Toledo’s Roaring Twenties and Depressing Thirties
After the war and its year or two of uncertainty and economic dislocation, Toledo benefited greatly from the rapid expansion of the automobile industry and consumer spending generally. However, the local economy began to shift away from a diverse manufacturing city of hundreds of small and medium sized factories to becoming one dotted with a few massive corporate employers. Toledo’s glass corporations consolidated and grew quickly, with Libby-Owens-Ford’s nearby Rossford plate glass plant becoming one of the largest in the world. Willys Overland expanded enormously to eventually account for over forty percent of the entire area’s payroll by the middle of the decade.
Smaller businessmen saw opportunity, but were also threatened by the increasing power of the few. Realtors and developers responded to a time of easy credit and steady population growth to plot thousands of house lots and scores of new subdivisions. Together these interests grew more aggressive in advertising the city and attempting to lure people and companies to relocate to Toledo. The songs of the 1920’s reflect this energy, a drive that would soon become urgency.
In 1922, Paul W. Austin, who composed musicals while a student at Ohio State, wrote "Talk Toledo (Boost Toledo)", a lyric without surviving melody. It went:
Talk Toledo!Talk Toledo!
Talk Toledo any time or where,
On the shores of old Lake Erie.
We will stay right there,
In the winter or the summer
Sunshine, rain or snow,
We’re with you, behind you, in all you do–
Austin is a bit more insistent that his listeners "boost Toledo," but unlike those who would follow, Austin doesn’t promote any particular feature of Toledo, just that it is "a great town." Austin’s gentle loyalty to his city is in keeping with Toledo’s optimistic and booming outlook during the 1920s. Perhaps Austin’s was the last age in which the city could be "boosted" without making any particular claims for it, without shouting its features. His was a confident time and the confident don’t need to extol their virtues, they merely carry them.
Confidence was the city’s spirit in the 1920s. The automobile industry boomed and Toledo became known as "Little Detroit" for its increasing dependence on the sale of cars. Real estate developers mapped out enough lots to house a population of several million. Toledo banks competed for the prestige of building the highest edifice - Toledo Trust succeeded in claiming second tallest in Ohio for a time — and half a dozen large hotels opened for business downtown.
Of course, all this changed quite suddenly between the spring of 1929 and the summer of 1931. First Willys Overland laid off thousands. Then real estate prices cooled and the building of subdivisions ended. The real shock came in the summer of 1931 when all major banks in Toledo shut their doors, freezing the savings of tens of thousands of people and pushing hundreds of businesses into bankruptcy. Soon the city itself was bankrupt and began paying public employees in I.O.U.’s, which local merchants honored at a fraction of their face value.
No songs were written about Toledo in its hard times. No one cared to sing about its weather, or trees, or its loyal people. It would be thirty-five years before anyone ventured to make a musical claim for their city again.