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The Deindustrialization of West Dayton

The Origins of the Urban Crisis continues to inspire analyses of Dayton as a comparison. I think a key chapter in Sugrues books is Chapter 5, “The Damning Mark of False Prosperities: The Deindustrialization of Detroit” ( pages 125 through 177 of the first edition), which provides the economic context for the declining fortunes of the Detroits black community.

This chapter talks about automation and shifting business practices wiping out entire categories of jobs in the auto plants, and driving out independent suppliers and producers, changes which hit inner city Detroit particularly hard, and resulted in an increase in long-term unemployment, leading to widespread urban poverty, which also impacted neighborhood retail.

Dayton was a center for the auto sector, but was apparently much more economically diversified than Detroit, as we’ve seen by the previous discussion of unionization, which was directed at a variety of industry; from foundries to electrical equipment makers to machine builders and so forth.

Though I discussed Dayton’s deindustrialization in a general sense in an earlier post I want to focus here on the west side.

As one can see by this map the west side was quite the manufacturing center, with plants mostly strung out along the rail lines radiating from the Great Miami railroad bridge.

The larger plants were associated with the auto industry: Delco, Inland, Dayton Tire. But also the large McCalls printing plant and a collection of mid-sized manufacturing establishments

Dayton industrial employment, starting in 1947, using census sources. The city was already was seeing a decline in factory work in the 1950s, which is consistent with Sugrue’s findings for inner city Detroit. Yet this was temporary, and manufacturing employment surged again in the 1960s.
The big drop happens after 1970, where there is a drastic slide into the 1980s, and then another drop into the 1990s. Though the stats don’t narrow it down to the west side, one can assume most of the manufacturing left in this era, which would correlate with an increase in long term unemployment and urban poverty. Presumably one could consult the city directories and find out when a plant closed (though employment decline could precede closure).

The fate of the labeled plants will be illustrated downthread.

By 2008 the west side was de-industrialized. Nearly all of the large manufacturing establishments are gone, and most of the mid-size ones as well. The last large auto industry plant, Inland, is threatened with closure.

Accompanying deindustrialization was the expansion of poverty across the west side. There were poor areas here in 1970 and before, but poverty expanded and deepened along with the loss of industry. One wonders if it would be possible to draw the same corellation that Sugrue did in Detroit about the connection between growth in poverty and loss of factory work?

By 2006, the west side is also experiencing large scale housing vacancy and abandonment: first the factorys go, then the people, then the houses and shops.

Though manufacturing has left there are not too many empty structures. Extensive square feet of abandoned factory like these are actually pretty rare (there was a 6 or 7 story loft building in the grassy area to the right of the Sunshine Biscuit plant):


Most of the really big plants are gone. Example is the old Moraine Products plant, which started as a munitions factory in WWI (closed in the 1990s)(Sanborn at top shows extent of the plant in 1950)


Kuhns (later Nibco) Foundry: from an extensive complex to a rubble strewn field (closed in the 1980s, I think)
Factories usually turn into vacant lots (McCall Printing, partially torn down in the 1990s or early 2000s)

….or in this case, a factory turned into a prairie (Dayton Tire closed in 1981).

The site of a big factory employing hundreds, perhaps over a thousand? Like it was never there.

Today there are few factories on the west side. A rare example is this plant on Mound Street. Interestingly, this is set in a former residential area cleared out by abandonment and urban renewal, not in an old industrial district:


Smokestack amidst a ruin field as headstone for the west side industrial graveyard.

…reminds me a bit of Si Kahns’ Aragon Mill.


1. At the east end of town, at the foot of the hill
Stands a chimney so tall that says "Aragon Mill."
But there's no smoke at all coming out of the stack.
The mill has shut down and it ain't a-coming back.

2. Well, I'm too old to work, and I'm too young to die.
Tell me, where shall we go, My old gal and I?
There's no children at all in the narrow empty street.
The mill has closed down; it's so quiet I can't sleep.

3. Yes, the mill has shut down; it's the only life I know
Tell me, where will I go, Tell me, where will I go?
And the only tune I hear, is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town,
Weave and spin, weave and spin.

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2 comments to The Deindustrialization of West Dayton

  • Richard Jones

    You’re partially correct with regard to your comments about Dayton Tire & Rubber Co., located on W. Riverview Ave. @ Rosedale Ave. The plant occupied that site from 1905 to 1980, and at least, when I left (in 1977 when learning that Firestone intended to close the facility and move all to the newer Midwest City, OK., facility) we employed over 1,800 personnel – after the closure of other plants such as McCall Printing, Inland Mfg., etc., Dayton Tire was likely the West Side’s largest employer (at that time). Such a tragic loss that the City of Dayton would let a major manufacturing company with so many ‘firsts’ (‘balloon – tube type – tires, etc.) over the years AND bearing the City’s name nationwide to vacate to another location. I heard all the reasons – outdated buildings (some dating back to 1905 – the building I was in – I was the Project Accountant – dated back to the mid 1930’s). Firestone invested millions of dollars in the facility from its acquisition in the early 1960’s, and I saw the plant go through bias, bias-belted, and finally, radial tire construction. Did the City make ANY effort to retain this vital employer? Many Dayton residents, over the years (including my father back in the mid-1930’s) had employment here – granted, a tire factory isn’t the ‘cleanest’ industry, and again, Firestone invested huge amounts in ‘scrubbers’ and the like to try to meet air quality standards, but there is only so much an industry can do for compliance. I recall a ‘senior’ employee, one of our Industrial Engineers remarking that, during the ‘debate’ of whether to construct the then-new I-75 Fwy. around Dayton (and not through downtown) of him and other industry and political ‘leaders’ standing on the plant’s roof and viewing downtown several years after the freeway was completed, and stating how much ‘smog’ could be seen hanging over that freeway – much more than DT&R was ‘exhaling’ into the atmosphere – and I can recall thos same politicians wanting to level everything on the East side along the path of the freeway, including The Oregon District – looking at the areas from Linden @ Hamilton Ave. into downtown today, they got their ‘wish’, isolating some neighborhoods (as along Richard St., which once ran through East Dayton to downtown) in the process. As you noted, people leave, followed by industry – proof of which are the areas along Huffman and Hamilton Aves. to Linden Ave. Oh, well……they ARE ‘old’ structures, inhabited by the poorest among us – what better way to rid the ‘blight’ by taking away their homes? This can be seen in the West end along streets such as (what’s left of) McCall St., Lakeview Ave., Cincinnati St., Washington St., Home Ave. etc. Dayton’s past (and perhaps present) administration has nothing to be proud of – they’ve allowed Dayton to become known as one of ‘America’s Fasted-Dying Cities’ – not a title the City has with any pride.

  • HARRY SWARTZ

    I WORKED AT DAYTON TIRE AND RUBBER IN THE MAINTENANCE DEPARTMENT AND WAS SHOCKED AT ITS CLOSING .I WORKED SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND COULD HAVE WORKED 12 HOURS A DAY IF I WANTED TO.

    I HAD WORKED AT CHRYSLER AIRTEMP IN DAYTON UNTIL I WAS LAID OFF IN 1973.

    I MOVED TO HOUSTON TEXAS AND HAVE NEVER BEEN WITHOUT A JOB IN THE LAST 37 YEARS.RETIRED NOW.

    IT WAS SAD TO SEE DAYTON LOOSE SO MUCH OF ITS STRENGTH AS AN INDUSTRIAL HUB. THANK YOU FOR YOUR POST ON THIS SUBJECT.

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