First settled in 1788, Cincinnati is the third-largest city in Ohio and is located in what’s known by some as the bluegrass region. Like most cities in the US, Cincinnati has an interesting past, and signs of this history are obvious all over the city.
If you’re a history buff or if you just like to spout random facts to impress people at parties, then memorize some of these historical facts about Cincinnati.
#1 – It’s Named after a Roman Statesman
Lucius Cincinnatus was born around 519 BC in Rome. He was a statesman and a military leader who was given absolute power over Rome during wartime. He must have been a pretty trustworthy man though because once the war was over, he resigned and went back to his farm.
And what happens when you’re powerful and trustworthy? You get a city named after you a few thousand years later.
#2 – Cincinnati was on the Underground Railroad
The city of Cincinnati is very close to the Kentucky border. In the 19th century, Kentucky was a slave state while Cincinnati was the homeplace of many vocal abolitionists. These abolitionists made Cincinnati a part of the Underground Railroad, a place where slaves who were escaping this brutal life could stop on the way to Canada and freedom.
These days, you can see and celebrate this compassionate history at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
#3 – Cincinnati has a Rich German Heritage
Cincinnati was originally settled by English and Scottish immigrants. However, in the mid-1800s the number of German-born immigrants increased sharply. This was due to several factors such as the 1848 Revolution in the German States as well as a boom in Cincinnati’ss shipping and meatpacking industries.
You can still see signs of this boom today. For example, Cincinnati has one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations in the US. And certain foods, such as Goetta, are popular to this day. This is a dish that was brought over from Germany and later forgotten in the origin country.
#4 – It Sits on a Hidden World
Underneath Cincinnati is the largest abandoned subway system in the United States. It was built in the early 1900s, but the project was abandoned due to rising costs. The subway system was never used and remains there to this day.
Have some time? Get out of the city with these epic day trips from Cincinnati!
#5 – Flying Pigs are Important
Cincinnati is strongly associated with flying pigs. In fact, the city’s nickname is actually Porkopolis! This started back in 1988 when the riverfront park Bicentennial Commons was opened. Andrew Leicester created a sculpture of flying pigs to put in the park because he said that the animal has an important place in the creation of the city’s industry.
This caused a lot of controversies, but over time the locals have become fond of the porcine symbol of their city.
#6 – Crime has Changed over the Years
Cincinnati’s idea of crime has changed over the years. In 1789, a petty thief was tried and convicted for his crimes, becoming the first recorded criminal in Cincinnati. The thief stole cucumbers and was sentenced to twenty-nine lashes. Thankfully, the penalty for stealing produce would be much different in Cincinnati today.
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#7 – It has America’s Oldest Baseball Team
n 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings were founded, making them the oldest professional baseball team in America. They later became a charter member of the American Association and changed their names to the Cincinnati Reds. So, when you cheer on your favorite players, you’re playing a part in that long history!
#8 – Play-Doh was Born There
Did you know that Cincinnati was the birthplace of Play-Doh? Kutol, a Cincinnati based company, first created the product in the 1930s. Back then, it was used as a wallpaper cleaner. As time passed, the company got into financial trouble and remarketed their wall-paper cleaning putty to schools as Play-Doh. As you might imagine, that was the end of their financial difficulties.
#9 – Cincinnati Experimented on People During the Cold War
This is the darker side of the city’s history. At the height of the Cold War, the Cincinnati General Hospital experimented on human subjects under the direction of the Department of Defence.
Between 1960 and 1971, radiologist Eugene L and his team performed total and partial body irradiation tests on at least 90 patients with advanced cancer. The idea was to expose them to lethal radiation levels to determine how much radiation soldiers could tolerate in case of nuclear fallout. The hospital still exists, though it’s been renamed, perhaps to try to escape this grisly history.
#10 – The Cincinnati Observatory is Old
In fact, the Cincinnati Observatory is known as the “Birthplace of American Astronomy”. Built in 1873, it’s the oldest public observatory in the country and was the first in the western hemisphere. The telescope at the observatory is also one of the oldest working telescopes in the world.
#11 – It’s the Birthplace of Steven Spielberg
Yes, this is a slice of history that isn’t that old, but it’s still notable. The director of some of the most iconic movies in recent history, think Jaws, Indiana Jones, and Close Encounter, was born in Cincinnati before moving to Phoenix as a child.
#12 – The Passenger Pigeon Went Extinct There
This is a sad entry, both for the animal and the planet. The passenger pigeon was once the most common bird in North American. Unfortunately, mostly due to human activity, they died out. The last passenger pigeon in the world, known as Martha, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
#13 – It’s the Home of Professional Fire Fighters
In 1853, the Cincinnati Fire Department became the first fully paid fire department in the US. It seems like a gross oversight that firemen weren’t paid in America up until this point, after all, it’s an incredibly dangerous job. But history is full of strange facts like this that don’t seem to make sense.
So, while you’re in the city, make sure you check out the Cincinnati Fire Museum to learn more about this facet of history.
#14 – The Roebling Suspension Bridge Broke Records
The Roebling Suspension Bridge was completed in 1867 and it was the longest of its kind in the world at the time. It doesn’t hold this record anymore, but it was the prototype and inspiration for the Brooklyn Bridge.
#15 – It’s The Birthplace of Neil Armstrong
That’s right, Neil Armstrong was born in Cincinnati. And after he came back from the moon, he started teaching at the University of Cincinnati in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
#16 – Introducing Air Mail
In 1835, the first bag of airmail was delivered from Cincinnati to Toledo. But the transport method was a little different from what you expect today. Instead of going by plane, the bag of mail traveled by hot air balloon.
#17 – Jerry Spring was the Mayor
You probably mostly remember Jerry Springer from his infamous TV show, but before that, he was actually in politics. He was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1971 and resigned in 1974 after soliciting a prostitute. Incidentally, he was found out because a police raid on a massage parlor found a bad check that he’d written to one of the prostitutes.
This event didn’t seem to hurt his career that much though, and he served as mayor of Cincinnati between 1977 and 1978.
Final Thoughts on the History of Cincinnati
When you live in a city or visit it briefly, you often don’t see the depth of its history. Cincinnati may seem like nothing more than an ordinary city, albeit one that loves chili a little too much, but it has a relatively short but colorful history. And if you’d like a richer, deeper experience of Cincinnati, then you should check out some of the marks that history has left on the city while you’re there.
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