In 2007, The Plain Dealer asked a group of professional and amateur historians to name the people or families most influential in shaping Cleveland into the city we know today. Those chosen as the 25 most important (26, actually, since there was a tie for 25th place) are listed in ranked order below; others with notable influence follow in an alphabetical list. This list, edited and prepared for publication by then-Plain Dealer editorial writer Joe Frolik, was originally published in The Plain Dealer on Jan. 28, 2007.
1. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937): The Bill Gates of his day got started here and made Cleveland an early center of the oil and chemical industries. His centennial gift: 300 acres for the East Side park that bears his name.
2. Tom L. Johnson (1854-1911): Made a fortune operating streetcars, then did a political turnaround. As a three-term mayor, he advocated public ownership of utilities and made Cleveland a model of good government.
3. Samuel Mather (1851-1931) and Flora Stone Mather (1852-1909): Cleveland’s original power couple. They not only expanded their inherited wealth, they gave lavishly to churches, schools and hospitals and challenged their peers to do the same. To encourage even broader giving, Samuel started the nation’s first Community Chest (now United Way) drive.
4. Mantis J. Van Sweringen (1881-1935) and Oris P. Van Sweringen (1879-1936): These bashful bachelor brothers developed Shaker Square and Shaker Heights, built the Shaker rapid and the complex of buildings with the Terminal Tower at its core.
5. George W. Crile Sr. (1864-1943): After service as a surgeon on the battlefields of the Spanish-American War and World War I, he returned to start the Cleveland Clinic.
6. Newton D. Baker (1871-1937): As mayor, this Tom L. Johnson lieutenant helped write the home-rule section of the Ohio Constitution and started the Baker Hostetler law firm. He was secretary of war during World War I.
7. Carl B. Stokes (1927-1996): Equally at home in a boardroom or a pool hall, he rose from public housing to become a legislator, judge, ambassador and, in 1967, the first Black mayor of a major American city.
8. Jeptha Wade (1811-1890): Banker, telegraph entrepreneur and industrialist, he donated land along Doan Creek for Western Reserve University, a city park and an art museum, thus planting the seeds for University Circle.
9. Adella Prentiss Hughes (1869-1950): A talented musician who in1915 founded the Cleveland Orchestra, still the city’s premier cultural asset.
10. Frederick H. Goff (1858-1923): Built Cleveland Trust into the region’s dominant bank and started the Cleveland Foundation, a national model of community philanthropy.
11. Alfred Kelley (1789-1859): Banker and politician, he spearheaded construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal.
12. Marcus A. Hanna (1837-1904): Leveraged his shipping and railroad fortune into political power. Ran the presidential campaigns of Canton’s William McKinley and served in the U.S. Senate.
13. Leonard Case Jr. (1820-1880): His donations started the university that now bears his name. Early backer of the Cleveland Library Association, a forerunner of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Western Reserve Historical Society.
14. William Stinchcomb (1878-1959): Visionary county engineer, not only proposed the Emerald Necklace, he lobbied for a Metroparks levy to buy land, then used Civilian Conservation Corps labor during the Depression to build its infrastructure.
15. Henry Chisholm (1822-1881): Scottish immigrant who used technology and managment to make Cleveland a national center of steel-making.
16. Charles F. Brush (1849-1929): His arc light illuminated Public Square in 1879, and within a few years was in use throughout the world. Brush Electric Light & Power Co. later merged with Thomas Edison’s firm to form General Electric.
17. Frank J. Lausche (1895-1990): Son of Slovenian immigrants, he became Cleveland’s first mayor of Eastern European descent and paved the way for politicians with names like Perk, Voinovich and Kucinich. Also served as governor and U.S. senator.
18. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963): Internationally known Zionist, helped found Israel. Led Temple-Tifereth Israel, the country’s largest Reform congregation, and was active in both Jewish philanthropy and economic reform movements.
19. Louis B. Seltzer (1897-1980): As editor of The Cleveland Press for 38 years, he set the city’s political and civic agenda. Nothing happened at City Hall without a nod from this pocket-sized man with oversized clout.
20. Alexander Winton (1860-1932): Successful bicycle-maker with a flair for promotion, he helped popularize the automobile. His 1898 Winton was the first American-made gasoline-powered car. Sold his company to General Motors in 1930.
21. Russell Jeliffe (1891-1980) and Rowena Jeliffe: Oberlin-educated social workers founded Karamu, a biracial settlement house that won national acclaim for its arts programs. Also helped start the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland Community Relations Board.
22. Frederick Crawford (1891-1994): Founder of what became TRW Inc., a collector of vintage automobiles and founder of the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum. Was instrumental in bringing the NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center to Cleveland.
23. Frances Payne Bolton (1885-1977): Philanthropist and prominent member of Congress for 29 years, Bolton lobbied to create the Army School of Nursing and endowed the nursing school at Western Reserve University.
24. Belle Sherwin (1868-1955): Suffragette daughter of a Sherwin-Williams Co. founder, she devoted herself to social and political reform. Founded the Women’s City Club and led National League of Women Voters.
25. (tie) Rebecca Rouse (1799-1887): Was already a zealous religious and social reformer when she organized the Ladies Aid Society in 1861 to serve northern Ohio soldiers and their families during the Civil War. It laid the groundwork for the Red Cross.
25. (tie) George Gund (1888-1966): Turned Cleveland Trust into a giant banking company and started the George Gund Foundation. In 1983, his sons Gordon and George rescued the Cavaliers basketball team from the edge of disaster.
Others, in alphabetical order:
Florence Ellinwood Allen: Prominent suffragette; first woman on Cuyahoga Common Pleas and Ohio Supreme courts.
Ernest Bohn: His efforts on housing for the poor earned him the reputation as the father of U.S. public housing.
Paul Brown: Led Cleveland to seven pro football championships,1946-55.
Daniel Burnham: A century later, his Mall Plan still impacts almost everything downtown.
Lorenzo Carter: Cleveland’s first permanent settler; until 1800, the Carters were Cleveland’s only white family.
Moses Cleaveland: Founded the city that bears his name; returned to Connecticut.
Linda Eastman: Made the Cleveland Public Library one of the nation’s best.
George Forbes: One of the most powerful politicians in Cleveland history; as council president, he dominated government under three mayors.
Dorothy Fuldheim: Broadcast pioneer; started with WEWS Channel 5 in 1947 and stayed until 1984, when she was 91.
Rabbi Moses Gries: One of the country’s most influential rabbis, he also started the Citizens League.
Leonard Hanna Jr.: Heir to a shipping fortune and Marcus’ nephew; put his energy and checkbook behind a long list of civic and cultural activities.
Max Hayes: Union printer; launched the Cleveland Citizen newspaper in 1891; became a national voice of labor and socialist movements.
Liberty Holden: Made The Plain Dealer the city’s dominant morning paper. Family wealth later created one of the largest U.S. arboretums.
Richard Jacobs: Under this developer’s ownership, the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians) made the World Series twice in the 1990s and woke a sleeping fan base.
Martin A. Marks: Businessman; started forerunner of the Jewish Community Federation.
Sam Miller: Confidant of mayors and prime ministers; Forest City co-chairman masterminded the company’s explosive growth in suburban home-building.
Jesse Owens: Sprinter from East Tech; dashed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Olympics.
Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe: Cleveland’s first Catholic bishop; recruited priests and nuns from Europe and built churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals.
Ratner family: Leonard, Max, Charles, Fannye and Dora arrived from Poland and entered the lumber business. Then came construction, development and philanthropy, a heritage their descendants, notably Albert, Chuck and James, continue.
Jacob Sapirstein: Polish immigrant; started American Greetings with $50 in 1905.
Bishop Joseph Schrembs: Cleveland’s fifth Catholic bishop; expanded charity work; used radio to evangelize.
Amasa Stone: Rail mogul; gave money to Western Reserve University to start Adelbert College in memory of his late son.
George Szell: In 34 years as musical director, this stern taskmaster from Vienna cemented the Cleveland Orchestra’s international reputation.