Left: Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones, courtesy of Toledo-Lucas County Library's "Images in Time"
(Toledo, OH) Toledo’s mayoral election on November 8 featured a contest between a pair of firsts –Jack Ford, the city’s first African American mayor squared off against its first strong mayor after the 1992 charter revision, Carty Finkbeiner. This battle of firsts provided a backdrop for a short look at the history of other Toledo mayoral “firsts.”
The city’s first mayor, elected in 1837, was John Berdan, who was a member of the Whig Party (one of the forerunners of the modern Republican Party). Berdan later joined forces with Valentine Hicks Ketcham to form the First National Bank of Toledo.
Toledo’s first Democratic mayor was James Meyers, who was elected to the post in 1843, while the first true Republican elected was Alexander H. Newcombe. Newcombe was also a leading figure in Toledo’s nascent Masonic movement.
Toledo’s first mayor to resign, Daniel McBain, did so in 1852. Details on his reasons for resignation are sketchy, but suffice to say that he was likely not a conduit for skirting federal campaign contribution laws. McBain was also the first mayor to take office in 1852, the “Year of Four Mayors” in Toledo.
Charles M. Dorr was Toledo’s first true independent mayor, and held the post three on different occasions: 1851-52, 1853-57, and 1863-67. Dorr was an original citizen of Toledo, and was also the first Toledo mayor to serve non-consecutive terms.
Toledo’s first non-native mayor was William Kraus, who was born in Germany. He failed to gain reelection after economic conditions went began to decline, and a bank of which he was an owner had to suspend operations in 1873.
The city’s first truly progressive mayor was Samuel L. “Golden Rule” Jones, a wealthy business owner. As mayor Jones strove to improve conditions for the city’s working class citizens by opening free kindergartens, building parks, and instituting the eight-hour day for city employees. In 1904 Jones was also the first Toledo mayor to die in office.
Brand Whitlock, who took office after the death of Samuel Jones, was the first Toledo novelist-mayor; his most famous works were the politically-themed The Thirteenth District (1902) and The Turn of the Balance (1907).
Addison Q. Thacher was the first boxing promoter to serve as Toledo mayor. He arranged the fight between Jess Willard and Jack Dempsey on July 4, 1919, for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. The two boxers battled in sweltering heat at Bay View Park, off Summit Street in North Toledo. Dempsey won, and held the belt for over seven years before losing it to Gene Tunney in 1926.
Solon Klotz was technically Toledo’s first strong mayor, and was elected to the position in 1934 during the Great Depression. This was the first Toledo experiment with a strong mayor system. Klotz was also the city’s first Socialist mayor, scratching out a 3,000-vote victory over Thacher.
Michael Damas was Toledo’s first Arab-American mayor, and served in that capacity from 1959-1961. Some sources also credit Damas as being the first Arab-American to be elected mayor of a large American city.
Donna Owens became the city’s first female mayor in 1983, and she served in that capacity until 1989. She currently works as the director of the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Carty Finkbeiner holds another first – the first Toledo mayor to wind up on a Trivial Pursuit card for comments attributed to him that deaf residents move to the area around Toledo Express Airport. Let’s hope any “firsts” that our new mayor racks up in his third term put the city in a better light.
This article of mine first appeared in the Toledo Free Press. If you do not already subscribe or pick up a copy regularly, I suggest that you do so. In the first place, you are missing out on some great journalism, and in the second place: how am I going to beat them up for more money if I don't send them some readers?