Robert A. Stranahan
Robert A. Stranahan and his brother, Frank D. Stranahan, founded the Champion Spark Plug Company, one of Toledo's most prosperous and successful businesses. The company also established the Stranahans as pioneers in the automotive industry.
Their parents, Robert Allen and Elizabeth (Whitehill) Stranahan lived in Buffalo, New York where Frank was born in 1876 and Robert on July 7, 1886. Between 1888-1900, their father worked as the highly regarded proprietor of the well-known Tremont House in Boston. Frank Stranahan established a bicycle shop and auto accessory business in Boston. Robert Stranahan, Jr. attended public schools in Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard University in 1908, setting a university record for taking four years of coursework in two and a half years.
Robert Stranahan worked in a real estate office after leaving college. He also developed an interest in automobile parts and began building magnetos, spark plugs, coils, and other parts essential to the locomotion of automobiles. In 1908 he convinced his brother Frank to join him in founding the Champion Spark Plug Company in Boston. Robert served as president of the company with Frank as vice-president and treasurer. Champion Spark Plug did not do well on the east coast so the Stranahans looked to the midwest for the future of their company. They chose Toledo as a good location because the Willys-Overland Auto Company had its plant there. With their business $22,000 in debt, the Stranahans moved Champion to Toledo in 1910.
The Stranahan brothers helped to pioneer the automotive industry in the United States and prospered in the process. Until 1961, Champion Spark Plug had the rare distinction of being the Ford Auto Company's sole supplier of spark plugs. Frank served as vice president and treasurer of the company for forty-four years, at which time he became co-chairman of the board. Robert, in addition to being president and chairman of the board of the company, presided over the Champion Porcelain Company, Champion Spark Plug of Canada, Limited Company and Jeffery-DeWitt Insulator. He held positions at several other businesses including Woolsen Spice, Stranahan Harris, Columbia Motors and Toledo Trust.
A member of the Republican Party, Robert Stranahan attended the 1952 national convention as a delegate. He also held memberships in many social organizations including chapters of the Masonic Order, the Harvard Club, the Toledo and Maumee River Yacht Clubs, and the Historical Society of Northwestern Ohio. In his free time he enjoyed golfing and other sports. In 1948 Robert Stranahan sponsored the Banquet of Champions in Toledo which brought 24 heros from various sports to the city.
Robert Stranahan married his first wife, Agnes McColl, on June 3, 1908. The couple had five children. Later, Robert and Agnes legally separated and he married Page (Ellyson) Lewis, with whom he had two children. A daughter from his first marriage, Dorcas, died May 22, 1935 at the age of 21. Robert Stranahan died February 9, 1962 at the age of 75. His wife, Page, died May 11, 1968 at the age of 79.[Randolph C. Downes, ed., History of Lake Shore Ohio: Family and Personal History, vol. 3 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1952), p.22; John M. Killits, ed., Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio, 1623-1923 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), pp.242, 245; and Toledo Biography Scrapbook, Local History Room, Toledo Lucas County Public Library].
Frank Stranahan, a philanthropist, became actively involved in the community. He served as associate trustee for the Toledo Boys Club, honorary member of the YMCA Board of Trustees, member of the Friends of the University of Toledo Library, the Toledo Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations. He married Marie Celeste, who died December 17, 1954 at the age of 78. They had one son, Duane, whose son, Duane, Jr., wed Elizabeth Spitzer Bentley in August 1952. Frank Stranahan died November 10, 1965 at the age of 89.(Toledo Blade, 10 November 1965 and The Toledo Times, 11 November 1965).
Robert Allen Stranahan III, who graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, held several positions in his father's company including administrator in the sales department. As a pilot, he supervised flight operations for Champion Spark Plug at its Toledo Express Airport installation. He married Mary Therese Urbanski and the couple had three children. An avid golfer, Robert Stranahan III helped to develop the former Byrnwick (Brandywine) golf course, serving as president of the club when it opened in 1967. On September 27, 1968, at the age of 27, he was killed in a one-car traffic accident.Toledo Blade, 27 September 1968. The Stranahans are buried in a family mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery.
The Stranahan family mausoleum
(Photography of Woodlawn Cemetery by Josef Schneider.)