30 April 2013

The Dayton (OH) Flood -- one example of a devastating natural disaster -- part of a collection of then and now images from natural disasters

134 West Fourth, 1913
Image provided by Jeff Satterly and used with his permission


The week of March 21st through March 26th marks the anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit the United States. It was during this week 100 years ago, in the year 1913, that a system of ravaging storms swept across the American Midwest and parts of New England. The storms brought with them high-speed winds and torrential rains, causing tornadoes and massive flooding. By the time the storms had passed through the area, they had caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage. The week of storms killed hundreds of people and left thousands more homeless.

Oversaturated watersheds like the Greater Miami in Ohio swelled with rain water, and their runoff filled the streams and rivers of the Midwest to overflowing. The intense pressure of the rising waters broke through dams, bridges and levees as if they were twigs. The raging flood waters swallowed entire towns and cities, and left parts of Dayton, Ohio in water up to 20 feet deep by March 26th, 1913.

One individual whose story is tied in inextricably with the events of 1913 was James Cox, who would eventually found one of America’s most powerful media empires.

134 West Fourth, today
Image provided by Jeff Satterly and used with his permission
Born on March 21, 1870 in Jacksonburg, Ohio, James M. Cox remained in Ohio throughout his childhood and adolescence. He passed the teachers’ examination after having completed just two years of high school. At the age of 28, having established his teaching career, Cox became the owner and publisher of the Dayton Daily News. He made yet another career switch in 1909, winning a House seat as a representative of Ohio. Cox would maintain his position in the House until being elected Governor of Ohio in January of 1913.

When the Dayton flood occurred, Governor Cox was faced with one of the biggest natural disasters ever to hit the United States. After only three months in office, Governor Cox was faced with one of the biggest natural disasters ever to hit the United States. During the week of March 21st-27th, 1913, Ohio was hit with tremendous storms. Cox’s competent handling of the storms’ aftermath earned him support and admiration. Governor Cox received minute by minute updates from the only working telephone line in Dayton. Fully aware of the gravity of the situation, Cox wasted no time in getting aid to the victims of the flood. By the next morning Cox had turned off the natural gas in Dayton to avoid fires, dispatched the Ohio National Guard to the city, appealed to the Ohio Legislature for $250,000 in aid, and telegraphed President Woodrow Wilson asking for federal aid for his citizens.

Cox’s display of dedication to the people, as well as strength in his convictions, garnered him enough national attention to join the 1920 race for President of the United States, with Franklin Roosevelt as his running mate. Though he was not elected President, Cox’s media empire –founded in the years following the election – enjoyed much success. Cox Enterprises remains a multi-billion dollar media company to this day. Cox died on July 15, 1957 at the age of 87, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, leaving behind his wife, two children and ex-wife.

Fourth and Main, 1913
Image provided by Jeff Satterly and used with his permission
The Great Dayton Flood finally came to an end on the 26th of March. By the time the flood was over, the city of Dayton had suffered widespread and significant damage, and the city's population had been hit with numerous deaths and displacements. 14 square miles of the city were now covered with a blanket of water, and some 20,000 homes had been completely destroyed. In all, the flood ended up costing the city of Dayton nearly $100 million worth of damage, a sizable sum which would amount to a whopping $2 billion in today's dollars. More than 360 people had been killed in the flood, and an estimated 65,000 people were left homeless. It took the city more than a year to completely clean up the damage, and it was over a decade before Dayton’s economy returned to the levels it enjoyed before the flood hit.

Thanks so much to Upfront with NGS for letting us share a piece of this historical project. We’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!

Fourth and Main, today
Image provided by Jeff Satterly and used with his permission
We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell. The amount of history compiled at these two websites is truly amazing. Lastly, thanks to Jason from InsuranceTown.com, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.

Don’t forget to check out HistoricNaturalDisasters.com for more images and for information on our Mapping History Contest – help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!

Editor’s Note: Upfront with NGS has previously written about the value of photographs, the overlay of historic and modern images and the value of researching disasters that might have impacted our ancestors.

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