch Ness monster, who writes to me on Irvin Harlamert’s stationery, and who lives in the tower of the Knott building.

      INCIDENTAL NOTE:  A Stivers High School graduate recently asked me to help him collect money to buy a live tiger for the school as a mascot.  He thinks it might improve school spirit.

      Let anybody who thinks a school ought to have a live wild animal as a mascot call the Humane Society and talk to Fred Stroop as to the advisability of such a thing.

     Tigers are on the endangered list.

     What tigers still roam their natural habitat should be left there.

     Tigers are wild animals, hard to care for.  Even as young cubs, they are fighters and dangerous.

     A steel cage such as the one the Stivers students are thinking of having for their tiger is no place for a glorious wild animal.

     Think of the howl the first time the tiger lashes [students are thinking of having for their tiger is] out with his paw and maims or kills a kid!

     Nope, no tiger help.