Products made in Dayton have helped Ohio become the fourth-largest producer of goods in the United States, state data shows.
Ohio’s manufactures produced $98.7 billion in goods in 2014 — 4.7 percent of America’s manufacturing output in 2014, making the Buckeye state fourth in the nation for manufacturing prowess after California, Texas and Illinois.
Dayton-area companies play a big part in that.
Since its heyday of manufacturing, the Dayton area has lost thousands of jobs in the blue collar sector, but it’s still known for production output — nearly $40 billion of things in 2014, according to the most recent state data.
Automobile windshields and windows are made in Moraine. Propellers are made in Piqua. Jeans are made in Arcanum. Wood cabinets, automotive thermal equipment, potato chips and much more are made in Dayton itself.
Chris Kershner, vice president of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the region’s ability to make things is what made the community itself.
"I think the better question is, what isn't manufactured in Dayton?" Kershner said.
A quick list of products which originated in Dayton, or were developed by entrepreneurs anchored to Dayton, grows long quickly.
“Little do people realize that products they use in their their everyday lives are innovated, designed and manufactured in Dayton,” Kershner said.
- Deep fryers to cook those French fries you enjoy at lunch? Designed and made in Eaton by Henny Penny Corp.
- Lion Apparel in Dayton makes protective suits and equipment for emergency first-responders.
- Hartzell Propeller in Piqua makes aviation propellers.
- Pop-top lids for cans were developed in the Dayton area.
- MTM Molded Products makes ammunition cases (and much more) on Obco Court in Dayton.
- Whirlpool makes mixers and kitchen equipment in Greenville.
- Fred J. Miller Inc. in Miamisburg makes band and dance uniforms.
- Spectrum Brands will soon make Armor All and other automotive care products at the Dayton International Airport.
That’s barely scratching the surface.
Jack Campbell, owner of Gerstner & Sons, a Dayton maker of wood chests and cases, is the grandson of the man who started the company in 1906, Harry Gerstner, who himself was a Barney and Smith Car Co. pattern maker in Dayton.
Campbell is well aware of the importance of being not just a Dayton manufacturer, but an American manufacturer.
“As a manufacturer, you have to pay attention to the fact that there are imports,” he said. “If you ignore that, you’re headed out of business.”
To address relatively inexpensive imports, Campbell has had since 2003 an “international” line of products made in a Chinese factory. But the value of his American-made catalog — products still made in Dayton — has not diminished.
“It’s becoming more important to people, it seems, to be (have products) made in America,” he said.
John Heitmann, a professor of the history of science and technology at the University of Dayton, and a nationally recognized expert on the automotive industry, said engineering ideas in Dayton often spawned whole industries and even new laws.
“Did you know that the most effective and popular radar detector of the 1970s was made in Troy?” Heitmann said.
Dale Smith was a Harvard-educated scientist working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, who was angry about what he felt was an unjust speeding ticket, as Heitmann tells the story.
“In response, he came up with the Fuzzbuster,” Heitmann said. “A number of variants were made over the decade of the 1970s, and more importantly, Smith lobbied Washington in terms of the rights of individuals to use these devices, despite the fact that so many state governments wanted to ban them.”
“There something in the culture,” Kershner said. “There really is. Dayton has a long history of supporting innovation, supporting risk-taking and creating the right environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.”
The right location
Manufacturing fueled Dayton’s growth. And what fueled that manufacturing was topography, said Brady Kress, president and chief executive of Dayton History.
The rivers joining in what today is downtown were crucial. To the north, the National Road (today U.S. 40) is 10 miles from downtown, but private citizens banded together to fund access to it.
Dayton had “water power” from the rivers, but it was access to “this crossroads of transportation” which gave Dayton the muscle to get its goods all over the world, Kress said.
Of course, people mattered, too.
“You get really, really lucky with some innovators like James Ritty (inventor of the mechanical cash register),” Kress said. And it goes on to (John) Patterson … who really made it (the cash register) grow and made it a marketable product.”
Patterson’s genius was sales, marketing and leadership. Not to mention building a workforce, Kress said.
That workforce stemmed from established companies like Barney and Smith in the mid 19th century, a company that took advantage of the emerging market in railroad cars.
“They started building these cars in Dayton, Ohio before we had tracks,” Kress said. “And they’re shipping them out on the canal.”
The issuance of patents to Dayton and Dayton innovators had almost a snowball effect, he said. At one point, Dayton led the nation in patents per capita, at least by 1910.
Kress isn’t certain if that particular statistic holds true today.
But he added: “I bet we’re not too far off, still, if you think about the region, and you think about the number of companies that are still inventing.”
Rebuilding the glass supply chain
Some 10 minutes south of downtown Dayton, a former GM plant is now home to a Chinese-owned company striving to fabricate the windshields, windows and sun-roofs for one in four vehicles on North American roads.
Company officials have said the Dayton-area plant will be the world’s largest manufacturer of windshields.
John Gauthier, president of that company, Fuyao Glass America Inc., said that’s no small task, particularly for what he calls a “start-up.”
“The glass industry is a very capital-intensive, equipment- and technology-intensive type of industry that can’t necessarily regenerate that quickly,” Gauthier recently told a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce audience. “Companies aren’t ready to make that commitment in real plants, industrial plants, that quickly.”
The supply chain for automotive glass in America shrunk in the Great Recession and has only now started to rebound, Gauthier said. But the demand – from North American automakers like Honda, Hyundai, General Motors and others — for still more glass remains.
“We’re in the process of rebooting the North American auto glass industry,” he said.
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