From Ohio History Central
John R. Buchtel was born on January 18, 1820, in Stark County, Ohio. He spent his earlier years working on his parents' farm. He received limited schooling and purportedly could barely spell his name by the time that he turned twenty-one years old.
Despite his lack of education, Buchtel became a prosperous businessman. He first engaged in farming, owning several farms in Stark County, including one that encompassed more than one thousand acres of land. He also became involved in the lumber industry, harvesting timber on his farmland. During the early 1860s, Buchtel expanded his landholdings, purchasing additional farmland in Indiana.
In 1863, Buchtel became an employee of Ball, Aultman, and Company, a farm machinery manufacturing firm in Canton, Ohio. He convinced this company's owners to build a second plant in Akron, Ohio. The new facility became known as the Buckeye Mower and Reaper Company. Buchtel served as Buckeye Mower's first president, and under his leadership, the Buckeye Mower and Reaper Company separated from Ball, Aultman, and Company, becoming an independent firm. The Buckeye Mower and Reaper Company grew quickly. Situated in Akron, along canals and railroads, the Buckeye Mower and Reaper Company had easy access to raw materials and could ship its products all over the world with relative ease.
Buchtel soon expanded his economic interests. During the 1870s, he became the general manager of the Akron Iron Company. This firm owned approximately two thousand acres of land in the Hocking Valley that were rich with coal and iron ore. Buchtel assumed responsibility for developing this land, establishing an iron furnace in the area in 1877.
The town of Buchtel quickly grew around the iron furnace to provide workers with housing. By late 1877, thirty-five buildings existed in the town, where no town had existed just one year before. These structures housed seventy families. Almost two hundred workers called Buchtel home. By 1880, 470 people resided in the town. Roughly sixty of these residents worked in the Akron Iron Company's coal mines, while another fifty-four worked primarily at the iron furnace. John Buchtel donated land for a community cemetery and two additional parcels for churches. He also contributed financial support for several fraternal organizations. He provided the community with three thousand dollars from his personal finances to build a public school building. Most interestingly, Buchtel appears to have allowed several chapters of the Knights of Labor, a union, to operate in the community. Buchtel's tolerance towards the Knights of Labor was uncommon among most business owners during the late nineteenth century.
Relations between the management and the employees of the Akron Iron Company changed in 1883, when the Akron Iron Company merged with several other firms, creating the Columbus and Hocking Coal and Iron Company. Buchtel served as one of this organization's vice presidents. In the spring of 1884, the management of the Columbus and Hocking Coal and Iron Company decided to reduce workers' wages by twenty cents. It was accepted policy during the spring and summer months for workers to receive a ten-cent decrease for every ton of coal that they mined. The principal reason for this was the lower demand for coal during this time of the year. The twenty-cent wage cut lowered workers' pay from eighty cents to just sixty cents per ton of mined coal. The workers rejected the twenty-cent pay cut. The Columbus and Hocking Coal and Iron Company managers implemented the wage reduction against the workers' wishes, precipitating the Great Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884-1885.
Buchtel was forced to side with management. He appears to have sympathized heavily with the workers. Before the strike, Buchtel had encouraged the company to only cut workers' wages by the standard ten cents. He also donated ten dollars to the local union to provide assistance to either unemployed or underemployed miners. The strike ended in 1885, when prices and demand for coal increased and the workers acquiesced to the employers' terms.
Beyond his economic pursuits, Buchtel also became involved in politics. Politically, he favored the Republican Party. He had strongly opposed slavery, although he was never an active abolitionist. He opposed drinking, especially among his workers, although he never banned alcohol from his mining camps. Buchtel did run for Ohio Secretary of State at one point as the nominee of the Prohibition Party.
Buchtel was well known for his philanthropy. In 1867, he donated thirty-one thousand dollars to the construction of a college in Akron. It was named Buchtel College in honor of its primary benefactor. This institution became the University of Akron in 1913. Buchtel commonly paid the tuition of needy students or provided them with free room and board. He also donated funds to the Akron Library Association and served on the board of trustees of both Buchtel College and of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College.
Buchtel suffered a stroke in 1887, leaving him crippled and unable to continue most of his various duties. He died on May 23, 1892.
- Great Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884-1885
- Buchtel College
- Canton, Ohio
- Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College
- University of Akron
- Buckeye Mower and Reaper Company
- Knights of Labor
- Prohibition Party
- Republican Party
- Akron, Ohio
- Columbus, Ohio
- Stark County
- Akron Iron Company
- Columbus and Hocking Coal and Iron Company
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