Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, a Toledo legacy remembered

Lou Hebert

This week marks 120 years since the loss of Samuel Milton Jones in 1904. A Toledo mayor unlike any other. He was known as the “Golden Rule” mayor. That's because the Golden Rule was his creed. In business, personal life and politics. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Simple, but effective. Also confounding and frustrating for his enemies, of which he had some.
But when he passed away at the age of 57, his admirers far out-numbered his adversaries for, Jones had earned considerable love for his unwavering belief in the strength and dignity of the working class.
Born and raised as the son of a poor coal miner in Wales, he would later become wealthy in the burgeoning U.S. oil industry, although he never forgot where he came from.
As Toledo's mayor, he enacted a variety of popular programs and also put them into place at his own oil equipment company factory in Toledo. The eight-hour work day, a better than average hourly wage, overtime pay, a daycare center so wives and mothers could get some time off, vacation pay, sick time, and he even built a park for his workers and pushed for Toledo's beautiful parks still enjoyed today.
He also believed the root of most crime was not born of evil but poverty. That people just need jobs and decent wages to feed their families.
He also felt strongly that too many people were behind bars merely because of their station in life, not because they were bad people. So, when as mayor he was able to preside as a judge on Toledo's police court, most petty non-violent criminals would go free. Naturally he was accused of being too lenient and tolerating “moral” crimes such as public drinking and prostitution. He was not as lenient with violent gun offenders as he hated firearms.
His approach to governance was a part of a growing progressive reform movement in the United States and he was a leader among the reformers. A panel of scholars in 1993 named Jones as one of the top five mayors of all-time in America.
A bit of an eccentric, his character traits would become part of his personal lore, such as his penchant for running to work alongside the streetcars in the morning (before running was cool), or taking breaks for calisthenics, or standing on his head while holding meetings and encouraging others to do likewise.
Jones was not conventional. More a contradiction. A self-made millionaire in the oil business, one who espoused strong Christian teachings of compassion and generosity. His rivals cast him as a crazy socialist and so disgruntled with his municipal reform efforts, in 1900, he lost the endorsement of the Republican Party. He didn't need it. As an Independent, he won two more elections. The voters loved him.
In his final days in 1904, as he lay dying at his Old West End home of heart failure, a somber vigil was kept by thousands of Toledo citizens as hope faded. On July the 9th, a newspaper account said he had lost considerable weight, his “body emaciated and his face was hollow”.
The next day, the papers reported he had a pulse of 140 and temperature of 104. Surgeons would try to drain some fluid from his brain to help him. It didn't. In his final hours, he sent thanks to all who had sent flowers and cards. He said “How can I fail to get well with so much love pouring upon me?”
By the 11th, Mayor Jones was reported to be in the “shadow of death.”
Visitors at the home were seen leaving with “heads bowed and heavy hearts.” Jones's front porch was filled with city leaders who sat in mournful silence. At 5:07 p.m. on the afternoon of the 12th, Mayor Jones breathed his last.
The news was a profound shock and the entire city went into mourning. Reported by the News Bee that “eyes unaccustomed to tears were wet.” Citizens of all creeds and classes, from all walks and stations of life, paid their tributes. Flags were lowered to half staff, black crepe and dark bunting was displayed on homes, business and boats in the harbor.
Robert Finch, the vice mayor, who lived in East Toledo, was sworn in as the new mayor.
Jones' remains were taken to lie in state at Memorial Hall in downtown Toledo. For the next two days, 55,000 mourners passed by his casket, framed by the thousands of floral offerings. At the foot of the casket was a chair with a dove made of flowers, at the head of the casket, a floral arrangement depicting a harp with a broken string.
Mourners followed the horse-drawn hearse from Memorial Hall to his home for the funeral, held on the front porch as Toledo said goodbye.
Jones' body was taken to Woodlawn Cemetery for burial where, 120 years later, he lies at rest today while many of his ideas and reforms remain at work.
Samuel”Golden Rule” Jones; no ordinary mayor. No ordinary man.


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