In the years before the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Columbus, the capital of the state of Ohio, was more than the symbolic center of state power and authority.

In the years before the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, Columbus, the capital of the state of Ohio, was more than the symbolic center of state power and authority.

Created by the Ohio General Assembly to be the new capital city in 1812, the town had grown very slowly at first and as late as 1830, only had little more than 2,000 residents. Then the National Road and Ohio Canal reached central Ohio and by 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000 people.

But even that new and bustling city seemed to make most of its money in transportation and trade. Reading of the men who were the early successes in Columbus enterprise, one comes away with the distinct impression that the best way to earn money was to serve the Ohio General Assembly with room and board, move people and products from place to place, or meet the needs of the people who did such things.

A few examples might suffice to illustrate this point. William Neil came to Columbus in 1818 and soon got into the stagecoach business. Leaving his wife to run a small tavern across from the Statehouse, Neil would eventually build an empire on wheels and become known as the "Stagecoach King."

Lincoln Goodale was a practicing physician who found that there was not a lot of demand for doctors in the new town. He eventually opened a store and made a lot of money. As a gesture of gratitude to his adopted town, he gave Columbus its first park - Goodale Park.

And then there was Alfred Kelley. Representing Cleveland and then Columbus in the legislature, Kelley also found time to ensure the completion of the Ohio Canal, the reform of Ohio's banks and the construction of more than one railroad.

If we add to these examples the stories of bankers such as David Deshler and lawyers such as Orris Parish, one might conclude that Columbus was a place where people made their money providing services rather than making things.

And this would be true - but only partly true.

Like most capital cities across America, most of the economic history of the city is the story of a highly diversified economy with some people working in government, others in trade and still others in transportation. And composing another significant part of the workforce were people employed in manufacturing.

When Columbus was an isolated frontier village, many of the goods people needed and could not make themselves were purchased from local craftsmen - the blacksmith, the gunsmith, the miller and that old frontier standby, the whisky distiller. But with the arrival of the Ohio Canal in the 1830s and railroads in the 1850s, it became possible to import raw materials such as iron and timber to a central place like Columbus and ship finished products from that place to a waiting world.

It was not long before a number of people began to do just that. Most early factories in Columbus were relatively small in size and employed dozens rather than hundreds of workers in a few sturdy buildings. It was no accident that most of them soon came to be located near a ready source of water - the Scioto River.

The kind of products made by these early factories says something about the needs of the people of central Ohio. The oldest successful manufacturing company in Columbus was begun in 1822 by a man named Joseph Ridgway. Initially using horses to provide power to his foundry, Ridgway began to produce Jethro Wood's Patent Plow. It was later said of Ridgway by a local writer in the 1850s that " he made and sold an immense number. It was considered the best plow in use."

In 1830, Ridgway joined with a nephew to finance the conversion of his factory to steam power and begin the production of machinery, steam engines, cast iron stoves and other products. In 1849, the Ridgways joined with a man named Pearl Kimball in a new business making railroad cars.

Joseph Ridgway died in 1850 and Kimball later operated the car company on his own. Ridgway's foundry business passed in 1854 to another entrepreneur, Peter Hayden.

Hayden had come to Columbus in the 1830s and begun a number of enterprises. He started a business making saddles and other equipment for horses, using the labor of prisoners at the nearby Ohio Penitentiary. At the same time, he opened his own foundry producing bar iron, hoop iron and wire from pig iron and scrap iron. Eventually, Hayden and his family would also invest heavily in the coal and iron fields of southeastern Ohio.

In 1838, John Gill and others built Gill's Foundry with about 25 workers on the west side of the Scioto and developed a good business making stoves and other iron goods. In 1855, the company began making a combination steel plow that sold quite well and later began making railroad cars, as well.

In 1849, Charles Ambos and James Lennox started the Eagle Foundry with $8,000. When the business was sold in 1854, the foundry became a joint stock company under the name of the Columbus Machine Manufacturing Co. Employing more than 125 men, it provided the iron for the roof of the new Statehouse as well as all of the iron ceilings and railings in the building.

And while all of this was going on, other factories were making other sorts of goods. Two men named Brotherlin and Halm began producing chairs and cabinetware by steam-powered machinery in 1853. Another company began making wooden hollowware - tubs and pails, primarily - in a factory along the river in 1856.

By 1858, there were others. A local description reported that they included Ohlen and Drake's steam-powered saw factory, Hines and Miller's steam-powered paper mill, and Butlers' coffee- and spice-grinding mill. And almost as an afterthought, the author noted that there were "two extensive breweries at the south end of the city."

All of these enterprises contributed importantly to the success of Columbus. In all, they employed several hundred men, many of them recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany who worked alongside recent arrivals - black and white - from rural Ohio.

These new factories formed the beginnings of industry in Columbus and a pattern of industrial growth and success that has continued to the present day.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.