The city of Dayton was founded in 1796 by a group of just 12 settlers who decided to start a settlement along the Great Miami River where its three tributaries met. Since then, the city has grown to over 140,000 people as of 2017, and it is now a thriving hub of business and community life. Dayton is the state of Ohio’s sixth-largest city.
In 1859, when Abraham Lincoln came to town, Dayton was still a fairly new city, having only received its official city charter in 1841. It was connected to Cincinnati by a major road, which helped spur the development of industry and investment in the city. Lincoln’s speech on the old courthouse’s steps was a highlight of the campaign season when he came to town.
After the Civil War had ended and Daytonians were able to resume regular life, the city started to attract businessmen, inventors, and others who were eager to take the benefits of the industrial revolution and use them for good. Dayton is the home of many patents issued during this period, as Dayton’s inventors busily churned out new tools and machines to make life easier for average Americans.
In the 20th century, Dayton became a hub of manufacturing and industry. Chemicals, machinery, appliances, automobiles, and other consumer goods were made here and transported around the world for sale. With the decline of heavy manufacturing in the late 20th century, though, Dayton’s fortunes also declined.
Today, like much of the United States, Dayton has a primarily service-based economy. The physical city would likely be unrecognizable to Lincoln, but he would still recognize the spirit of its residents: hospitable, egalitarian, devoted to justice and liberty.
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