“Golden Rule” Jones of Ohio
Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones made a fortune in oilfields, patented a sucker rod design, created a better workplace for employees at his factory, and ran on the progressive Republican ticket in 1897 to be elected mayor of Toledo, Ohio.
As the country weathered an 1890s financial crisis, Jones brought a new business philosophy to Toledo. Immensely popular, he was reelected again in 1899, 1901 and 1903 – and served until dying on the job in 1904.
“Golden Rule” Jones, according to one Toledo historian, was the “best known, best liked and best hated mayor of all time who tried to govern a city by the one and only rule by which he governed his factory.”
His principle was simple: “Therefore Whatsoever Ye Would That Men Should Do Unto You, Do Ye Even So Unto Them.”
Long before his political career as a progressive reformer, Jones spent decades working in Pennsylvania boom towns, including the infamous Pithole.
Jones, who will return to Ohio a successful oilman and found the Acme Sucker Rod Company in 1892, first earned his nickname when he posted the biblical admonition for his factory employees.
An advocate of eight-hour workdays to increase employment opportunities, Jones introduced higher wages, paid vacations and five percent bonuses. But years earlier Jones was experiencing the unpredictable nature of the Pennsylvania and Ohio petroleum fields.
Lima Oilfield Discovery
Southwest of Toledo, between Findlay and Lima, the “Great Oil Boom” of northwestern Ohio had begun on May 19, 1885. A cable-tool driller looking for natural gas found oil instead. Benjamin Faurot’s discovery revealed the Lima oilfield, soon to be the largest in the world.
“Benjamin Faurot struck oil after drilling into the Trenton Rock Limestone formation a depth of 1,252 feet,” notes the Allen County Historical Society, adding he organized the Trenton Rock Oil Company. “The ensuing rush brought speculators who drilled hundreds of wells in the Trenton Rock (Lima) oilfield that stretched from Mercer County north through the Wood County in Ohio and west to Indiana.”
By 1886, the Lima field is the nation’s leading producer of oil. By the following year it’s the largest worldwide.
“The great enterprise of piping oil from the Lima fields to Chicago manufacturing establishments is now, in this year of 1888, being undertaken by the Standard Oil Company, who practically control all the oil territory around Lima,” noted one reporter at the time.
“Production from the Ohio portion of the Lima-Indiana field reach its peak in 1896, when more than 20 million barrels were brought out of the ground,” continues the county historical society.
The new, innovative pipeline will be 210 miles long. Lima oil will light the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which attracts 27.5 million visitors.
“Though short-lived, the oil rush brought an influx of people, pipelines, refineries, and businesses, giving a powerful impetus to the growth of northwest Ohio,” concludes the Allen County Historical Society, which in 2006 placed marker near the Faurot oil well in Lima.
Among those attracted to Lima’s oil boom was the progressive employer and future mayor of Toledo.
Meanwhile, ordinary Americans were bewildered when the stock market suddenly plummeted, Wall Street brokerage houses collapsed, and more than 500 banks and mortgage companies failed. Jobs evaporated as 15,000 businesses went bankrupt, foreclosures rose and nationwide joblessness reached 10 percent. “Hundreds of thousands of men thrown out of employment,” reported New York’s Commercial and Financial Chronicle. It was 1893.
According to historian Richard Timberlake Jr., the “Panic of 1893” was a serious economic depression in the United States. Like a similar nationwide financial collapse two decades earlier, it was marked by the overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads, resulting in a series of bank failures.
Against this dismal backdrop, the 47-year-old Jones returned from the Pennsylvania oil patch and opened his Toledo sucker rod business in an abandoned factory on Segur Avenue. Jones will be remembered as Toledo’s mayor who brought his town a renewed sense of community and reform as the late 19th century’s “Gilded Age” came to its abrupt end.
Jones catches Oil Fever in Pennsylvania
Born in Wales in 1846, Samuel Jones was in Ohio by age 19 and had four years experience as a “greaser and wiper” on the stern-wheeler L.R. Lyon. He got oil fever in 1865 when he abandoned his ambition to become a Ohio steamboat engineer after his boss told him about neighboring Pennsylvania’s booming oilfields.
“Sammy, you are a fool to spend your time on these steamboats. You should go to the oil regions,” his boss told him, adding, “You can make $4 a day there.”
Jones followed the advice and his experience with steam boilers eventually landed him a job with the St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum Company – in the notorious town of Pithole. Discovered in January 1865, the Pithole Creek field created a massive oil boom town for the young petroleum industry, which began in nearby Titusville in 1859.
Many Civil War veterans wanted jobs, others wanted to make a fortune quickly after having spent long months on army pay. Hundreds of newly organized companies were ready to lease or buy land wherever there was even a promise of oil.
Pithole was as legendary for its wickedness as it is for its rapid rise and fall. Jones’ Calvinist upbringing and 12 hour shifts in the oilfield left him little time for the boom town’s debauchery. Jones’ working experience with Pithole’s squalor and desperation left an indelible mark. His empathy for working men remained with him forever.
St. Louis & Pithole Petroleum failed within weeks of Jones being hired and he again found himself looking for work. He spent a year and a half working in northwestern Pennsylvania’s petroleum region as a potboiler, pumper, tool dresser, blacksmith, and pipe layer.
But Jones – like countless others at the time – lost his meager savings when he bought a one-sixteenth interest in a wildcat well that came up dry. Staying in Pennsylvania, Jones eventually settled in Pleasantville, about a dozen miles from Titusville. He spent five years working alongside other oil patch laborers in Parker’s Landing oilfield.
Finally, a successful $700 investment in western Clarion County oil leases brought Jones a measure of success. By 1878, he was able to secure more good leases in the prolific Bradford field. Jones was 32 years old. Eight years later, he followed oil discoveries to Lima.
Jones find Good Fortune in Ohio Oilfields
Jones invested in a Lima oilfield well that produced with an initial flow of 700 barrels of oil a day. In the first three months, his well flowed over 14,000 barrels – with Standard Oil buying all production at 40 cents per barrel.
Jones and other independents resisted Standard Oil’s growing monopoly by forming the Ohio Oil Company – today’s Marathon. He became very wealthy when he left the company when Standard took it over two years later. The Panic of 1893 began just before Jones claimed his first patent.
With his “Coupling for Pipes or Rods,” Jones applied his almost 40 years experience in oil industry mechanics to solve the frequent and time-consuming problem of broken sucker rods, which push and pull a down-hole pump to bring up the oil.
The design was a great innovation. It soon would make Jones a millionaire, create jobs, and establish the Acme Sucker Rod Company factory in Toledo. But as the financial panic worsened, Jones was appalled by the long lines of unemployed and the threats of dismissal that punctuated many factories “string of rules a yard long.”
Alternately labelled as progressive, eccentric, socialist, independent, and anti-capitalist, Jones looked out for workers in an age of big business.
On his factory’s entrance he posted, “Every Man who is WILLING to work, Has a Right to Live. Divide the Day and Give Him a Chance.”
This and his shortening of the work day only added to his “Golden Rule” Jones reputation.
“Even more astounding, Mr. Jones developed a revenue-sharing program for his workers, provided health insurance, and subsidized hot meals in the Acme cafeteria,” explains George J. Tanber in a 1999 article for the Toledo Blade.
Unlike other companies, which had a long list of regulations and requirements for their employees, Jones posted only one rule on his company’s notice board, Tanber writes in the December 15 article, “City Flourished Under Golden Rule of Jones.”
Next to his sucker rod factory Jones built Golden Rule Park, “where his employees could exercise or relax – and where the employee ensemble, the Golden Rule Band, could entertain.”
Jones’ initiatives soon drew him into the contentious world of late 19th century politics where his belief in reform made him popular.
“In time it became clear that Mr. Jones was using Acme as a model for social change, and that he would soon apply his method to city politics,” Tanber explains.
In 1897, Jones received the Republican party’s nomination for Toledo mayor. Although the party refused to nominate Jones in 1899, he still ran and easily won reelection with 70 percent of the vote.
Jones remained a popular reformer until his last day on the job in 1904 when he died at age 58 . Five thousand people attended his funeral.
Jones’ biographers note his early years in tough oil patch towns like Pithole profoundly influenced both his business practices and his philosophy in politics. Jones himself wryly observed that most manufacturers kept about eight dollars out of every 10 their employees earned for them. “I keep only about seven and so they call me ‘Golden Rule’ Jones.”
Today, Lima’s Allen County Historical Museum at 620 West Market Street reviews the area’s oil patch past. Inside the 1893 Victorian MacDonell House in Lima, the museum preserves northwest Ohio petroleum history – and also includes one of the largest collections of railroad history in the country.
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