Toledo: History

French, British Settle Maumee Valley

As early as 1615 Etienne Brule, Samuel de Champlain's French-Canadian scout, discovered the Erie tribe of Native Americans living at the mouth of the Maumee River, the largest river that flows into the Great Lakes. Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed the territory in the name of France's King Louis XIV in 1689, and French trading posts were subsequently established in the Maumee Valley. A century later the British built Fort Miami there. Following the French and Indian War in 1763, France ceded all claims in the territory to Britain, who annexed the region to the Canadian Province of Quebec in 1774. At the end of the American Revolution, the region became part of the United States and was designated as part of the Northwest Territory in 1787. Renegade agents incited Native American warriors to attack settlers in the area; when American military forces were sent there in 1790, the native tribes prevailed. Four years later, General Anthony Wayne defeated 2,000 Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers southwest of present-day Toledo. General Wayne then directed the building of several forts, of which one was Fort Industry, constructed at the present site of Toledo.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812 the few settlers in the vicinity fled. In January, 1813, General William Henry Harrison, later President of the United States, erected Fort Meigs, a massive fortification enclosing 9 acres, which became known as the "Gibraltar of the Northwest." In the Battle of Lake Erie, off Put-In-Bay, the U. S. Navy's young Commodore Perry defeated the British naval force, followed by Harrison's defeat of General Proctor at the Battle of the Thames. These victories re-secured the Northwest Territory for the United States. After the war, a permanent settlement was formed on the northwest side of the Maumee River near the mouth of Swan Creek. In 1817 an Indian treaty conveyed most of the remaining land in the area to the federal government. The village of Port Lawrence near Fort Industry was formed by a Cincinnati syndicate in 1817, but it failed in 1820 and was then revived. Port Lawrence voted in 1835 to consolidate with the settlement of Vistula, one mile away, and the two were incorporated as Toledo in 1837.

The choice of the name of Toledo for the new city is shrouded in local legend. Popular versions give credit to a merchant who suggested Toledo because it "is easy to pronounce, is pleasant in sound, and there is no other city of that name on the American continent." Whatever the source, friendly relations with the city of Toledo, Spain, have resulted. The Hispanic government awarded The Blade, the city's oldest newspaper, the royal coat of arms, and the University of Toledo has permission to use the arms of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella as its motif.

Border Dispute Precedes Industrial Growth

The "Toledo War" of 1835-36 between Ohio and Michigan over their common boundary did not involve bloodshed but it did result in federal intervention to resolve the dispute. Governor Robert Lucas of Ohio led a force of 1,000 soldiers to Perrysburg in March 1835, with the intent of driving Michigan militia from Toledo, but emissaries sent by President Andrew Jackson arranged a truce. Governor Lucas held a special session of the legislature in June, creating Lucas County out of the land in Wood County involved in the dispute. The new county held court in Toledo on the first Monday of September, which proved it had exercised jurisdiction over the disputed territory by holding a Court of Common Pleas in due form of law. Finally, Congress settled the issue by stipulating that the condition of Michigan's entrance into the Union would award Ohio the contested land and Michigan, in compensation, would receive what is now the state's Upper Peninsula.

Toledo in the mid-nineteenth century benefitted from the opening of new canals, the establishment of businesses along the river bank to accommodate trade and new shipping industries, and the arrival of the railroad. Prosperity continued during the Civil War, and by the end of the century the city became a major rail center in the United States. During the 1880s Toledo's industrial base, spurred by the discovery of inexpensive fuel, attracted glass-making entrepreneurs. Edward Libbey established a glassworks in Toledo, and then hired Michael Owens to supervise the new plant. The two pioneers revolutionized the glass business with inventions that eliminated child labor and streamlined production. Edward Ford arrived in the Toledo region in 1896 to found the model industrial town of Rossford and one of the largest plate-glass operations of its time.

Two politicians stand out in the history of Toledo. Samuel M. "Gold Rule" Jones was elected mayor on a nonpartisan ticket and emerged as a national figure. His reform efforts in city government introduced one of the first municipal utilities, the eight-hour workday for city employees, and the first free kindergartens, public playgrounds, and band concerts. Mayor Brand Whitlock continued Jones's reforms by securing a state law for the nonpartisan election of judges and Ohio's initiative and referendum law in 1912.

John Willys moved his Overland automobile factory from Indianapolis to Toledo in 1908, and, in time, automotive-parts manufacture flourished in the area; the industry was firmly established by such firms as Champion Spark Plug and Warner Manufacturing Company, maker of automobile gears. A strike by Auto-Lite workers in 1934 was marred by violence and prompted the intervention of U.S. troops and the Federal Department of Labor; the resolution of this strike, which received national attention, helped contribute to the unionization of the automotive industries. The Toledo Industrial Peace Board, set up in 1935 to resolve labor disputes by round-table discussion, served as a model for similar entities in other cities.

An All-American City

Toledo today boasts amenities and points of interest including the University of Toledo, the Medical College of Ohio at Toledo, a symphony, ballet and opera company, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo Zoo, and the Anthony Wayne suspension bridge (1931). The site of the battle of Fallen Timbers, a national historic landmark, is in a nearby state park. Toledo's commitment to arts and culture is evident, as is its focus on neighborhood revitalization. A renewed vitality, even in the face of diminishing central-city residents, has city planners looking toward the future.

Historical Information: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, History-Travel-Biography Department, 325 Michigan Street, Toledo, OH 43624; telephone (419)259-5207