Ted and Becky Campbell recently shared a photocopy of an article written about 1963 (in the article (Kruschev was premier, and Arthur Morgan’s age was given as 85) giving a profile of Yellow Springs at the time and written by Martha Duncan, a resident who had some professional writing success.
The article’s source is unknown (although it appears to be some sort of magazine), as is the illustrator providing the sketches. There is also a small chunk torn away from the last page. If anyone knows the magazine from which it came or can provide the missing words, it would be most helpful.
Which qualities have we lost since the article was printed, and which have we retained? Are there any lessons to be derived?
I live in the contrariest town in America, and love it. So do most of the other 4,365 citizens of Yellow Springs, Ohio, where the offbeat is ordinary, the customary is always challenged, and controversy is the principal amusement.
In Yellow Springs, you never know what is going to cause the next civic explosion, but you can be sure you won’t have to wait long to find out, and that the ensuing fracas will be absurdly satisfying to all concerned. Ours is a town where concern is felt about every public issue, where all shades of opinion thrive and where an incredible 90 per cent of the citizens vote.
Our townspeople are vigorously opinionated on every subject from garbage collection schedules to ban-the-bomb negotiations, and they never hesitate to let everybody, including the President of the United States and Premier Kruschev, have the benefit of their advice. Throw out a provocative idea along Main Street and somebody will likely form a picket line to denounce you as a menace; somebody else will call a mass meeting to praise your wisdom, and a third party will write a letter to our weekly newspaper stoutly defending your right to express your ideas, no matter how nutty.
Yellow Springs looks about like any other overgrown rural crossroads among the cornfields, pastures and woodlands of Ohio. Our village fathers never offered a penny’s worth of tax relief or a foot of land to attract new business. One freight train a day passes the empty railroad station, and a bus schedule can be found only by inquiring at the village bakery.
But our citizens have originated and developed a profusion of small industries and other businesses turning out almost 20 million dollars worth of products a year. They make synthetic rubber compounds, stained glass windows, bicycle radios, electronic stop watches, designs for better space suits.
Our village manager and five-man council pinch every tax penny and pursue rigidly conservative fiscal policies that give rise to fearful struggles over balancing the budget. Yet, in a manner that would be shockingly socialistic if it were not so profitable to taxpayers, the village buys electric power wholesale and retails it over its own transmission lines. This nets us revenue that keeps municipal accounts a lovely shade of black.
Such contrasts and contradictions are about par for the course in Yellow Springs. Our streets are so dreadful that motorists sometimes cut across vacant lots for a smoother ride. We suffer an appalling shortage of sidewalks. But Yellow Springs is one of the few places in the world where all of Shakespeare’s plays were ever produced professionally by one man. It took the noted Shakespearean producer, Arthur Lithgow, five seasons to realize his life-time dream, but they were enchanted summers for our town.
Politics? We’ve got all kinds. Our weekly paper, The Yellow Springs News, is jointly owned and harmoniously operated by a Republican, a Democrat and a Socialist. There are times when our town is described as a hotbed of radicals, but the fact is that at least half of our voters are registered Republicans and they have swept two out of the last three Presidential elections.
There’s one other contrast I would like to mention. Our citizens range from dirt farmers to old, conservative families to successful businessmen to intellectuals and on to uninhibited sculptors and artists. The density of Ph.D.’s in our population is ridiculously high, including a battalion of about 150 research scientists in fields as widely disparate as animal psychology and astrophysics.
“I never think of going out of town to hire an expert consultant,” a leading industrialist said recently. “I just pick up the telephone and call a neighbor. There’s always someone here who knows the answers to technical and scientific problems.” This has led to numerous profitable industrial innovations.
Now that I’ve given a ve ry sketchy idea of what our town is, I had better explain why it’s that way. Why, for example, is Yellow Springs besieged by people with profitable ideas?
Ask the president of Morris Bean & Co. (aluminum castings grossing five million dollars a year), or the president of Vernay Laboratories (chemical and engineering research and precision molded synthetic rubber parts, grossing 4-1/2 million dollars), or the president of Yellow Springs Instrument Co. (electronic equipment and research), and you’ll get the same answer:
“We’re here because of the college.”
“The college” is Antioch, a liberal arts institution which Professor George G. Stern of Syracuse University rated one of the top eleven in intellectual climate of 67 colleges studied in a recent survey. Stern’s criteria, including “high energy level,” “free discussion” and “community commitment,” describe Yellow Springs about as well as they describe Antioch. This similarity is no accident.
In 1921, Yellow Springs was stagnant town and Antioch, whose first president was American educator Horace Mann, found itself broke and dying. Then Arthur E. Morgan, an engineer with little formal education, became president of the college. It was just the job he wanted. He had long held two unusual theories about the development of business and intellectual life in America. The college and the town gave him tow perfect guinea pigs for testing his ideas.
Under Morgan’s guidance, the college guinea pig went to market. Believing the college years were a time for learning from life itself as well as from books, Morgan required both work and study of every student. This makes it possible today for 1,700 students, skimmed from the top rank of high school seniors in every state, to attend a college that can accommodate less than 1,000. For every student in a classroom, there is another student out in the world filling a paid job. Each quarter in the year-round schedule, some students return to classes and others go out to fill jobs of every kind in all parts of the country and sometimes (under the Education Abroad Program) in distant lands. The returning students bring a rich cargo of first-hand knowledge to be shared not only with classmates and professors but with townspeople.
To test Morgan’s second theory, the town guinea pig stayed home. But it achieved changes just as drastic as those that revived the college.
“I never agreed with the idea that a community should entice industry with tax incentives and other pay-offs,” says Morgan, who has always preferred small business to specialized big business and who is still going strong at 85 as president of Community Services, Inc., an organization concerned with every aspect of community development. “The first thing is to create the proper intellectual climate. In such an environment, new enterprises can be born, develop an economic base for the town and attract other creative elements which will make the town thrive both economically and culturally. Modern technology opens up a great field for development of new industries in communities that provide an atmosphere of freedom and intellectual ferment in which to experiment.”
In the early 1920’s, the Antioch College cash drawer was empty. But the new president offered to back any promising ideas with the college’s own peculiar capital—advice, encouragement and a place to work. The available workshops weren’t much at first but the advice and encouragement were top-notch.
The results were top-notch, too. Student Morris Bean became interested in the so-called “lost wax” casting method while working in a foundry. Using college facilities, Bean and his wife developed a new method for casting aluminum, now known as the “Antioch process.” Today they employ some 400 workers making precision aluminum castings, tire molds and other products, and their staff is heavily loaded with Antioch graduates.
Working with students in the college laboratories, Sergius Vernet perfected a thermostat that is used today in almost every household washing machine, in airplanes and army tanks, many automobiles and satellites. He now employs over 200 persons, including 30 experimental and research experts who are still developing new products.
Hardy Trolander and two other former students started the Yellow Springs Instrument Co. in two college science rooms, making special equipment ranging from electronic stop watches accurate to within one ten-thousandth of a second to instruments for measuring the rate of blood flow. They struck it rich with a precision electronic timer for an Air Force bomb-scoring system, built their own plant and now employ about 50 workers. “The college was behind us,” Trolander said recently. “It is the greatest spirit for development of free enterprise.”
As a student of Antioch, Ernest Morgan got a job in a New York printing plant where he met and admired the work of Bruce Rogers and other outstanding typographers. While still a student, Morgan bought $300 worth of second-hand equipment and started the Antioch Bookplate Company in a tiny shop. He hitch-hiked through neighboring states to get dealers to handle his product, then returned to Yellow Springs to do his own printing. The first year, sales totaled $400. Two years later, when he was a senior, they were up to $1,300. Today the company employs some 25 persons, makes some 95 per cent of all book plates sold in the United States, and does around $250,000 of business a year.
Then there is Dr. Paul Webb, a pioneer in the development of space suits. “The intellectual climate of Yellow Springs is good for anybody in an unusual business like mine,” Dr. Webb explains. “Most places, an innovator is regarded as an odd ball. Here we fit into the picture.”
Meanwhile, as our town’s business babies grew up, Morgan’s second theory proved correct—the creative elements he had promised streamed into Yellow Springs. Philadelphia industrialist Samuel Fels founded his Institute for the Study of Human Development here. Charles Kettering built his Photosynthesis Research Center in Yellow Springs, and the U. S. Air Force established anthropological and behavior research projects here.
Even the traditional artists garret, when transplanted to Yellow Springs, often turned into a flourishing business. Painter Bob Metcalf developed a nationwide clientele in stained-glass windows. Artist Read Viemeister’s studio grew into an eight-man industrial design firm. Sculptor Seth Velsey called on his knowledge of stone to develop a granite surface plate (essential equipment in laboratories doing precision work) that proved superior to the traditional iron precision plate in general use. His granite plates, with a surface va[torn away] more than ten one [torn away]sandths of an inch [torn away] most of the big man[torn away]panies.
But our town’s heady [torn away] air is tempered by the [torn away]servatism of our old famil[torn away] ancestors handed down respect for hard work, fiscal caution and rugged individualism.
This conservatism is a spirit the wise newcomer does not discount. It breaks out strongly when the taxpayer’s dollars are at stake, and our village officials will unhesitatingly take on any opponent, including the United States government, to avoid waste or extravagance. No quarter was asked in the Battle of Civil Defense after Village Manager Howard Kahoe discovered that specifications for emergency radio equipment sent out by our area’s Civil Defense authorities ruled out all but one powerful model costing more than other satisfactory equipment. He complained to area Civil Defense headquarters but was brushed off. He then borrowed a so-called “sub-standard” rig and broadcast clearly audible messages from his office to an automobile parke in front of Civil Defense Headquarters in Dayton, miles beyond the required range.
This edifying test was ignored by the Civil Defense area director but not by our town. In the following months, postmen serving the White House, Congress and the Office of Civil Defense staggered under a flood of indignant mail from Yellow Springs, Ohio. It took a year to get results but eventually the specifications drawn up by our area’s Civil Defense authorities were changed and Kahoe triumphantly purchased the less expensive equipment, saving the government of the United States (us taxpayers, thank you) the magnifict sum of $4,500.
We have plenty of battles that are confined to our own backyard but, largely due to the off-beat thinking of our citizens, we have learned how to find some surprising solutions to family fights. The long an bitter Battle of the High School Bond Issue arose when officials announced they could not afford to include funds for a vocational workshop or to equip science laboratories. Heads of firms hiring skilled workmen complained bitterly that a shop was essential to train future employees. Heads of research firms pointed out that the future supply of trained scientists depended on beginning study in high school.
The battle was hot, but the solution was simple. After both sides had fired all guns at each other, the voters bowed to fiscal integrity by passing the inadequate bond issue. Then the same voters organized a fund-raising campaign that brought in $62,400, with which they built and equipped a high school shop and furnished two excellent science laboratories.
We also fought the Battle of the Swimming Pool in our own peculiar way. Everybody wanted a pool. But the anything-for-the-kiddies group proposed to pay for it with a bond issue. The dang-foolishness group said we couldn’t afford it. Still others said that if we had a public pool it would be overcrowded by strangers from nearby cities that don’t have pools. The hassle went on for months. Then the Jaycees came up with a gimmick. They solicited contributions for a pool that would be open only to people who lived or worked in Yelloow Springs. In no time at all, they raised $48,000, and when the pool was finished they handed it over to the village government, which runs it on a break-even basis.
At the center of village life is our prize-winning newspaper, The Yellow Springs News, which goes to 90 per cent of our homes each week from a garaged converted into a printing plant with a cluttered, countrified editor’s office. Editor Kieth A. Howard—Kieth’s father took seriously McGuffey’s rule of I before e except after c—covers village doings, editorializes on world affairs and prints letters to the editor without fear or favoritism. This is the most-read column, in which practically everybody in town old enough to write, condemns, praises and blows off steam. One letter recently expressed a suspicion that our village was oversupplied with radicals, egg-heads and crackpots.
“I seldom agree with anything Yellow Springs people do or say,” it adds, “but I hope the day never comes when anybody manages to suppress the most interesting little town in America.”