When asked how Dayton, Ohio was dubbed, “The Gem City,” very few can retrieve the origins. Some believe it was based on a well-known racehorse named, Gem. However, after digging through old articles and piecing things together, I am hoping I have come to a possible conclusion.
On August 18th, 1845, a reporter, simply known as “T,” offered a tribute to Dayton, Ohio in the CINCINNATI DAILY CHRONICLE. Reprinted in THE DAYTON DAILY NEWS, August 23rd, 2015, Cassidy Boyer shared the CHRONICLE’s description of Dayton:
“The most indifferent observer will not fail to notice Dayton. The wide streets, kept in excellent order, the noble blocks of stores filled with choice, and of course, cheap goods, and more than all, the exceeding beauty and neatness of the dwellings, you at once mark with a ‘white stone,’ in a small bend of the Great Miami River, with canals on the east and south, it may be fairly said that Dayton is the gem of all our interior towns, it possesses wealth, refinement, enterprise, and a beautiful country.”CINCINNATI DAILY CHRONICLE, August 23, 1845
Later in the decade, Major William D. Beckham of THE DAYTON DAILY JOURNAL began a campaign to nickname Dayton “The Gem City.” So far, I’ve not discovered any research acknowledging Beckham’s choice for the nickname but Dayton’s Board of Trade commission voted in favor of the nickname a few years later.
Some have believed “The Gem City” was crowned by Dayton’s own poet laureate, Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem, “Toast to Dayton.”
“She shall ever claim our duty, For she shines – the brightest gem That has ever decked with beauty, Dear Ohio’s diadem.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar died in 1906, and “Toast of Dayton” was not published until 1917; therefore, we’re still drawn back to the 1845 CINCINNATI DAILY CHONRINCLE article and Major Beckham’s appeal to nickname Dayton a few years later.
While Dayton has been titled “The Birthplace of Aviation,” and “Little Detroit” during its heyday in automobile manufacturing, “Gem City” has been a long-lived and appropriate title for a city and region that has given so much to the world.