Gem City History: Why are we called the Gem City

   Dayton, Ohio. Whether you moved here at some point or you were born and raised here, Dayton is a unique city with a rich history, dating back to the late 18th century.

   This new series will show why Dayton is special by taking a look at some of the biggest events in the city’s history, notable residents and the inventions made here.

   The city was founded in 1796, and was home to many different inventions during the 1800’s and early 1900’s, including the airplane, electrical starting motors, the cash register and the world’s first aerial missile.

   After an industry boom and residential growth from the 1940’s to 70’s, Dayton was very prosperous. It earned the nickname “Little Detroit” during this time, due to the thriving industrial jobs available to citizens.

   However, many factors such as loss of jobs, decentralization of the metropolitan area and various economic crises, impacted Dayton and its reputation negatively.

   Dayton had the third-greatest percentage loss of population in Ohio since the 1980s, behind Cleveland and Youngstown.

   Yet the city still perseveres, as restoration efforts were put into place in 2010, and new job opportunities arose in the healthcare and education fields.

  IMG_785104871841693.jpeg But our question today is about the nickname Gem City, which was given to Dayton back in the mid to late 1800s.

   It is a nickname that is attached to a variety of current and former businesses in the area, from coffee shops to hardware stores, even a hockey and a roller derby team. Gem City is synonymous with Dayton.

   So how did the city we know today earn such an illustrious moniker?

   A quick search shows that the answer is not concrete, but there are some theories.

   The first refers to a well known racehorse that was trained and owned in Dayton during the 19th century called Gem.

   The second refers to an article written in the Cincinnati Daily Chronicle by someone named only “T,” over 170 years ago. In it, T marvels at how well the city was maintained.

   The 1845 article states: “In a small bend of the Great Miami River, with canals on the east and south, it can be fairly said, without infringing on the rights of others, that Dayton is the gem of all our interior towns. It possesses wealth, refinement, enterprise, and a beautiful country, beautifully developed.”

   This was the first known instance of Gem City being used to describe Dayton.

   After this, the moniker wasn’t mentioned again until 1882. William Bickham, the editor of the Dayton News Journal at the time, pushed for the name to be adopted officially in his editorial columns.

   Then, the Gem City Stove Co. was the first business to officially incorporate the name in 1885.

   Following this, in 1887 the Dayton Board of Trustees took on the name. This caused it to gain more traction and become popular to people outside of the state of Ohio.

   Thus, the Gem City was born, and Dayton endured decades of prosperity and innovation.

   While there is still some major work to be done to earn the name, Dayton will always be known as the Gem City. With this, perhaps we can gain some hope and drive to propel our city back to its former glory.

Henry Wolski
Executive Editor