Canton, Ohio was founded in 1805 by Bezaleel Wells. Canton is the county seat of Stark County and is situated on the West and Middle Branches of the Nimishillen Creek. Although Canton was first founded in 1805, it was not incorporated as a village until 1822. Canton became an incorporated city in 1854.
The town was named after Canton, China by Mr. Wells. The name was a memorial to a trader named John O’Donnell, whom Wells admired. O’Donnell had named his Maryland plantation after the Chinese city, as he had been the first person to transport goods from there to Baltimore. Upon hearing of Captain O’Donnell’s death, Bezaleel Wells honored him by naming his newly recorded plat of land, Canton.
Only 300 people resided in Canton in 1815. One disadvantage to living in Canton was the distance from established transportation routes.
In the late 1820’s, even though an offer was made to route the Ohio-Erie Canal through the city, the residents believed the stagnant water would bring disease and rejected the idea. As a result of that decision the canal was built through nearby Massillon. Ironically, the health of the Massillon residents improved due to the draining of nearby swamps into the canal.
The city officials also rejected an offer to build a railroad track through Canton. They had been asked by the Cleveland and Pittsburgh Railroad to pledge $10,000 to the rail’s construction. The administrators believed the railway would eventually be routed through Canton and declined. However, the railroad was routed through Alliance, Ohio which helped that city to thrive.
Canton was the home of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States. He served at president from March 1897 to September 1901. He died on September 14, 1901 after being shot by an assassin during a speech in Buffalo, New York eight days before. McKinley was the second president from Ohio to be assassinated. He was also the third president from Ohio not to survive his term in office.
Canton developed into an important agricultural and industrial center. During the years before and after the American Civil War, Canton, as well as Akron, emerged as leading agricultural implement manufacturers. Machinery produced in Canton’s factories was shipped across the world.
Watch making was instrumental to Canton’s growth during the 1880’s. The two main watch producers in Canton were Hampden Watch Manufacturing Company and the Dueber Watch Case Company. In 1890, these two companies employed over 2,300 people, roughly ten percent of Canton’s population.
The population doubled between 1880 and 1890 to 26,337. Today the population is roughly 78,000. Canton’s population first broke 100,000 in 1930 and it’s peak population of 116,912 was reached in 1950. It has been declining ever since.
Canton emerged as on of Ohio’s most important industrial centers but experienced some difficult times following the end of World War II. After the decline of heavy manufacturing, the city’s industry has since diversified into the service economy, including retailing, education, financial, and healthcare sectors. Dairy farms and poultry farms also continue to flourish.
A small tourism industry also exists in the city, due primarily to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. In 1920, organizers founded the first professional football league in the city. In honor of this event, the National Football League authorized the Hall of Fame to be located in the city.
Three of Canton’s most important businesses in the twentieth century were the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company, Diebold and the Timken Company. Diebold was principally a manufacturer of security devices but is also known for it’s automated teller machines (ATM’s). The Timken Co. has historically been a bearing manufacturer but has since expanded into the technology sector.