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May 2006
Massillon, Ohio
 

    On Interstate 77, south of Akron, we’ll encounter exits for the city of Massillon, which is located just to the west of Canton. Like Akron, Massillon owes its existence to the Ohio & Erie Canal. The town was founded after it became known that the canal would pass through this area. The community became a center for shipping agricultural products—especially wheat—from Ohio=s interior. Later, the city hosted steel-making operations. Steel production and metal fabrication are still important industries in Massillon.

 

    Massillon is a football town. It fielded one of the original teams of what was to become the National Football League, then called the American Professional Football Association. Massillon was in that league, as were other Ohio teams from Canton, Akron, Dayton, and Cleveland. By now, the pros have moved on, but the Massillon Tigers, a team that bears the same name as the city’s first professionals, is a perennial power in Ohio high school football. We are in football country, which is evident when we pass the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

 

    Massillon=s most illustrious citizen was Jacob Sechler Coxey. Coxey was a successful local businessman in the late 1800s when he began to dabble in politics. It was the last decade of the 19th century and the country was gripped by a depression. Coxey had an idea—simple but radical. AWhy not,@ he said, AWhy not have the government hire the unemployed and put them to work in projects for the public good?@ This would stimulate the economy as these now-employed workers spent their earnings throughout the community.

 

    The idea had a certain appeal, particularly to the unemployed, and Coxey gathered together a band of supporters—known as ACoxey=s Army”—to march on Washington and present proposals to Congress. A ragtag assembly of about 500 supporters appeared at the Capitol under Coxey=s leadership, but he was quickly arrested by skittish authorities. The charge that got him put away? Walking on the grass.

 

    That was it for Coxey=s army. They dispersed and went back home. Their ideas were too radical for Americans in the 1890s to take seriously.

 

    But that=s not the end of this story. Jacob Coxey lived to get the last laugh. Actually, two of them—two last laughs. Forty years later, in the grips of a far deeper depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt=s New Deal turned to many of the ideas that Jacob Coxey had advocated to get the country rolling again. And in 1932, when Coxey was 92 years old, the city of Massillon honored its local prophet by electing him mayor.


    For more about Massillon and its surrounding communities, see the tape or CD for I-77 South: Cleveland to New Philadelphia.

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