LIMA — Dana Corp. announced its arrival in the Lima area in the waning days of the turbulent 1960s and began operations here at the beginning of the economically promising 1970s.
As Lima and Allen County entered the ‘70s the head of the chamber of commerce was optimistic — really optimistic — about what the new decade might bring.
“A population of 140,000 and employment of more than 70,000 persons were two predictions made for this decade by Robert L. Tracht, Lima Area Chamber of Commerce executive manager, in a speech scheduled for delivery noon today at the Exchange Club luncheon in the Elks Club,” the Lima News reported Jan. 21, 1970.
A little less than a month later, and with an only slightly less optimistic tone, the News in its annual mid-February look at the area’s economy, wrote that, despite the lingering effects of the racial and civil unrest of the late ‘60s, things were going very well. “Plain and simple, much is right about Lima and Allen County. As the result of steady achievement and growth in the last decade, Greater Lima stands on the threshold of the 1970s as the undisputed leader of Northwest Ohio,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial that ran with the special section.
Entering the new decade, the News proclaimed, Lima was a regional leader in retail, medicine and higher education. And underpinning it all was the city’s industrial strength. “Overall employment in Lima and Allen County hit a record 59,300 jobs at the end of ’69. This year’s gain was 2,000. In the 10 years of 1960s, employment increased 28.3, with industrial job growth 24 percent,” the News noted. The city’s “industrial backbone,” the newspaper added, “provided 20,000 jobs at the end 1969.”
Just before the end of the ‘60s, that industrial backbone was stiffened by the addition of another major industry — Dana Corp.
“Lima has gained a major new industry that eventually may provide 1,000 jobs here,” the Lima News reported Oct. 6, 1969. “The Toledo-based Dana Corp. has purchased the former D.W.G. Cigar plant on Bible Road in Bath Township with the intention of established a manufacturing facility for universal joints used in the automotive industry.”
In the February 1970 progress edition, the News reported, “Currently 14 persons are employed at the plant with plans calling for employment to reach about 1,200 when expansion is completed and full operation is under way,” the newspaper wrote.
Then the unpredictable future happened. Beginning in the 1970s, longtime Lima industries like Clark Equipment (B-L-H), Sheller-Globe (Superior Coach), Airfoil-Textron (Ex-Cell-O) and Sundstrand (Westinghouse) packed up and moved elsewhere or simply closed. By the time the 21st century arrived, roughly half the 20,000 industrial jobs Lima boasted of 50 years earlier were gone. The city, which reached a peak population of more than 53,000 in the 1970 census had shrunk to around 36,000, while Allen County dropped from a high of more than 111,000 in 1980 to about 102,000 today.
Meanwhile, Dana, Lima’s newest industry in 1970, weathered the ups and downs that came with its close ties to the auto industry and, though its employment numbers never quite matched the optimistic predictions of 1970, it continues operations today as (Dana) Spicer Driveshaft Manufacturing.
The company traces its roots to an engineer and inventor named Clarence W. Spicer who around 1904 began manufacturing universal joints in Plainfield, New Jersey. The first Spicer U joints were shipped to the Corbin Motor Co. in Connecticut. The Corbin Motor Co. didn’t survive (it folded in 1912) but Spicer did and in 1905 the Spicer Universal Joint Manufacturing Company was formed, changing its name in 1909 to Spicer Manufacturing Co.
In 1914, Charles Dana joined the company. Dana, the nephew and namesake of Charles Anderson Dana, editor and part owner of the New York Sun, became president and treasurer of the company in 1946, and the company was renamed the Dana Corp. Spicer became the brand name for the company’s driveline products. The company is headquartered in Maumee.
As Dana set up shop, Conrad S. “Red” Stettenbaure, who was named manager of the plant, announced the first product would begin shipping from the plant in mid-January 1970. In mid-December 1969, the machines to manufacture that product arrived at the Bible Road facility.
Expansion of the former cigar factory, which had been built in 1963, began soon after. In June 1971, ground was broken for a 250,000-square-foot addition to the plant. “The $1.7 million addition more than triples available manufacturing space for production of heavy-duty universal joints and driveshafts for the automotive industry,” the News reported when the expansion was completed that October. Employment, the newspaper added, was expected to grow from 160 to 750. Another expansion in 1979 brought the plant up to 350,000 square feet.
Job growth, however, did not meet the expectations that went with the plant growth as recurring recessions hit the auto industry. “Dana Corp’s Lima plant celebrated its 10th anniversary in October with 1979 sales climbing 36 percent over 1978,” the News wrote in February 1980. “But a 212,000-square-foot expansion will not bring in the additional employment this year as earlier predicted. … Although there was a record peak in 1979 of 715 persons at the production site, the division finished the year with a little more than 400 employees.”
In 2004, Dana marked a milestone. “Started in 1904 when Clarence Spicer left college to manufacture the universal driveshaft joint he invented, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary,” the News noted. As for the Lima plant, the News wrote, “It’s all about power — and how it gets there. Products built at Dana Corp.’s Lima plant connect engine power for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and semi-tractors to their axles and wheels, enabling those vehicles to connect people to places and products to markets.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.