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Toledo, OH: Glass City and the Story of Jeep

Toledo, OH: The Glass City

Toledo, OH has a unique history.  It is a city of glass, a city of creativity, a city of industry… a city with mysteries.  For instance, no one is quite sure how Toledo came to be called Toledo.  A popular explanation is that the author Washington Irving, who wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” among other popular stories, was traveling in Spain and wrote back to his brother in Ohio, suggesting naming the fledgling city after Toledo, Spain.  There is, however, no real evidence to back this claim.  It’s entirely possible, as was suggested by Merchant William J. Daniels, that the name Toledo was picked simply because it sounded nice, no other American city was using it, and no one objected.

The (Deathless) Toledo War

Toledo is also unique for its contentious beginnings, with both Michigan Territory and the state of Ohio claiming the narrow strip of land now known as the “Toledo Strip”.  When borders were drawn for Ohio and Michigan, a mathematical error led to the existence of a strip of land which fell under no state or territory governance.  For nearly forty years, the Toledo Strip was in dispute.  Huge militias were formed on both sides of the contested territory. The dispute became known as The Toledo War – albeit an almost entirely bloodless one – and only ended when Congress ceded ¾ of the Northern Peninsula to Michigan and granted it statehood.  At the time, residents of Michigan felt they had been given a raw deal, inheriting the Northern Peninsula rather than the Toledo Strip.  However, after mineral deposits and vast timber resources were discovered in the Northern Peninsula, those residents likely changed their tune.

The Glass City

Like other cities in Ohio, Toledo was slow to develop until the introduction of several canals in the region, enabling trade and travel over water.  In the first twenty years of its existence, for instance, the population grew by less than ten.  When the development of the canal was under way, Manhattan was the location of its terminus.  As a result, many businesses moved to Manhattan.  However, the canal boats quickly became too large and numerous to navigate the relatively shallow lanes at the Manhattan terminus, and ended their journeys at Toledo instead.  Within a decade, almost all the businesses in Manhattan had closed and relocated to Toledo.  Thus, it was almost by the luck of the draw that Toledo grew into a population center instead of its now-forgotten neighbor Manhattan.

Of course, toward the latter half of the 19th century, the railroad began to replace rivers and canals as the primary mode of transportation.  Toledo was in an ideal position for the growth of industry, being very centrally located along the rail lines.  Similar to other cities in the region, Toledo became a hotbed of industrious activity during the latter half of the 19th century.  In particular, Toledo became well known for its glass industry.  Toledo is still referred to as “The Glass City” today.  Several different companies manufactured glass products in Toledo, but most notably Owens-Illinois and Owens Corning.  It estimated that today nearly half of glass containers used in America are manufactured by Owens-Illinois (now called O-I.)  As well, the first skyscraper entirely covered in glass was the Owens-Illinois headquarters built in Toledo in 1937.

The Story of ‘Jeep’

Like every other major city – particularly those with large manufacturing sectors – Toledo was hit hard by the Great Depression.  Toledo’s major car manufacturer Willys-Overland was forced to sell off most of its assets in order to avoid filing bankruptcy.  It is well that the company avoided shuttering entirely, as Willys-Overland stood to play a major role a decade later, during WWII.

Entering the war, the Army knew it would need vehicles that could transport soldiers safely and reliably on the battlefield.  The army reached out to several car manufacturers, with very ambitious specifications – a 4-wheel drive vehicle with a crew of three, a fold-down windshield, able to generate 85 lb ft of torque and which weighed no more than 1200 lbs.  The weight requirement, in particular, was considered nearly impossible and was later revoked.  Several car companies submitted designs, which required a turnaround time for the prototype of 45 days – and 70 working prototypes in 75 days.  It was determined, after reviewing each manufacturer’s submission, that all were satisfactory and an initial order of 1500 vehicles from each company was placed.  Several companies ultimately could not meet the government’s intense demand of 75 vehicles per day, and Willys-Overland was awarded the contract.

Like the city of Toledo itself, it is something of a mystery how these vehicles came to be known as “Jeeps.”  A popular theory supposes that, due to the vehicle’s designation as a GP – or “Government Passenger” vehicle – it was just easier to refer to these GPs as “Jeeps.”  Jeeps have been manufactured in Toledo for nearly 75 years.

Toledo Zoo

One of the best known and oldest institutions in Toledo is its zoo.  The Toledo Zoo had a rather modest first attraction – a single woodchuck, donated to the city.  From such unassuming beginnings blossomed an institution which has lasted 115 years.  During the Great Depression, the WPA constructed numerous structures, many of which are still in use today.  Throughout its history, the Toledo Zoo experienced numerous hardships and it was never a given that the zoo would survive.  Throughout the 1970s, standards were changing in the zoological world, in regard to animal enclosures.  Increasingly, zoos were moving toward more naturalistic enclosures that mimicked the animals’ native habitats.

In 1982, the city passed management of the zoo over to a non-profit organization called The Toledo Zoological Society.  This began a new era for the historic zoo, with numerous additions and exhibits following quickly.  In 1987, the zoo opened its first naturalistic exhibit, the world’s first Hippoquarium, as part of its Savannah exhibit.  Subsequently, the zoo was also the first to film a live hippo birth.  The next year, 1988, saw the over a million visitors to the zoo – in part to view the giant pandas on loan from China.  The zoo has surpassed the million visitor mark many times since.  The park has continued to expand and modernize.  In 2014, the Toledo Zoo was voted #1 zoo in America.  With over 9,000 animals representing 800 species, and a history stretching all the way back to beginning of the last century, it’s easy to see why.

Toledo: In Summary

The Toledo area has been in habitation for thousands of years.  The area was a region of intense dispute between Native Americans and white settlers.  Indeed, Toledo is a city which was in dispute even in its founding, during the Toledo War.  It is a city which barely grew until the introduction of canals in Ohio saw it experience a population explosion.  A strong manufacturing sector led to continued population growth in Toledo until the early 1970s.  Toledo is known worldwide for its award-winning zoo, and a world-renowned art museum, the Toledo Museum of Art.  Additionally, Toledo’s proximity to Lake Erie makes it a destination for those with a love of the outdoors.


Photo Source

“Toledo Ohio skyline evening” by NorthernMagnolia – Photographed by NorthernMagnolia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –