NCR, Antitrust, and the 1913 Dayton Flood
***The Antitrust Case Against NCR***
Beginning in 1912, several dramatic events in the history of both NCR and the Dayton community brought several long-standing issues to a head, and then resolved them (for the time being.) The federal government put NCR on trial in federal court in Cincinnati on charges of conspiring to destroy unfairly competition in the cash register market and to create an unlawful monopoly. In February, 1913 a jury found the company guilty as charged, but the conviction was overturned on certain technicalities two years later. The case was not retried; instead, NCR and the government settled out of court, and the company agreed to refrain from certain business practices. NCR would remain very profitable and successful with its electromechanical products (cash registers and accounting machines) for about the next 50 years.
On the heels of NCR's antitrust conviction, the great Dayton flood of March, 1913 caused terrible destruction of property and loss of life in the central business district and surrounding residential neighborhoods. It also allowed John H. Patterson to be the community's savior and hero. On high ground out of flood danger, the NCR factory complex quickly became the center of relief operations for much of the city, and Patterson the man who assumed leadership in the hour of crisis. NCR's carpentry crews began constructing simple flat-bottomed boats, almost 300, that were used to save thousands of Daytonians trapped on roofs and upper floors. Those rescued converged on the safe and dry factory buildings where food, shelter, and dry clothing awaited them. An emergency hospital set up in the headquarters building treated cases of hypothermia, broken limbs, and severe burns (from fires caused by natural gas explosions.) Accolades for Patterson began to pour in. The Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times editorialized on April 13: "Mr. Patterson may technically be a convict, but at heart he is a man who loves his kind and whose conduct shames the spirit that cries out for his incarceration."
Patterson chaired a citizens's commission which led to the creation of Miami Conservancy District. This special-purpose government agency built a series of five dams on rivers and streams in the Miami Valley. Their innovative design, which did not require the creation of artificial lakes and impounded water only in times of major flooding, was the work of Arthur Morgan, who later went on to be president of Antioch College and the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Never since has the city of Dayton and surrounding suburbs faced the threat of flood damage.
In August, 1913 Dayton voters went to the polls and approved a commission-manager form of government for the city, another of John H. Patterson's long-cherished goals. Dayton was the first large city to adopt this "progressive" form of urban government, and many others followed suit. It replaced a large city council representing specific wards, and a strong mayor, both elected on a partisan political basis, with a (supposedly) "non-partisan" commission of only five members, all elected at-large. The mayor was merely a ceremonial title given to one of the five commissioners. The commission hired an professional "city manger" to administer the day-to-day operations of city government, serving at the pleasure of the commission.
One other result of the 1913 flood was that Dayton's upper class largely abandoned its downtown residences for the higher ground to the south, where Patterson had already built his summer home, "Far Hills." In time this would become the suburb of Oakwood, the first of several such communities. While the middle class mostly remained inside the city of Dayton for another generation or so, the outlines of the later divided metropolis could already be seen in these developments.