American Consequences - June 2019

immigrants were from Central Europe, where a strong union movement dated back to the 1840s. Or maybe it was simpler. In a place where the economy was fluid, not to say a viscous mire, the firm ground of labor solidarity had appeal. Toledo unions were successful, but American success – as with Benjamin Stickney’s Toledo land holdings – has teeter-totter aspects. In 1919, Willys-Overland offered its employees a profit-sharing plan. It is a feature of human psychology that an opportunity can be as frightening as a threat. (Consider love.) Willys-Overland’s union considered the love that John North Willys was offering to be a threat to hold down hourly wages and went on strike. According to Toledo Profile: A Sesquicentennial History (taking a break from boosterism), “Two men were killed and nineteen injured during a riot involving several thousand strikers, strike sympathizers, strike breakers, and former soldiers who were serving as police.”

Price of a 1909 Pope-Toledo: $6,000 Price of a 1909 Model T Ford: $825

The American Bicycle Company produced the Toledo Steamer. The old Milburn Wagon Company made the Milburn Electric. And Toledo’s Kirk Manufacturing Company offered the Yale Touring car with a two-cylinder engine, 16 horsepower, and weight of nearly a ton. There was automotive achievement as well. From 1912 to 1918, Toledo’s Willys- Overland Motor Company, owned by John North Willys, was the second-largest U.S. automaker, after Ford. Toledo, however, had a kind of success that Ford couldn’t match – successful labor unions. (Ford resisted unionization, often with “Thunderbird” tactics, until 1941.) Toledo is, and remains, a union town. I haven’t found much academic research or evidence in the 184 years of The Toledo Blade ’s microfilm morgue about why this is. Local historians mostly adhere to the Midwestern tradition of boosterism. They don’t shine light into corners of conflict. I can guess. Toledo had labor problems as early as the 1830s when the Maumee Valley temperance movement curtailed the whiskey ration of Irish canal diggers. The Irish went on strike, and who can blame them? Toledo was a fledgling rail hub. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers was one of America’s first effective labor unions – more effective than Toledo’s railroads. Toledo had a large immigrant population. In 1890, 65% of Toledoans were foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. Many of these

It is a feature of human psychology that an opportunity can be as frightening as a threat. (Consider love.)

Willys-Overland Motor Company was forced into reorganization and never completely recovered, and the popular Willys Six and Willys Knight models disappeared. But Toledo got a piece of the action, so to speak, becoming not the Car Capital but the

American Consequences


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