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Feature Article on Philip Smith. Topic: PEOPLE & INDUSTRY
Written by Rich Wallace in April, 1996

EARLY INDUSTRIALIST HELPED TRANSFORM SIDNEY

In 1859, just prior to the start of the Civil War, Sidney was a sleepy little village. Small, family-sized businesses were the order of the day. All of that was about to change with the arrival of Philip Smith. He was to become the first of a series of great industrialists that would transform Sidney's character forever.

Born in Pennsylvania, Smith moved to Dayton as a youngster and learned the molder's trade with the firm of Thompson, McGregor and Callahan. At the age of 21 he left his family in Dayton and moved to Sidney. After working for a short time for the Haslup family, he started his own foundry business with a grand total of $25 in capital.. A short time later his brother, Michael, moved to Sidney. Together, they formed a partnership known as P. Smith & Bro.

In the early years, Smith took on whatever foundry work was available. In the first of what was to be many business sidelines, he developed a spoke works, where Philip and Michael manufactured wagon wheel spokes and other metal wagon parts.

Soon the Smith brothers began casting bells in their small foundry. After some early success, disaster struck. A devastating fire destroyed the foundry in the 1860's. With no insurance, the men struggled to rebuild. In an article that appeared some years later, the editor of the Sidney Journal recalled: "Undaunted by their severe loss and adversity, they again girded on the armor to fight the battles of the world. The result shows what can be accomplished by indomitable perseverance and untiring energy."

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Philip Smith

 

By 1870, the business was casting sugar kettles and various sizes of bells for schools and farms that were sold throughout the Midwest and western United States. A new foundry was erected.

Another early Sidney business was Toy Plow Works, established by Daniel Toy, the inventor of the moldboard plow. Smith bought out that business in the early 1870's, and in a marketing move used frequently today, hired Dan Toy as a consultant, and advertised in the newspaper that "We have secured the services of Daniel Toy, who has no superior as a plow maker."

Despite a series of near business failures, by 1879, Philip Smith had developed a steady business. The Sidney Journal in January of that year reported that his factory was turning out up to 8,000 bells and 4,000 sugar kettles each year. As one of the first Sidney manufacturers to establish trade outside Ohio, the Journal reported that his goods were being shipped "to Indiana and the West."  

It seemed that every time Smith met with success, a severe business recession or other calamity forced him to move in a different direction. Frequently, this meant new products. He commenced the building of steam engines, and installed a state of the art engine and boiler in John Loughlin's School Furniture Company in 1882.

Although his expanding business occupied the majority of his time, Philip Smith did serve several terms on City Council over the years, beginning in 1881. Shortly after that Anna, his wife of 23 years, died. Smith, left to raise their ten children, remarried Mrs. Mary French of Champaign County on Thanksgiving Day in 1885.

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One of the great "what if" stories in Sidney's history involved Smith. The Shelby County Democrat announced to the community on November 1, 1889 that Ben P. Wagner had invented and patented a cash register, which would be manufactured by Philip Smith in Sidney. Subsequently, it was learned that Wagner and a gentleman from New York had applied for and obtained patents on the cash register at virtually the same time. A lawsuit was filed concerning the patents which resulted in the business being developed in Dayton instead of Sidney.

The mention of cast iron cookware leads immediately to a discussion of Wagner Manufacturing and its dominant role in that industry. Wagner's use of "Sidney, Ohio" on the back of its cookware helped put Sidney on the map. History tells us, however, that Philip Smith was there first.

Wagner was not formed until 1891. By 1886, Smith's foundry was manufacturing an assortment of cookware, then known as hollow ware. In March of 1888, Smith expanded his business to meet increasing customer demand and hired 20 additional men. He continued this segment of his business, manufacturing the finest quality of polished hollow ware until 1897.

In perhaps the largest business deal in Sidney's history up to that time, Smith sold this portion of his business to Wagner Manufacturing. The Sidney Journal told the story in a headline in its October 22, 1897 edition: "Philip Smith sells out." The price tag was $35,000.

In 1907, Philip Smith incorporated as the Philip Smith Manufacturing Company with the help of local financier L.M. Studevant. The company concentrated on the production of grain handling and cleaning equipment, but also manufactured such varied items as copper tub wringer washing machines and milling equipment.

1907 also saw the abrupt retirement of Smith due to complications arising from his diabetes. He had been in the forefront of Sidney co5mmerce for 48 years. An anonymous biographer of the time provided the following observation about Philip Smith: Looking over his business career, with its many ups and downs, pinched financially most of the time, requiring all his wits and his indomitable energy to pull through, he reminds one of the man who rolled down a hill with arms around a log and when he got to the bottom cheerfully remarked that the log did not get any the best of him for he was on top half of the time.

After his retirement, Mr. and Mrs. Smith traveled frequently. Under her influence, Smith became an active member of the Baptist Church. At the time of his death in 1914, Smith was eulogized as the pioneer industrialist of Sidney. The Sidney Daily News remembered him as a man "...who met adversity with courage. No matter what his financial troubles were, he renewed the battle with more courage, and won." According to his last wishes, a marching band led the funeral procession to the cemetery.

One can still see remnants of the Philip Smith legacy in use today, reminding us of his contribution to our heritage. He manufactured fire escapes for many downtown buildings, including the Monumental Building. His cast iron storefronts, like the one on the Piper building on Main Avenue south of Courtview Center, still grace structures around the courtsquare. Many of the manhole covers in our streets were cast at the Philip Smith foundry. Some of Sidney's older residents will remember the cast iron hitching posts that adorned the courtsquare for over 50 years. They were also made at the Smith foundry.

Smith's children continued his legacy of public service. Pete Smith, one of his sons, built the Lenita, Sidney's last canal boat, with the help of the men at the Bimel Buggy Company. One grandchild of Smith remains. Ruth Grode of Sidney, remembered him. "All of the family members were so proud of him. Grandfather represented the best Sidney had to offer."

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This plaque can be seen on the north side of the Piper buildings, in the alley adjacent to the Courtview Center.
  Photo by Sherrie Casad-Lodge.

 

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