I. Early Days - "To such men as the late Grafton M. Acklin is the city of Toledo indebted for its prominence in the industrial world.." -The Story of the Maumee Valley, 1929.


C. The Family and Early Business

Grafton Acklin's business success had allowed his children to lead a fairly affluent lifestyle. The family lived in the fashionable West End neighborhood of Toledo, a community of extravagant Victorian homes. And as was common for the sons of midwestern industrialists, all three Acklin sons received an east-coast, Ivy League education at Cornell University. James, the oldest, was born in 1884, and graduated college in 1906. For several years following his graduation James worked with his father at the Toledo Machine and Tool Company. William, the youngest was born in 1888, graduated Cornell in 1910 and worked as a clerk at the Northern National Bank. Donald, the middle child, born in 1886, although nominally interested in the company's business was more interested in horses and horse racing, also serving on the state Board of Agriculture.

Soin the spring of 1911, Grafton Acklin, his sons, and Jerry Bingham, an outside investor, pulled together enough capital to found the Acklin Stamping Company. Grafton was the company's president, while James and Donald became Acklin Stamping's vice presidents. The younger William was named the firm's secretary and treasurer. They opened up shop on the 1100 block of Dorr Street, using presses purchased mainly from Grafton's former company, the Toledo Machine and Tool company. It was from these beginnings that Acklin sprang.

Drawing upon his extensive industrial business experience gained through his tenure at the Toledo Machine and Tool company, Grafton Acklin's leadership quickly proved effective. Grafton's contacts in the metal working industry as well as his strong sales and marketing ability allowed Acklin Stamping to grow considerably in a fairly short period of time.

Picking up on the rising demand for automotive products, Acklin Stamping landed a job producing steel steering wheel spiders for automobiles. They received production rights for an exclusive patent held by the Beck Frost Corporation and then supplied those steering wheel parts to the Willys-Overland Company for use in a variety of automobile lines.

Asa job stamping plant, Acklin Stamping could hardly expect Willys-Overland alone to support them. In order to stay competitive, Acklin Stamping produced a wide variety of stampings for a large number of companies. At one point, the Ohio Gas Company asked Acklin Stamping to create a display case in which they could show off canisters of their oil at gas stations. Acklin Stamping agreed and stamped several thousand of them. After a brief trial, it was clear they weren't working out and the order dried up as quickly as it came.

This shifting of production was fairly common. Without any one major customer, Acklin Stamping stamped an assortment of products during its early years including an order for muffler caps used in motorcycle engines. At the same time they stamped everything from pulleys used in window sashes to metal vending machines used for dispensing Wrigley's gum and other candies. They stamped fuse socket holders and push lawn mowers, as well as metal splicers used in the repair of trolley car poles.

Inthe spring of 1917, when America declared war on Germany, beginning America's involvement in the first World War, Acklin was ready. The plant quickly shifted into the production of food containers, ammunition, and parts for Quartermaster trucks. By the time the war ended, Acklin had 125 presses, the largest of which was a 500 ton press, able to apply 500 tons of pressure to a single sheet of steel. The plant, then located in the 1600 block of Dorr Street at the corner of Woodland Avenue, shifted its production back to civilian goods.

By1925 the company's nearly 300 employees had outgrown the facilities of the 40,000 square foot Dorr Street plant and plans were made to build a new factory, this time on Nebraska Avenue. The new plant, built by the Toledo architectural firm of Langdon and Hohly, when constructed was nearly 90,000 square feet in size and was connected to the New York Central railroad. The new plant allowed Acklin to employ nearly 500 employees over the next year, cementing their role as one of the largest job-stamping plants in Ohio and the nation.

Following Grafton Acklin's death in early 1926 the company remained in the Acklin families' hands. James Acklin, formerly Vice President of the company stepped up to the presidency. James maintained the company's steady and substantial growth through the last half of the 1920s, and with a steady hand on the company's rudder, managed to weather the storm of the Great Depression.

But unfortunately, just as Acklin's business and the country's economy were beginning to recover under Roosevelt's New Deal, tragedy struck the Acklin family in a painfully quick series of blows. In 1931, Donald Acklin, 44 years old, closed the doors of his garage, a building that formerly housed his prized horses, and turned the cars ignition. Although the resulting death by carbon monoxide poisoning was ruled an accident, many indications point to it being a suicide.

Five years later, in 1936, at the age of 52, James Acklin was driving to Florida to visit his mother-in-law. Her daughter and James's wife of 14 years had passed away five months earlier. Outside of Lexington, Kentucky James's car struck a curb, skidded across the road and into a telephone pole. His death was instantaneous.

Following James's death, the only suviving Acklin, William Acklin, ran the company without incident until 1939. William had suffered injuries during his tenure as a captain in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and these injuries eventually became a lingering illness that led to his death. As a result he took an ever decreasing role in the firms actual management, allowing other executives to gain valuable leadership experience easing the transition of power.

Following William Acklin's death the company's holdings were smoothly transferred out of the Acklin family, marking the end of an era. Three Acklin executives, F.C. Greenhill, A.E. Seeman, and Frank Graper, divided the company between them. Frank Graper picked up where William left off, retaining the company's family name, and continuing its policies of promotion from within and respect and care for its employees, while Greenhill and Seeman remained in their respective executive positions.

View Down Collingwood Avenue in the Old West End in 1907.  Found in an exhibit on the Toledo's Attic Web Page.

View down Collingwood Avenue in the Old West End, c. 1907.

 

 

 

Acklin's Dorr Street Plant, home since 1911, up for sale in 1925.

 

 

 


Producing steering wheel spiders for Willys-Overland, c. 1913

 

 

 

World War I Production

World War I Production.

 

 

 

Machine Shop at Acklin's original Dorr Street Location. Before 1925.

 

 

 

Acklin Stamping Plant, late 1930s.

 

 

 

James Acklin

 

 

 

Donald Acklin

 

 

 

William Acklin


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Last Updated: 1/3/12