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
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
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
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
North, Cincinnati to Columbus.