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.
It wasn’t until the mid-1940s and the militarization of the economy during World War Two that Toledo’s employment rolls, wages, or population began to recover. Many feared that the wartime recover would prove to be just that, a feature of war and not the peace that would follow. But by the early 1950s, Toledo’s economy was growing again and the old songs of boosterism were taken off the shelf, dusted off, and put to work again.
In 1950, the Chamber of Commerce took out a copyright on Joe Murphy’s old "We’re Strong for Toledo" song and began printing the score. Though the businessmen of Toledo were nostalgic for the locally famous tune, to the Chamber, Murphy’s lyrics were apparently not an adequate advertisement for the city. The Chamber had Marilou Dawn compose some added verses that spoke to an age of American business triumphant:
We're Strong for Toledo (1950)
We’re Strong for Toledo, T-O-L-E-D-O
Building on its newfound interest in the musical arts, the Chamber of Commerce next commissioned a song to call attention to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Toledo’s place in the trade of the Great Lakes. For this duty the Chamber tapped Edmund Wheelden, Jr., member of the Chamber’s public relations department and a local factory president, who penned "Toledo, Our Future’s Terrific" set to a tune that Duke Ellington popularized, Perdido.
Toledo, Our Future's Terrific
Toledo, the heart of the Great Lakes
Though recordings were made of "Toledo, Our Future’s Terrific," by the El Myers Quintet, a local band, none seem to have survived the ravages of time.
The 1950s proved to be the rival of the 1920s in its song output. In 1957, just a year after the release of "Toledo, Our Future’s Terrific," Walter Schwartz, an employee of the City’s Harbor and Bridges department, revised the lyrics to "We’re Strong for Toledo" to give them a nautical twist. Gathering together a group of friends who had never sung together—Marvin Stimpfle, Carl Murphy, and George Yeats,—Schwartz recorded the song and dubbed his group the Channel Markers. Schwartz’s version was:
The Port Song
We’re strong for Toledo
Music used with the permission of BMI Music.
Most notably about Schwartz’s Port Song, was his use of ambient sounds. The song begins with a blast from the horn of a passing freighter and continues with a faint sound of lapping waves beneath the chorus.
The capstone to this era of musical promotion came in 1965, when the Toledo Area Development Corporation commissioned "Let’s Expand Toledo’s Future." Set to the tune of "I’ve Been Working on the Railroad," this song stripped away all the distracting cant about seasons, trees, and loyal people to attain a purity of form seldom rivaled:
Let’s Expand Toledo’s FutureLet’s expand Toledo’s future
With salesmanship today.
Let’s expand Toledo’s future
The T.A.D.C. way.
The days of gloom are gone forever.
Our town has been reborn.
Can’t you hear our people shouting,
Toledo, Blow your horn.
Toledo won’t you blow,
Toledo won’t you blow,
Toledo won’t you blow your ho-o-orn!
Toledo won’t you blow,
Toledo won’t you blow,
Toledo won’t you blow your horn.
Someone’s in there pitchin’ Toledo.
This song’s final line, in its stark honesty, may never be rivaled within this category of expression. That the song did not last was not its own fault, but that of timing. Within a handful of years of its appearance, the industrial economy of the entire northeastern United States began to weaken and shift. Toledo sat astride the so-called "rust belt" and suffered a wave of plant closings, some of which, like that of Toledo Scale, seemed to steal away a piece of the city’s identity.