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December  2005
Cincinnati, Ohio

    Interstate 71 parallels a route that was known as the “3-C” highway. The three C’s were the big three Ohio cities, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, and this road connected them. Today, Interstate 71 fulfils that mission and, as a result, is Ohio’s most heavily-traveled interstate.

    Cincinnati—the southern “C” and the first big city of America’s west—had its start in an area that was used by humans as a crossing point over the Ohio River for thousands of years. Trails that passed through this region were part of the extensive trading network developed by the Native Americans. They connected north to the site of present-day Detroit and south to the Carolinas. In the late 1700s, after the American Revolution, white settlers began coming down the Ohio River, seeking places to settle. The east was crowded and its land exhausted from overuse. Settlers came here in search of rich soil, a new life, and an opportunity to make it big in this land west of the Appalachians.

    Three speculators purchased a large section of territory here, just north of the
Ohio River and across from the mouth of the Licking River. They decided it would be a fine location for a city, and they called the new settlement, Losantiville. It’s an odd name that contains within it a kind of code. The “L” in Losantiville refers to the Licking River. The “os” that follows the “L” is Latin for mouth and the “anti” that follows the “L” and the “os” means “across from.” Put them all together and what do you get? Losanti or “across from the mouth of the Licking River.” Add a “ville” to the end of that mess and you have a word that sort of means, “A town across from the mouth of the Licking River.”

    A name that obscure is not likely to stick and, sure enough, when the governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, arrived on the scene, he renamed the town, Cincinnati. The intent was probably to honor George Washington, who was president at the time. There was already a Fort
Washington built nearby to protect the new settlement so he couldn’t use that one again, but what does Cincinnati have to do with Washington?

    It’s a bit of a twisting route, but bear with us. We’ll get there in the end.

    Cincinnati is a reference to the Order of the Cincinnati, an honorary society of Revolutionary War officers. The name comes from a Roman farmer named Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus, so the story goes, was plowing his fields when a request came that he leave his farm to lead the Roman army in battle. This he did and then returned to his plow and his fields. Later, he received another request—this time to serve as temporary dictator of
Rome. Again, he answered the call, served to the best of his ability, and then returned to civilian life. This was a model for the early American military officer: a citizen who leaves his work to serve his country and then willingly returns to the ordinary life he left. To the founders of this society, George Washington was a shining example of this ideal, a Cincinnatus for the times. Hence, Cincinnati.

    Today, Cincinnati is the third most misspelled major city in America, behind only Pittsburgh and Tucson. This is based on a survey of sources including media usage and web-site searches. Personally, we don’t have much trouble with Pittsburgh or Tucson, but we’re never really sure about the number of “n’s” and “t’s” in Cincinnati. Maybe Losantiville wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

   Another possible name for Cincinnati is the city of firsts. As the first big city of the West, a lot of stuff happened here before it happened anywhere else.

    The first professional baseball team in the country, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was organized here in 1869. The Red Stockings own a record unlikely ever to be broken: the longest string of winning games by a professional baseball team: 130 wins in a row before finally being defeated by the Brooklyn Atlantics, in extra innings: 8 to 7.  And then on May 24th, 1935, Cincinnati’s Crosley Field was the site for another first that ushered in an era: the first artificially lit night game played in the major leagues.

    If you’re going to have baseball, you need to know the weather, right? Maybe that’s why the same year the Red Stockings turned pro, Cincinnati also established the nation’s first public weather service. The federal government picked up on the idea and established the US Weather Bureau the following year.

    The first air mail left Cincinnati by hot air balloon in 1835. And the nation’s first train robbery took place in a suburb of Cincinnati, on May 5, 1865. No one was ever pinned with the crime although Jesse James and his brother, Frank, are suspects.

    In 1870, the city was so full of itself that a convention was convened to consider whether the US capital, then and now located at Washington DC, ought to be moved to Cincinnati. Nobody outside of Cincinnati thought this was so great an idea, but the city did have arguments in its favor: Cincinnati was more centrally located than Washington DC, and it had the economic clout. When the US income tax was instituted, the Cincinnati metropolitan area accounted for 1/6 of the total tax collections in the nation.

    The world’s first teaching hospital was established in Cincinnati, called the “Commercial
Hospital and Lunatic Asylum.” Though they could have spruced up that name a bit. The first city fire department was established in Cincinnati and, with that, came the first fireman’s pole.

    Cincinnati was the first city in nation to establish a Jewish hospital, and a Jewish theological college—Hebrew
Union College. It was the first city in the nation to establish a municipal university—the University of Cincinnati founded in 1870. And get this: Cincinnati is the first and only US city to build and own a railroad: the Cincinnati Southern running between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tennesee. You know, the song about the, “Chattanooga Choo Choo?” That was a Cincinnati Southern train. Today, the city still owns that railroad, leasing it to the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

    The first radio license in the nation was granted to a Cincinnatian, and Cincinnati is the first city to have a public TV station. A daytime radio drama called  “The Puddle Family” was first aired in
Cincinnati in 1932, sponsored by Proctor  & Gamble. Because Proctor & Gamble pitched its soap during commercials, the show became known as a “soap opera.” Procter & Gamble, by the way, a Cincinnati company, claims to be the world’s largest soap producer, with the largest soap producing factory located here.

    Charles Fleishman introduced compressed yeast—in Cincinnati. Procter & Gamble brought such everyday products into the world as Crisco, Ivory Soap, and disposable diapers.  And Formica was developed here, giving 1950s America its most enduring surface.

    The world’s first reinforced-concrete skyscraper, the Ingalls
Building, was built in Cincinnati during 1902 and 1903. And the Cincinnati suspension bridge across the Ohio river was a prototype to the Brooklyn bridge. 

    All of this must have led Winston Churchill to deem Cincinnati, “America’s most beautiful inland city.”

For more about Cincinnati and its surrounding communities, see the CD for    I-71 South, Columbus to Cincinnati   or  I-71 North, Cincinnati to Columbus.

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