- Amish Country
Like many of Ohio's major cities of today, Akron owes its early growth to its geographic location and the Ohio and Erie Canal. Akron was originally laid out in 1825, this was just about the time the new canal system was being built that would traverse Ohio. Geologically, Ohio has a high ridge that goes somewhat diagonally across the state. Rivers to the north of this ridge flow to Lake Erie and south to the Ohio River. Akron is right along this ridge and for that reason, the early founders used the Greek word meaning "an elevation" or "point" or "Akron."
The Ohio and Erie Canal would play an important role in Akron's early development. With the canal system, farmers and manufacturers in northeast Ohio could relatively quickly get their crops or products to markets in the east. Quickly in historic terms meant that what once took a month or more could now be done in a week. This was not a problem for manufactured goods, but for crops, they had a limited shelf-life in their raw form. That shelf-life could be extended greatly however, if the crop could be ground or processed. That's why Akron became so important.
Farmers could bring their harvested to crops to Akron and here it could be processed into grains and other products like oats, flour, or even cereals. Once in this form farmer's crops could be moved great distances and time wasn't as critical.
Many of the town's earliest residents were Irish migrants employed to build the nearby Ohio and Erie Canal. After 1827, when the canal was completed between Akron and Cleveland, the community's business interests began to prosper. Its location along the canal meant farmers brought their crops to Akron to be milled and then transported to other markets, and manufacturing interests such as mills, furnaces, and textiles also emerged.
Although the importance of the Ohio and Erie Canal only lasted several decades, these were important decades when America was quickly emerging as a leader in the Industrial Revolution. Akron took advantage of this rapid growth. Just after the Erie Canal system was completed, railroads had started to be developed. Because important commerce centers had already been established by the canal system, the railroads took advantage of these centers.
Because of Akron's geographic location, it made it a prime industrial location. Reliable and affordable transportation, clean water, cheap fuel from Ohio's coal fields just south of the city and plenty of factory labor provided the right mix for success. Akron was an industrial town and it's success or failure depended entirely on the nation's economy. When times were good, Akron thrived, but when times were bad, industries across the country had to make cuts, and for Akron, their prime business was supplying parts and materials for these businesses. This created tremendous problems for Akron that it had to overcome.
Toward the quarter of the 19th Century, America was on the verge of a mass transformation. After the Civil War, railroad lines exploded across Ohio. This revolutionized Ohio's industry. No longer did it require a long canal trip with limited destinations with a limited amount of cargo, but manufacturers could ship tons of raw materials and products anywhere and at any time of the year. Long before the 20th Century arrived, Ohio had become a major manufacturer of just about everything from buggies to cash registers. Ohio was awash with inventors and manufacturers working hand-in-hand. All of these new products had two things in common: they required steel and rubber. Cleveland became a great steel center and Akron became the rubber capital of the world.
It was a series of events that led Doctor Benjamin Franklin Goodrich to open a rubber plant in Akron in 1870. Rubber companies were plentiful in the mid 19th Century. Most were located in New York state. Even though B. F. Goodrich was a doctor, he wasn't very good at running a business and being a doctor at the same time. After several failed attempts at operating a medical practice, he got involved with a friend in real estate. Through this partnership, he acquired a failing rubber manufacturing plant. Try as he might, the business failed, primarily because of too much competition on the east coast. Goodrich decided to move the operation where competition wasn't so stiff. The exact reason why he came to choose Akron as the location for his rubber plant is a bit cloudy.
Legend suggests that Goodrich was traveling by train to Cleveland when he entered into a conversation with an Akron business man who so impressed Benjamin, that he went to Akron to see for himself. Another version notes that while still in New York, Goodrich saw a handbill created by the Akron's Board of Trade that was widely distributed on the east coast in the 1870s. This flyer praised the town as possessing all of the pre-requisites of a great manufacturing center. In any event, Goodrich did go to Akron and was introduced to industry leaders. That meeting went well for Goodrich and he secured the necessary financial backing from Akron's business leaders to make the move and setup his factory. So successful was Goodrich and his rubber company, that it attracted other rubber companies to the area. After all, if Goodrich could make successfully make rubber in Akron, so could they. In 1898 the Goodyear Rubber Company was formed and in 1900 Henry Firestone started his Akron rubber company in Akron.
This became the dawning of a new age when automobiles would become the primary means of transportation across Ohio and the nation and it would be Akron that supplied the rubber for these vehicles.
1920s tire machine commonly used in Akron tire factories. On display at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, Ohio
For 80 years, Goodyear blimps have adorned the skies as visible corporate symbols of the tire and rubber company that began operations in 1898. Today, these graceful giants travel more than 100,000 miles across the United States per year as Goodyear's "Aerial Ambassadors." The blimp tradition began in 1925 when Goodyear built its first helium-filled public relations airship, the Pilgrim. The tire company painted its name on the side and began barnstorming the United States. Humble beginnings to an illustrious history. Over the years, Goodyear built more than 300 airships, more than any other company in the world. Akron, Ohio, the company's world headquarters, was the center of blimp manufacturing for several decades.
Although the first Soap Box Derby was held in Dayton, the following year it was moved to Akron. The Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program which has run nationally since 1934. World Championship finals are held each August at Derby Downs in Akron.
When the Ohio & Erie Canal was in operation, Akron was the highest elevation between Lake Erie and the Ohio River. It is here that the Locks changed numbers, meaning that the lock numbers got larger going either north or south from Akron. Lock 1 North is located just north of Cedar Street. There is also a Park at Lock 2 North that goes between Mill Street and Exchange Street in downtown Akron.
Summit Lake is the practical dividing point, or the north-south continental divide for the canal system. Summit Lake is a natural lake which, prior to 1800, was surrounded by a swamp. The lake had to be modified during the construction of the canal by lowering it by 9' so that it had the same elevation as the Tuscarawas River. Its size was also reduced in the process. A floating towpath along the swampy shore make it possible for the mule teams to get good footing as they passed through the area.