ASHLAND -- Monday, Sept. 2, 2019 marks the 125th anniversary of Labor Day being recognized as a national holiday. Labor Day was dedicated to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers throughout the United States and how they’ve impacted the strength and overall prosperity of our towns, states and country.
It was in 1894 that U. S. President Grover Cleveland signed the law declaring the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Areas of the country not already recognizing trade and labor workers joined in with local parades and festivals. It was a day off for most families and employers to take the day off from the daily work routine.
So what was happening in Ashland’s labor market back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s?
Small business and farming initially sustained our little village first named Uniontown in 1815.
In the early days, you may have supported your family as a farmer, livery worker, tanner, shoemaker or blacksmith. A couple of decades later as Ashland grew, you might have been able to find work in a clothing shop, bank, physician’s office or grocery store.
Francis E. and Philip A. Myers started a small machine shop at 29 East Main Street making farm tools. By 1879, Philip A. Myers patented the double acting force pump. By 1915, they ran a company that had nearly 800 employees, 50 salesmen, 500 wholesalers, and 16,000 U. S. dealers.
Although they started out with hay tools, carriers, forks, winnowers and various other tools, they made their mark manufacturing water pumps.
After the citizens of Ashland approved a recommendation from the German Baptist Brethren Church to establish an institution for higher learning, ground was broken for Ashland College.
The first classes were held there on April 17, 1879 with around 60 students and only eight faculty members.
The second-oldest manufacturing company in Ashland behind Myers Pump and Hay Works was Sun Printing House, Book and Job Printing. It was founded in 1879 when Aaron Leedy Garber moved here from Bellville. He had small hand printing press capable of printing a 6” x 8” sheet.
Aaron’s son, Ora, who grew up in the print shop, built on his father’s vision and grew what eventually became the Garber Publishing Company into the first offset printing company west of the Alleghenies in 1935.
In 1894, entrepreneurs Dr. Gilbert Hess and J. L. Clark started a partnership in the stock food and animal remedy business. Their wives often assisted them to get the small company off the ground. By 1915, they had outgrown the building that housed their products and had moved into a three-story plant on Orange Street that covered two-and-a-half acres of floor space.
Hess & Clark eventually employed 250 and 30 salesman, who enjoyed success selling and manufacturing items such as udder ointments, mite sprays, poultry tablets and hog supplements.
The Elite Manufacturing Company was selling automobile jacks, tire savers, concrete mixers, and scaffold brackets to nearly every country in the world by 1906. They operated under the direction of owners, E. L. Kilhefner, J. H. Burkholder and P. E. Countryman.
In 1907, the local but small Camp Rubber Company and a rubber works shop in Akron merged to form a new company in Ashland. It became the Faultless Rubber Company and adopted the slogan “Craftsmen in Rubber.”
By 1915, T. W. Miller directed the operations of 400 rubber workers in addition to 142 others who worked in sales and support roles. Faultless manufactured rubber sundries, surgical and toiletry supplies, toys, and balloons in its early days.
Harry Ross Gill, Sr. had a dream of starting his own business. In a little crudely constructed garage behind the Ashland City Mills on Center Street the Eagle Rubber Company was born in 1912.
Eventually the first opaque, colorfast rubber balloon was developed and the company soared. The mass production of toy balloons became commonplace here in Ashland with many other small factories following who made other toys from rubber as well as balloons.
Also in 1912, J. L. Clark gifted Samaritan Hospital to Ashland, naming it after a morning church lesson about the Good Samaritan. The medical and surgical staff included 13 physicians, and 22 non-resident physicians from other small communities. The original hospital building was a 27-bed facility that also included a training school for nurses.
Once Ashland’s first major businesses started growing, additional manufacturing businesses, safety services, home builders, restaurants, bakeries and retail stores filled in the gaps that catered to Ashland’s growing needs.
A 1920 headline proclaimed, “Ashland leads the world in the production of pumps, balloons, auto jacks and animal remedies.” Collectively, all of
Ashland’s businesses built a desirable and profitable labor market that kept our community going strong in the early days. Even today, as we celebrate Labor Day 2019, Ashland is still “Someplace Special” in which to work and live.