Columbus never has been known as a center for manufacturing.
Over the course of most of the history of Columbus, about only 20 percent of its workforce has been employed in enterprises that loosely could be called manufacturing.
The reasons for this are clear -- and certainly not unique to Columbus. Most large capital cities in our country show many of the same characteristics as ours.
Columbus not only is a state capital city and a county seat, but also an urban place. Not surprisingly, a lot of people in Columbus work for the government.
The city also is home to Ohio State University and a number of other institutions of higher learning, as well as places of public and private primary and secondary education. In short, a lot of people in Columbus work in education.
This list could go on in transportation, communication, research and retail, to name some other industries that employ many Columbus residents.
But over the years, many people have worked in manufacturing of one kind or another. We often think all this came about only in the years after the American Civil War, when immense combinations of people, money and natural resources made the United States the greatest industrial power on earth.
But none of that would have been possible without the efforts of the industrial pioneers of our country. Some of that story began here in Columbus.
An early local history told some of the story:
"The first manufacturing industry in the settlement at the Forks of the Scioto was milling. Even this did not begin until some years after the first cabins were erected. The only breadstuff available was corn, which the settlers ground in a handmill or cracked by pounding ... There was no gristmill nearer than Chillicothe, and to this occasional trips were made by trail through the wilderness.
"In 1799 or 1800, a sort of mill was erected by Robert Balentine on the brook known as Lizard Creek which poured into the Scioto not far from the present terminus of Gay Street. John D. Rush about the same time erected a like primitive mill on the Scioto a short distance above Franklinton. Both of these were crude establishments and soon fell into decay."
Other mills followed in Worthington, along the Olentangy River in Delaware County and on Big Darby Creek.
The first manufacturing company of any diversity and substance was, interestingly, a transplant from a nearby town:
"The Worthington Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1811. With James Kilbourn as President and General Agent. It was the pioneer manufacturing enterprise in central Ohio, but was by no means limited to manufacturing. Besides undertaking to produce articles in wool, leather and other materials, it circulated its notes as currency, and engaged extensively in mercantile business and banking. Its factories were established in Worthington and Steubenville and its stores opened in Worthington and Franklinton.
"When the War of 1812 broke out, the Company engaged extensively in the production of woolen fabrics for army and navy clothing."
This may have been the first diversified manufacturing establishment, but it would by no means be the last. Another early historian noted that in the early history of Columbus, along the ravine of Peters Run, just south of Fulton Street, were established "in succession a number of breweries, distilleries, tan yards and ashery," all of which subsequently disappeared.
Other tanneries and breweries would follow beginning in the 1830s.
In 1822, Joseph Ridgway came to Columbus from New York. His factory changed everything in the frontier capital city:
"The subscribers, having erected a foundry, in the town of Columbus, manufacture and keep constantly for sale Jethro Wood's plough, which for durability and ease of use for the team is not equaled by any other plough in use."
John Gill, who would become a manufacturer of some note in his own right, once remembered, "When I came here in 1826, Ridgway's foundry was the only manufacturing establishment in the place. For several years, all of the pig metal used was hauled from the Granville furnace in a two-horse wagon, which made three round trips a week, aggregating about five towns in that time.
This was primarily used in the manufacture of plows. The motive power of the establishment was an old horse working in an inclined wheel of about thirty feet in diameter. The fuel used for melting the iron was charcoal."
Joseph Ridgway and his family sold "an immense number" of Jethro Wood's plows until the factory along the river was sold to Peter Hayden in 1854.
In the years after the Civil War, large amounts of coal, iron and timber became cheaply available. With the advent of a new generation of entrepreneurs, a new chapter in the industrial history of Columbus was about to begin.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek Community News.