History comes to life through individual stories. This two-part guest post by retired Dayton police sergeant Stephen C. Grismer gives a wonderful view of how one family’s business changed and adapted in the course of more than a century, reflecting life in the community around it. Steve serves as secretary-treasurer of the Dayton Police History Foundation and has been a wonderful source of information for the Maggie Sullivan mysteries.
Part 2 will run next week. Thanks, Steve!
by Stephen C. Grismer
With my family ancestry rooted in Dayton, Ohio, as far back as 1851, I enjoy a deeply personal connection to our local history. It began when my great-grandfather, Gustav M. Stomps, emigrated to the U.S. in 1848 and, upon settling in Dayton, opened a factory on East First Street where he manufactured chairs of all types.
His son, Gustav H. Stomps, wasn’t interested in crafting chairs. His interest was transportation. He first owned a livery business downtown, but after losing 292 horses during the 1913 flood, he realized his future was best suited to automobiles.
Gus first opened a Lexington Motor Company car dealership at 50 South Main Street, across from the Kuhns building, but in 1916 switched to Chevrolets. This was the automobile he and my family would sell in Dayton over the next five decades – through the Great Depression and World War II – until 1968.
Given my ties, it should come as no surprise that I am a fan of author Curt Dalton and his many books on local history. One of my favorites is Home Sweet Home Front: Dayton During World War II in which he recounts air raid warnings and “black outs.” My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles experienced these from their Dayton homes, while other family members more dangerously served abroad.
This is the period setting for the Maggie Sullivan murder mystery series, each installment of which I eagerly await. The books strike a resonant chord with me, given my own police background, because private eye Maggie is closely linked with Dayton law enforcement of her day. More than the police connection, though, I love the author’s accurate descriptions of Dayton streets, businesses, districts, buildings, et al. from the bygone days of the 1930s and 1940s. In reading her series, I am drawn to my family legacy.
When Gus Stomps needed a larger building to sell, maintain and customize automobiles, he opened Stomps Chevrolet at 225 South Main Street (near the corner of West Sixth Street). The building was constructed in 1928 and still exists today across from the Convention Center.
My grandfather, John Henry “Hank” Grismer, was general manager. My dad and uncles all worked there. I would have as well had the doors not closed during my freshman year at Chaminade High School. At the time, “Stomps” was said to be the second oldest car dealership in Dayton, and definitely Dayton’s oldest Chevrolet dealership.
During WWII, Stomps, as well as the city’s oldest car dealer Borchers Ford , (further south on Main at Franklin Street) were located in the area known as the “Motor Car District.” This was a tightly compacted area which included the Dayton Buick Company at 349 South Main Street and the Citizens Motorcar Company (selling Packards) at Franklin and Ludlow. Today the latter location is the Packard Museum.
Of course, with the swelling local population, other dealerships had begun to open in other parts of the city. But how would they survive World War II when there were no new cars to sell?
Next week: A recap tire monopoly
If you haven’t tried the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, you can read the first book in the series FREE.
As you race around doing your holiday cooking, even if it’s only opening a bottle of wine for guests, take time to raise your oven mitt to the Greatest Generation woman who designed the efficient, modern kitchen we take for granted today. Her name was Lillian Gilbreth, and her many accomplishments include:
- Pioneer in time-and-motion studies
- First female professor of engineering at Purdue University
- First woman elected to National Academy of Engineering (at age 89)
- First industrial psychologist
- Pioneer in ergonomics
- Originator of the “work triangle” now central to kitchen design
- Prolific author of papers and books
Along the way, she also gave birth to 12 children.
Lillian Gilbreth and her husband Frank established themselves as time-and-motion (“efficiency”) experts through industrial studies that broke each component of a process down into how many movements it required, where a worker had to reach for necessary parts or tools, and how many steps the worker had to walk. The duo used stopwatches and short movies to analyze the procedures. Though her name often didn’t appear on them, Lillian wrote many of the papers and books describing their studies and their implications for increased productivity and decreased worker fatigue.
When Frank died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1924, leaving her with a dozen children to provide for, Lillian found that male executives interested in time-motion studies were far less willing to deal with a woman. A PhD. in psychology had given her more than passing insight into human behavior, however. If she couldn’t gain entry to clients through the front door, she’d go in through the kitchen.
Gas and electric refrigerators were starting to replace the icebox in middle class homes. Companies were suddenly viewing women as potential buyers of these as well as small electrical appliances. Gilbreth’s trained eye saw that even with these new marvels, the kitchens of the late 1920s would remain inefficient – and exhausting – due to inefficient design:
- A wall-hung sink and drainboard on one wall, with a cabinet or built in cupboard abutting it.
- A free-standing stove on another wall.
- The refrigerator or icebox somewhere else.
- And bowls, pans, utensils, dishes? Those might be across the room in a pantry, or at best in another cupboard somewhere.
In 1929, Gilbreth unveiled her Kitchen Practical. It had a counter next to the stove, with food storage above the counter, pots and pans below, and the refrigerator just a few steps away. A multi-use rolling cart provided additional work surface or wheeled dirty dishes to the sink. The resulting layout was the origin of today’s L-shaped kitchen. At the heart of it was what we now call the “work triangle”.
Using the same analysis of movements, equipment and parts (ingredients for a cake) she and Frank had used to study production lines, Gilbreth had created a small, efficient workspace that required very few steps. A few years later, testing a slightly different version of the Kitchen Practical, a cake was baked with identical ingredients in an old style kitchen and the Gilbreth design. The number of steps the cook had to move had dropped from 281 to 45.
With her expertise now well established, Gilbreth soon found her services in demand by the U.S. government from the Great Depression through World War II and the Korean War. In 1930 President Herbert Hoover tapped her to chair the women’s division of the Emergency Committee for Employment where she created a nationwide program that created new jobs. During World War II she oversaw conversion of factories to defense plants and studied workflow to make them more productive.
Today, most readers who know anything at all about this remarkable woman know her from a pair of books by two of her children: Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes. With fine humor they describe growing up in a household with two working parents who ran studies on the most efficient way for them to shower, followed by one muddling on creatively without their father.
Private eye Maggie Sullivan uses snippets of knowledge about Gilbreth’s work in Shamus in a Skirt. What the fictional detective didn’t know was that she and Gilbreth shared one thing in common: Neither could cook.
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Here’s a recent picture of the now-deserted Arcade which usually is the locale of at least one scene in most of the Maggie Sullivan mysteries. You’ll enjoy the brief account of its history.
Small wonder the spot turns up in my series, what with the detective division of the Dayton police just across the street in one direction and the newspaper building where Maggie’s friend Jenkins works across the street in another. And where else could you get the equivalent of fast food in the late 1930s?
Do click the image in the link to see the dome . The round things that look like satellite dishes are…uh… turkeys.
The Arcade was still a thriving place when I was a young reporter working across the street. Of course the food stalls weren’t as numerous or the offerings as picturesque as in Maggie’s day.
Now a small commercial: Tough Cookie, second book in the Maggie Sullivan mysteries, is discounted to 99c on Amazon & other sites now through Aug. 8.