One hundred years ago, Clevelander Garrett Morgan installed the world's first electric traffic light in a Cleveland intersection. The signs which flashed "stop" and "go" signaled the end of one time and the beginning of another. What Morgan installed at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street was just one of a series of events in a decade that has not been duplicated in Cleveland.
It was the time period 1910 to 1920. Cleveland's population is booming as the city is stretching toward nearly 800,000 residents. Cleveland is growing from sixth to fifth largest city in the U.S. Part of the fuel spurring the city is the financial giving of many of the city's millionaires.
"There is improvement; there's discussion; there's progressive vision all over the city," said John Grabowski, senior vice president of Cleveland History Center's Western Reserve Historical Society. The progressive vision included financial donations to begin many of the city's cultural, social, medical, and educational institutions.
"In 1914, the Frederick Goff starts the Cleveland Foundation," said Grabowski. "In 1915 and you're looking at the birth of the Cleveland Play House and what becomes the Karamu House," he added. "The next year, 1916, the Cleveland Museum of Art opens its doors to the public."
During the ten years leading to 1920, Cleveland has established itself as a key city in the nation. Growing from the financial donations of many industrial tycoons who lived in the city grew the Cleveland Orchestra, the forerunner of the Cleveland Metroparks, the Urban League, and the NAACP.
Still, there is poverty in the growing community. Several settlement houses were established by philanthropic giving to help the swelling numbers of Eastern European immigrants find stronger footing in their new country. As well, American blacks, part of what is called the Great Migration, are leaving he segregated South for better opportunities in the industrial North. They, too, will benefit from the giving of dollars, many of which come from the wealthiest of citizens living in Cleveland.
"In some respects, Cleveland seemed to be the center of the universe," said Grabowski.
So much grew from those times in Cleveland. Other beginnings were: Cleveland Clinic, the forerunner of United Way, City Club. In the same period, East Cleveland grants women the right to vote (four years before the rest of the nation does so), and annexed into Cleveland were the village of Nottingham and the community of Collinwood.
Much of what the philanthropists helped begin still exists today.