Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Fordyce

George Lincoln Fordyce, Photo from The Youngstown Vindicator, June 25, 1931 via Google News Archive

Most of us remember big downtown stores like McKelvey’s and Strouss-Hirshberg’s. There were a number of other stores along Federal Street in the first part of the twentieth century that are now fading memories. Among these were stores in several locations along West Federal Street operated by George Lincoln Fordyce.

Fordyce was born in Scipio, New York, in Cayuga County on September 29, 1860 to John and Louisa Horton. His first job was trapping rabbits. By age 10, he was working at a general store in Scipio. Eventually he moved to Auburn, working at another store and the Cayuga County National Bank.

He moved to Youngstown in 1883 and opened a women’s wear store in the Arms Building at West Federal and Phelps, a building he eventually owned, which became known as the George L. Fordyce Block. He continued to expand his dry goods business, selling women and men’s clothing, linens and fabric by the yard for those making their own clothing. This was about the same as G. M. McKelvey’s got started.

In 1907 he acquired the Osborne store at West Federal and Hazel Streets, moving the stock to his location under the name The Fordyce-Osborne Company. After a huge inventory reduction sale in early 1912 liquidating much of the remaining Osborne inventory, the store operated as the George L. Fordyce Company until his death.

Ad from The Mahoning Dispatch, January 12, 1912 via the Library of Congress

Having reached the ranks of business leaders in downtown Youngstown, he exercised leadership in a number of other Youngstown civic affairs. He served as a director of Dollar Savings and Trust, First National Bank, and Ohio Leather Company. In 1912 and 1913, he was president of the YMCA, the first president of the local Boy Scouts Council and president of the Youngstown Hospital Association for twenty-three years. In this last role, he oversaw the development of both the Northside and Southside hospitals. He also was a member of the building committee for the Reuben McMillan Library.

Fordyce’s continued to be a favorite place to shop because of events like that recounted by Howard Aley in A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Mahoning County and Youngstown, Ohio, from 1921:

“Santa Claus Came to Fordyce’s”

 Evidence that the characters in the Santa Claus scene have undergone change over the years is found in the fact that on December 12th, a number of Santa’s surrogates arrived via the Erie Railroad to prepare the way for the later arrival of the jolly old gentleman himself. Chris Claus, brother of Santa, and “Toofy”, his companion, whose job it was to look after Santa Claus’s mail during the rush hours, came in via railroad because ‘they ran out of snow about 200 miles north of here and were compelled to forsake the reindeer and dog teams.’ Some 200 children met the pair at the railroad station and escorted them to the George L. Fordyce Store where Santa maintained local headquarters until Christmas. There were so many adults in the crowd, pushing and shoving to get their children’s letters into the hands of Santa Claus that the reception committee was lost in the crowd and the ropes that were intended to hold back the crowd proved utterly ineffective. In regard to the effect of the Santa Claus traditon upon children, Superintendent of Schools O. L. Reid said it should be encouraged. ‘Whatever tends to develop or prolong imagination is well worth while’, he told members of the Sunday School Institute at Central Christian Church” (p. 241).

In researching Fordyce, I discovered he was as well known for his love of birds as for his business leadership. When he was fourteen, his doctor told him that a key to maintaining his health was fresh air, and ornithology gave him a pursuit that allowed him plenty of opportunity for fresh air. He was walking the trails of Mill Creek Park long before Lindley Vickers. He was an expert on identifying every species of local birds and led the annual bird censuses for Mahoning County and was a member of the American Ornithologist Union. In 1944, his portrait was hung in Deane Collection of Ornithologists in the Library of Congress, a mark of his status among fellow ornithologists.

He was also a devoted but not competitive golfer. However, in 1929, his daughter Louise was among the top six golfers in the country.

His health declined in his later years, which may have been a factor in the sale of his stock by C. A. Lockhart, the “Father of the Bargain Sale” in 1929. Shortly after, the store closed at its West Federal and Phelps location to re-open at 15 West Federal, where it was operating at the time of his death. Here is an ad from the store on the day after his death, noting that they would close early on the Saturday before the Fourth of July for the funeral service of their founder:

He died 12:05 am on June 25, 1931 at his home at 40 Lincoln Avenue. Dr. William Hudnut of First Presbyterian Church conducted his funeral service and he was buried among many other Youngstown leaders at Oak Hill Cemetery.

I’ve not been able to find any information about how long the business lasted after his passing, but my sense is that it was not long. Some of the institutions, like the YMCA and the library continue to be a vital part of Youngstown. Others, including the business he led for 48 years are memories. He fostered not only commerce but beauty in his love of nature and, particularly, bird-watching. He was among the early Youngstown leaders who recognized that healthy business and civic institutions and natural beauty made Youngstown a great place.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge George Tod

Judge George Tod, by Unknown author – (1909) Twentieth Century History of Sandusky County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., p. 177, Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

Last week, I wrote about Tod Homestead Cemetery. The cemetery was the result of a bequest of George Tod, a Youngstown industrialist and son of David Tod, who served as a governor of Ohio. The George Tod I’m writing about this week was David’s father and George’s grandfather. He was one of Youngstown’s earliest settlers and gave Brier Hill its name. As a judge on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he escaped impeachment by a single vote, fought in the War of 1812 with the rank of Lt. Colonel, returning to Youngstown as a Common Pleas Judge. He lived out his days on Brier Hill Farm, from which part of the land was eventually allocated for the cemetery.

George Tod was born Dec. 11, 1773, in Suffield, Connecticut to David and Rachel Kent Tod. He graduated from Yale in 1795 and studied law at the Litchfield Law School, the first law school in the United States. He was admitted to the bar in 1797 and married Sarah “Sallie” Isaacs. In 1800, he visited the newly surveyed Western Reserve and brought his family to Youngstown in 1801, settling northwest of the Youngstown settlement, establishing a farm that he called Brier Hill farm for the Briers on its hillsides. David Tod was born there in 1805.

George Tod had already been admitted to the bar and appointed a prosecuting attorney for Trumbull County, of which Youngstown was a part at that time. While serving in this office, he was elected clerk of Youngstown township in 1802. In 1804 he was elected to the Senate of the newly formed state of Ohio, representing Trumbull County until 1806. On May 13, 1806 Governor Edward Tiffin appointed him to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. He was then elected to a seven year term in 1807.

His near impeachment came when he and Justice Huntington ruled that a section of a state law defining the duties of justices of the peace and constables in criminal and civil cases to be unconstitutional. Some of the legislature was so angered that they brought impeachment charges against Tod on Dec. 24, 1808. Huntington escaped charges because he had by then been elected governor. Todd argued:

“That if this article of impeachment can be sustained, the tenure of the judicial office, will hereafter depend on the will of the house of representatives and the senate, to be declared on impeachment, ungoverned by any established principles, and resting in their sovereign will, governed by their arbitrary discretion.”

In other words, he was fighting for the power of the constitution over the legislature, and for the principal of judicial review at the state level.

The legislature got its revenge by passing the Sweeping Measures reducing the term of justices to four years. Tod stepped down, getting himself elected to the Senate from Trumbull County. Among other things, he helped lead efforts to repeal the Sweeping Measures. Although by this time he was fighting in the War of 1812, the General Assembly repealed this law in 1812.

He was a genuine war hero. He had been elected Captain of the Second Regiment of the Fourth Division of Trumbull County in 1804. These regiments were incorporated into the Army at the onset of the War of 1812, part of the 19th Regiment of Infantry, commanded by Col. John Miller. He was commissioned as a Major in 1812 and promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1814, recognizing his service. He was commended for his courage during the siege of Ft. Meigs, near Toledo from April 19 to May 9, 1813 and in the Battle of Sackett’s Harbor on May 19 of the same year. Subsequently he was awarded the command of Ft. Malden after the British evacuated it.

After the war, he returned to Youngstown, serving as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the Third Circuit which encompassed  Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Huron, Medina, Portage, Richland, Wayne and Trumbull counties. He served two seven-year terms between 1816 and 1830. A fellow judge, Rufus P. Spaulding, gave this description of traveling from Warren to Cleveland with Tod:

“We made the journey on horse-back, and were nearly two days in accomplishing it. I recollect the judge, instead of an overcoat, wore an Indian blanket drawn over his head by means of a hole cut in the center. We came to attend court, and put up at the house of Mr. Merwin, where we met quite a number of lawyers from adjacent counties. At this time the village of Warren, where I lived, was considered altogether ahead of Cleveland in importance, indeed there was very little of Cleveland at that day…The presiding judge was the Hon. George Tod, a well read lawyer and a most courteous gentlemen, the father of our late patriotic governor, David Tod. His kindness of heart was proverbial, and sometimes lawyers would presume on it.”

After his second term, he returned to his legal practice in Youngstown and a term as Prosecuting Attorney for Trumbull County from 1833 to 1835. He died at Brier Hill Farm on April 11, 1841 and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Brier Hill Farm remained just a farm until after George Tod’s death. It was his son David who realized the value of the block coal beneath the surface that fired the iron, and later, the steel industry, making “Brier Hill” synonymous with blast furnaces rather than crops and livestock. All of this was an unenvisioned future to Judge George Tod. He fought for Ohio and country on the battlefield and courtroom, establishing the rule of law and the precedence of the state’s constitution in the Western Reserve and the newly minted state of Ohio. He was one of Youngstown’s founders, whose contribution in law, land, and children would leave its imprint on Youngstown’s future.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Marvin H. Itts

Marvin H. Itts, Youngstown Vindicator, November 7, 1971 via Google News Archive

In this series, I’ve often written about people who were “pillars” of the Youngstown community. Many of them are well-known: Joseph Butler, Volney Rogers, Esther Hamilton, and P. Ross Berry are a few who come to mind. In the course of writing about Youngstown, I’ve discovered many others, some whose names I never knew before I came across them, and many lived extraordinary lives of work, community leadership, and service. Marvin H. Itts was such an individual.

One of the ways I get article ideas is to look up Youngtown Vindicators from fifty or more years ago. There was an article in the November 7, 1971 Vindicator titled “Itts Heads Heart Fund Drive.” I was intrigued because one of my junior high school teachers was Mr. Itts, and I was curious if there was any connection but as far as I could tell, there was not. Marvin H. Itts had been tapped to head up the Heart Association funding drive with a goal of raising $151,000. His obituary notes that he was “very successful” in this drive. He was also considered the ideal leader for the campaign as a walking example of the advances in heart surgery. In 1969 he experienced a series of heart attacks and in 1970, underwent a seven hour open-heart surgery considered a “textbook case.” Subsequently he return to complete health and resumed a normal schedule of work and philanthropic activity.

He was born in Youngstown June 15, 1913. His parents were Israel and Esther Sterns Itzkovitz (he obviously shortened his name). I could not find out much about his youth. His obituary suggests he was a lifetime member of Brandeis University, suggesting he may have attended there. He married Sara Lazar and subsequently founded Saramar Aluminum Co. in 1938. The company, of which he was chairman at the time of his death, specialized in aluminum extrusion and aluminum fencing. They eventually moved to Warren, Ohio. In 1964, Governor James Rhodes and 1,000 guests attended an open house for a new 250,000 square foot plant, formerly occupied by Mullins Manufacturing-Youngstown Kitchens. It was noted at the time they had an annual payroll in excess of $2 million.

While Saramar was the business for which he was most known, he was engaged in a number of other ventures including Bel-Park Inc., a medical center on Belmont Avenue, he was a partner in the renovation of the Realty Building, he built Union Square on Belmont, and Marvin Itts & Sons owned several realty firms. Also, he is listed as an incorporator (in 1955) of Prime Windows, Inc. of Youngstown.

“Community College Trustees Sworn” Photo from Youngstown Vindicator, April 6, 1964 via Google News Archive. Marvin H. Itts is in the second row, second from the left.

Marvin H. Itts was also involved extensively in service both to community causes in Youngstown and with the Jewish community. The photo above represents his appointment to a community college commission to establish a community college within what was then Youngstown University, occupying two buildings. He was one of Esther Hamilton’s “candy butchers,” winning top place in 1954. He served on the St. Elizabeth Hospital board as well as heading up the aforementioned Heart Fund Drive in 1971-72. He participated in Kiwanis, the Youngstown Symphony Society, and raised funds for scholarships and the library at Youngstown State, and for the mental health building at North Side Hospital.

He invested his leadership and philanthropic gifts in both local and national Jewish causes. In 1953, he served as chairman of the building campaign fund of the Youngstown Jewish Federation, leading the effort to raise $65,000 for the new Jewish Community Center. He also led efforts to establish Heritage Manor, a Jewish home for the aged, serving as its first president from 1965 to 1972.

In 1973, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York awarded Marvin H. Itts and seven other prominent Jewish leaders “prominent in business, civic and Jewish religious affairs” the Louis Marshall Memorial Award. In 1974 he received the B’nai B’rith’s Guardian of the Menorah award. His friend, Attorney Murray A. Nadler noted he was “a great humanitarian whose work knew no barriers of race, creed, or religion, whose titles were meaningful and earned, not empty.”

Marvin H. Itts died at 1:37 a.m. on August 10, 1978 at University Hospital in Cleveland. He once again had suffered heart ailments for which he was undergoing treatments. He lived only to 65 years of age but led a full and useful life, building a number of profitable businesses and leading philanthropic efforts that benefited not only the Jewish community but the wider community in the sectors of culture, education, health care, and social need. He is worthy of the honorific “of blessed memory” not only within the Jewish community but among all of us who call Youngstown home.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Caroline Bonnell

Caroline Bonnell, from 1923 Passport Photograph

She was the daughter of a Bonnell and a Wick, representing one of the early iron and steel company founders in Youngstown. She helped found the city’s Christ Mission and was a Red Cross volunteer in Youngstown during World War 1. And she was one of four women from Youngstown to survive the sinking of the Titanic, that took the life of her cousin George Dennick Wick.

Caroline Bonnell was the daughter of John Meek Bonnell and Emily Wick, born April 3,1882 in Chicago. Her father and cousin George Dennick Wick had both been working at the rolling mills of Wick, Bonnell & Co in Chicago. Her father died in 1884 and her mother returned to Youngstown where she grew up. She was deeply religious, a member of First Presbyterian Church. In good Presbyterian fashion, she lived out her faith in service to Valley immigrants, teaching them to speak, read, and write in English, skills they would need to succeed.

In February of 1912, Col. George Dennick Wick was in ill health. He had resigned the presidency of Youngstown Sheet & Tube in 1904. It was thought that a European trip might be restorative. Caroline joined Wick, his wife Mary, and daughter Mary Natalie (“Natalie”). They visited Naples, Venice, Paris and finally London. In France, they met Washington Roebling and Stephen Weart Blackwell, who also would be aboard the Titanic that fateful night. Roebling was the nephew and namesake of Washington Roebling, who built the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Wicks and Caroline boarded the Titanic Southampton as first class passengers, joined by Caroline’s aunt Elizabeth Bonnell. On the night of April 14, Caroline and Natalie were in bed in their cabin when they felt the jolt of the collision with the iceberg. They went on deck with the thought of seeing the iceberg. The sea was “smooth as glass” and the sky filled with stars. They went to the Wick’s cabin. Col. Wick assured them all would be fine and they could return to their cabin. They did for a short while, only to have a crew member ask them to gather on the A deck and wear their lifebelt. They then went to the boat decks.

The gallantry of the day was “women and children first.” Caroline found Elizabeth and they joined the Wicks. Sometime before they boarded the boats, Washington A. Roebling told Caroline, “You will be back with us on the ship again.” Did he really believe that would happen or was he putting a brave face on things? Likewise, George Dennick Wick assured the Wick and Bonnell women that he would board a later boat. He never did. Their last sight of him was at the ship’s railing, waving to them.

It was terribly cold on the boat 8. Caroline rowed to keep warm. There was no summons to reboard. Caroline gave this account that appeared in the Youngstown Vindicator April 19, 1912:

The Titanic was fading in the distance, but her lights were quite visible. About twenty minutes after we were put in the boat we noticed that the giant ship was sinking low in the water. Then we realised for the first time that it was in danger, and our lark turned into a frightened party of women. Lower and lower sank the Titanic. The faint strains of a band came to us. Then all of a sudden the lower lights seemed to go out. Only the lights on the upper deck were visible. And then we saw the ship sink—this great unsinkable liner. It didn’t plunge, as far as we could see, but seemed to settle lower and lower into the water and went down gently, grandly, to its grave. Then the full horror of the thing came over us. We were frightened. But the men in the boat tried to reassure us. They told us that those left behind on the boat would surely leave it—that they would be picked up in a short time.

Boat 8 was picked up by the Carpathia the following morning. They were lifted to the ship on a two foot long by one foot wide seat, very precarious in the choppy seas. They all made it.

Caroline returned to Youngstown to work as a Red Cross volunteer during the war, serving for a time as executive secretary of the Red Cross. After the war, she traveled in Europe once again in the early 1920’s. Then, in 1924, she returned to Youngstown and married a childhood sweetheart, Paul Jones. Jones paid for college and law school at the University of Michigan by working at Youngstown Sheet & Tube, where his father was an auditor. He made an unsuccessful run for mayor, joined a major law firm, was elected a judge in 1920. Then in 1923 Warren Harding appointed him to the U.S. District Court in Cleveland, where he became a senior justice. After they married, they relocated to Shaker Heights and had two children, Paul and Caroline. Caroline continued her service work, volunteering with the YWCA and other agencies, as well as with the Church of the Covenant in Cleveland.

In her later years, Caroline Bonnell Jones fought a disfiguring skin cancer on her face from which she died at home on March 13, 1950. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, where her husband joined her in death in 1965. But her community service lives on to the present day. The Caroline Bonnell Jones Fund of the Youngstown Foundation continues to fund community projects. Her life was one of faith and service to her community. The tragic night in the icy waters of the north Atlantic did not change her. One might say she was Youngstown tough.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Clyde Singer

Screenshot of Vindicator art critic Clyde Singer via Google News Archive, September 12, 1971.

This is how I saw Clyde Singer when I was growing up in Youngstown. He wrote articles about new art shows at the Butler. I noticed them but cannot say I paid much attention. What I did not realize was his role at the Butler nor his body of work as a celebrated American artist. In researching him online, I discovered that one of his paintings, “On 14th Street” was sold by Christie’s for $50,000 on October 27, 2020.

Singer was a native Ohioan, born in 1908 in Malvern, Ohio, a small village in Carroll County, about 15 miles southeast of Canton. He was an artist from childhood, and much of his early art captured scenes and people from everyday life around Malvern. After high school, he worked for a time as a sign painter and then went to art school in Columbus before returning to Malvern. In 1933, he won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where his teachers included John Steuert Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Ivan Olinsky.

His style was characterized as Social Realist. While in New York, he painted in some of the same places famous painters of his time like George Bellow and John Sloan, including McSorley’s Saloon. But when he finished his studies, he returned to Ohio with $1.10 in his pocket. Soon, though, he received $500 for a large canvas exhibited at the Chicago Art Institute in 1935. Other exhibitions followed, but a steady income can be elusive for an artist.

In 1940, Joseph Butler III offered him a job. He was able to marry Bernice Shimp, an art student in 1941. Apart from war service from 1942 to 1945, he worked at the Butler until his death in 1999. He rose to the position of associate director. He also took on the work of writing articles for the Vindicator introducing new art shows at the Butler. He contributed a column every week.

He kept painting. He loved painting the blue-collar workers of Youngstown and the scenes of their lives. In all, he painted over 3,000 paintings, many in his basement studio in his home in Boardman. The Butler owns about 75 of them. He helped the Butler acquire a number of important works in its collection. He taught art classes at the Butler. And he made yearly trips to New York.

The advent of Abstract Art spelled the end of Social Realism and Regionalism in the art world. He tried his hand at this, sold some, but returned to what he loved because of his passion to capture everyday American life. The basic character of his paintings, including his humor, did not change–only the clothes–miniskirts and hippies replaced earlier styles.

He lived simply. He didn’t drive, his clothes looked like gifts and hand-me-downs. He could hold his own with other Social Realists but when the Butler acquired a painting of Kenneth Hayes Miller, Lou Zona, Butler director describes what happened in these words:

“He came in one morning, and I said, ‘I want to show you something.’ Instead of another electrical failure or a hole in the roof, the kind of things you have to deal with in an old building, I walked him over to the Kenneth Hayes Miller painting. He looked at it and his eyes filled with tears. He said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

His reputation has only grown since his death in 1999, purchased by collectors around the country. He is contribution to the cultural life of Youngstown during his nearly 60 years in the city is immeasurable. By the same token, the city and its people contributed so much to his work. In 2008 PBS Western Reserve filmed the video above on the occasion of a joint exhibition at the Butler and the Canton Museum of Art. It is a wonderful tribute to this man who did so much for Youngstown while creating a body of work that makes him one of America’s great artists.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield Fair Beginnings

Attorney Elisha Whittlesey, Public Domain.

He was one of Canfield’s early residents, moving from Connecticut to Canfield in 1806 to practice law and teach school. In 1812, he answered his young country’s call and fought under William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812. He represented Canfield in the Ohio House from 1821 to 1822, and in the U. S. Congress from 1823 to 1838. He also served as the first Comptroller of the U. S. Treasury.

In local history, what he is best known for is his role in forming the Mahoning County Agricultural Society, the parent organization of the Canfield Fair. It was 1846. The Ohio Legislature had just created Mahoning County as a new county from townships in Trumbull and Columbiana Counties. Canfield, because of its central location, was chosen to be the county seat. It was only in 1874 that the county seat was moved to Youngstown.

During that year, Attorney Whittlesey spoke to a gathering at the Canfield Congregational Church. It had the impressive title of “Competitive Exhibitions as a Means of Awakening More Active Interest in All Industrial Pursuits” (the beginning of all those 4-H competitions!). The address had the intended effect and out of this meeting the Mahoning County Agricultural Society was born.

Since Canfield was the county seat, it was the logical choice for the county fair. The first fair was organized as a one-day affair held on October 5, 1847. Initially, livestock was tied up and produce displayed along Broad Street and meetings held at the Congregational Church. George Houk of the Mahoning County Agricultural Society described the early fairs like this, “People brought their ox teams in, their horse teams in. It was just an opportunity for the early farmers to get together and share their agricultural ideas with one another” (Source: WKBN27). The first fair turned a profit of $308.

In 1851, the Fair moved to its present location and expanded further in 1867. In 1896, the Main Hall (now the Floral and Fine Arts Building) was opened. In 1924 lighting allowed for night attendance for the first time. In 1936, the Grandstand was completed as a WPA project. In 1958 the Big Rock was installed and the rooster on the Grandstand in 1968.

There were war years when the Fair was not held. 1917–18, 1942–45. In 2020, due to the COVID pandemic, only the Junior Fair took place–honoring all the work those youth invested and returning in some way to the earliest beginnings of the Fair.

This year, the full Fair is on and celebrating the 175th anniversary of its beginnings at Canfield Congregational Church and an address by Elisha Whittlesey. All those Junior Fair competitions, all those exhibitions, the rides, the fair food, the grandstand shows, started with an idea set forth by one of Canfield’s early residents in the year Mahoning became a county. Thank you, Attorney Whittlesey!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Thomas G. McDonald

Thomas G. McDonald, Photo from Youngstown Vindicator, July 13, 1930 (via Google News Archive)

He oversaw the development of Carnegie Steel’s (later U.S. Steel) Ohio Works and the construction of the McDonald Works which were named after him, as was the village that grew up around these mills, McDonald, Ohio. He was Thomas G. McDonald, who was described in an editorial in the Youngstown Vindicator of July 14, 1930 (two days after his death) as “one of the old type of steel men who began at the bottom and by mastering every detail of the industry gradually worked their way up to the top.” From all I can find out about him, this is a fitting summary of his career.

McDonald was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania November 11, 1848. He learned to work hard on his father’s farm. Then, after public schools, he enrolled at the Iron City Commercial College, graduating to the carpenter’s trade in 1868. His first job was as a carpenter working on the construction of Carnegie Steel’s Edgar Thompson. He never left the company. He worked his way up in the company, learning all the details of manufacturing steel. In 1880, he became night superintendent at the converting department of their plant in Braddock. Then, in July 1880, he was assigned night superintendent at the Allegheny Bessemer Works in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. It was probably during this time that he became a close confidant of Andrew Carnegie, with whom he was a lifelong friend.

The company brought him to Youngstown in 1893 as general superintendent of the Ohio Works. Based on his advice, the plant decided to increase their equipment beyond the two 8 ton converters they had originally intended. He oversaw the instruction and the first heat in 1895. By 1897, monthly output exceeded 30,000 tons every month. Eventually, it would exceed 50,000 tons.

In 1906 Carnegie Steel promoted McDonald to general superintendent of the Youngstown District which included the Ohio Works, Upper and Lower Union Mills, Greenville Mills, and the Niles Furnace. Then in 1909, Carnegie Steel acquired land across the river from Girard for a new mill. In 1916 the new mill, whose construction was overseen by McDonald produced its first steel. Recognizing his leadership, Carnegie named the mills the McDonald Works. As it turns out, McDonald not only built the mill, he built the town of McDonald, building housing for the workers. The Village of McDonald was incorporated December 12, 1918. When it became apparent that workers with families would not come without schools, the company built schools, opening McDonald High School in 1929. It is still in use, having been renovated by Ricciuti, Balog and Partners in 1990.

He retired in 1921 but continued working as a consulting manager. He was involved in a number of civic causes in the Youngstown area including service as a vice president of the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce and director of the Youngstown and Northern Railway Company. He served several terms on the Board of Education and as a director at First National and Dollar Banks.

He celebrated his 50th anniversary with Elizabeth on November 27, 1928. On July 1, 1930, in his 82nd year he was hospitalized at North Side Hospital in critical condition with a kidney infection. He died on July 12, 1930. He is buried in Belmont Park Cemetery.

From all I can read, everything McDonald built, he built well with a vision for the future. In fact, a portion of the McDonald Works is still making steel as McDonald Steel. The complex of plants he oversaw outlasted him by nearly fifty years until U.S. Steel ended operations in 1979. One wonders “what if” the area’s steel industry had enjoyed leadership like his throughout its history. What he did do is contribute to the capacity that helped make the Steel Valley the third largest steel maker in the country. That is no small thing.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Alfred L. Bright

Alfred L. Bright, Youngstown Vindicator, August 15, 1971 via Google News Archive

I was reminded of Al Bright about a year ago when reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. In the book she tells the story of a city championship Little League team that celebrated with a picnic and swimming outing at one of Youngstown’s pools. One member of that team was Black. He had to remain outside the fence, with teammates bringing him food. They couldn’t bring him the pool. After parents argued with the pool management, the boy was allowed to sit in a raft to be pulled around the pool by a lifeguard. For a few minutes. Everyone else had to exit the pool. The lifeguard whispered to him, “Whatever you do, don’t touch the water.” That Black Little Leaguer was Al Bright. The year was 1951. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald).

That was racism in Youngstown in 1951. That would have discouraged many others. Not Bright. The picture above is from a 50 year old news story in The Vindicator on August 15, 1971, noting that Bright was going to be the featured speaker at the National Junior Achievers Conference and was going to be awarded Speaker of the Year Award. The article also notes that he had joined Junior Achievers in 1958, was president of the chapter in 1959, and won the Achievers of the Year Award that same year. At the national conference in 1959, he was persuaded by the president of Colgate-Palmolive, S. Bayard Colgate, to go to college instead of barber school. He won a scholarship at Youngstown University and graduated in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science. A year later, he added a Master of Arts in painting from Kent State.

He taught art and painting at Youngstown after graduation. Louis Zona, executive director of the Butler was one of his students! Then, in 1970, he established the Black Studies program at Youngstown State and directed it for 18 years. He was the first full-time Black faculty member at Youngstown. During this time, he hosted Alex Haley, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Chisholm at the university. Marvin Haire, one of Bright’s first students in the program, wrote:

“[The black studies program] sought to infuse the systematic study of African people into university curriculum and do that in a way that provided exposure to a wide range of what we would call the black experience, including music, art, history, politics and education. So the original vision was to build a program that offered that kind global awareness to students who took courses.”

He never stopped painting and his works are part of permanent collections at The Butler Institute of American Art, the Kent State University Gallery, the Harmon and Harriet Kelly Collection of African-American Art, Canton Museum of Art. Roanoke Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University. He exhibited his art in more than 100 solo exhibitions over his career. In 2012, he painted “Portals in Time” to a live jazz performance at the Akron Art Museum.

He was awarded the the Distinguished Teaching Award from YSU in 2006. He died October 28, 2019 at age 79. For my last two years at Youngstown State, I worked in the Student Development Program. Bright spoke for the program regularly and helped open the eyes of this white guy from the Westside to the beauty of black culture and the outlines of black history. I was struck that I never was diminished in my own racial identity but enlarged in my appreciation of the culture and history of Blacks in Youngstown. He built bridges with people rather than walls. He could have been bitter. Instead, he was better, as a program founder, an artist, as a mentor to younger Black leaders. He was born and died in Youngstown. His life was a gift to the city.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Plakie Toy and the Hoover Family

The Hoover Family: Frank, Dorothy, and Dean as a child, photographed with a Plakie toy for a 1940 catalog

Fifty years ago tomorrow, one of Youngstown’s most famous newswoman, Esther Hamilton, wrote about one of the leading businesswomen in Youngstown, Mrs. Frank (Dorothy) M. Hoover, president of Plakie Toy. She and her son Dean, who was vice president, led a company of 175 employees with $1 million in sales. At peak, this grew to over $4 million in sales. Hamilton notes that many of her employees were women as well.

Dorothy Hoover is portrayed as a religious woman with a Bible on her desk, the host of a non-sectarian devotional service at 7:45 am, and a traveler to the Holy Land and committed church member. Her religious values translated into a strong emphasis on the manufacturing of safe toys tested in the homes of her employees before they hit the market.

Her husband Frank sold insurance before working in sales at Truscon working with the automotive industry in Detroit. This led to launching a business selling custom gear shift knobs until the automatic transmission made them obsolete around 1935. The idea for a new business, initially Frank M. Hoover, Inc. came from observing his son Dean play with plastic sample chips. His first toy was a set of multi-colored disks strung on a silver chain. He patented the toy, and by 1943 changed the name of his company to Plakie (a form of “play key”). The business grew rapidly from an initial investment of $1400.

During World War 2, he converted to making wood toys, including a work bench with pegs and a mallet, pull toys, and toy trains. As plastic once again became available, the company began manufacturing plastic toys including rattles and ducklings. The emphasis of the company was “Play Safe.” Hoover believed a good toy combined color, sound, and motion.

For a time in the 1950’s, Plakie teamed up with local inventor John Garver to produce the Christmas Tree Twinkler. After receiving a box of them from friends who knew our Youngstown connection, I wrote about them here. All Frank Hoover’s expertise in plastics went into this one!

A Twinkler set. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019

The enterprise was a family business from the start, with Dorothy as a working director. In 1952, the company built a building at 4105 Simon Rd. for $200,000. It was designed for expansion. The Hoover’s foresight, and involvement together meant a seamless transition and continued growth when Frank died in 1960. Over time, Dorothy transitioned the company to manufacturing more nursery decorations and cloth toys including wall hangings, crib sheets, bumpers, dust ruffles and canopies as well as soft toys, musical toys, and crib gyms. One of the most popular soft toys was the Humpty Dumpty, examples of which can be found for sale on the internet. In 1976, the company name was changed to Plakie, Inc. to reflect that they were about more than toys.

Increased competition in a global market and production costs led to the company ceasing operations in 1992. But the safe and durable toys this company manufactured have lasted. For over fifty years the Hoover family gave Youngstown its own “toy story.”


Discover the History of Youngstown’s Plakie Toys.” The Daily Buzz, Youngstown Business Journal, 11-04-20.

Esther Hamilton, “Mrs Hoover Keeps Staff of 175 Busy Putting Out Safe Plakie ToysThe Vindicator, June 27, 1971.

Ted Heineman, “The Hoover FamilyRiverside Cemetery Journal.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Charles P. Henderson

I grew up hearing that he was one of the best mayors Youngstown ever had up to that point. He was the grandson of William Henderson, an iron worker at Brown-Bonnell Iron Works. Charles P. Henderson was born March 3, 1911. He graduated from Princeton in the class of ’32. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Michigan and returned to practice law. He was elected a municipal court judge in 1941. His political career was interrupted by World War 2. He served four years in the army then returned to Youngstown.

He found a city rife with crime and racketeering and decided to run for Mayor on an anti-corruption platform. In 1947, he defeated incumbent Ralph O’Neill by 3671 votes. Some think he won because voters were fed up with three City Council members who stayed away from meetings to block appointment of a councilman for the third ward. One of his first acts was to appoint FBI trained J. Edward Allen as police chief with a mission to clear out organized vice and crime. He appointed a new, ten man vice squad. Operators of the “bug,” and bookies were arrested. Much of the action shifted over the county line centered on the Jungle Inn, in Liberty Township.

Henderson worked to reduce smoke and smog, eliminate dumps, and improve housing. His efforts won him national attention and in 1950 he won the American All-City award for progressive attention. He won his 1951 campaign by 7,000 votes. However, resistance to his anti-corruption measures was growing and he was defeated in 1953 in his attempt to win a fourth term by Frank X. Kryzan. Meanwhile, Henderson was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a member of the Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, an effort to coordinate federal and state government efforts.

In 1965, he was appointed by Governor James Rhodes as a Probate Court judge. He participated in a number of organizations related to the practice of law: Mahoning County. and Ohio State Bar Associations, Ohio State Municipal League, the Association of Probate judges the Judicial Conference, and Judicial College. He also participated on the boards of the Public Library of Youngstown, and the county Boards of Mental Health and Elections. In the late 1960’s, after a series of failed school levies threatened to, Henderson headed up a citizens committee spearhead an effort for the levy passage. It failed but the seventh try finally passed.

Henderson retired in 1985 and passed after a sudden heart attack on September 15, 1990. He was survived by his wife, the former Margaret Arms. Henderson was probably one of the most trusted people in Youngstown. While the city didn’t always want its politicians to be good, Henderson was one of those people came to when the public trust was important. I’ll leave others to decide who was Youngstown’s best mayor. But it’s clear to me he was one of the good ones.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!