The automotive industry has long been a major part of Toledo’s identity. In the midst of ongoing labor unrest in the city and across the nation, explore the history of the industry in Toledo through historical photographs. Cover image depicts an aerial view of the Libbey-Owens-Ford complex in the 1960s and is courtesy of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library via Ohio Memory.
In 1900, the first Toledo-built car was completed at the Lozier Motor Company factory. This vehicle ran on steam and had only two seats, but it began a legacy of Toledo automotive manufacturing that would have global impact for decades to come. The city has hosted strikes that shook a nation, produced Jeeps that turned the tide of war and in recent years served as a hotbed for innovation and labor movements.
In the 1920s, Willys-Overland was the city’s largest employer and produced more cars than every other American car company except Ford. After this period of prosperity automotive workers suffered economic hardships during the Great Depression, but they also made great gains in labor rights. The Auto-Lite Strike in the spring of 1934 gained national attention as thousands of workers across the city struck against unfair labor practices. The National Guard was called in, and two civilians died in the ensuing violence. Ultimately, the striking workers succeeded in signing a deal with Auto-Lite that June, complete with union recognition, a pay raise and improved conditions.
World War II brought about a rise in auto manufacturing for Toledo, as Jeeps were produced as a universal military vehicle and then marketed to civilians post-war. But the victory streak didn’t last forever; slowly, Toledo succumbed to the Rust Belt era. A period of economic decline battered the region in the 1970s as auto manufacturers relocated their production processes to other areas. Deindustrialization hurt Toledo, and automotive unemployment levels rose.
With support from the U.S. government following the 2008 financial crisis, the auto industry regained its economic traction. Although the city’s manufacturing industry is not as strong as it once was, a handful of plants remain in operation as remnants of the peak of Toledo’s automotive history. These include automotive parts manufacturing plants for General Motors, Dana Incorporated, Egelhof Controls, Faurecia, Clarios, Metal Forming & Coining and Acme Specialty Manufacturing.
As of September 2023, Stellantis’ Toledo Assembly Complex currently produces the Jeep Gladiator and Wrangler, employing 5,506 workers in the process. Employees at Toledo’s Stellantis joined workers in Wayne, Michigan, and Wentzville, Missouri, as the first wave of the 2023 UAW strikes against Stellantis, General Motors and Ford.
Explore a century of Toledo’s automotive industry history through the chronology of photographs below, featuring plants belonging to Lozier Manufacturing, Old Pope, Bliss Auto Sales, Electric Auto-Lite, Libbey-Owens-Ford, Doehler-Jarvis and Willys-Overland.
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