Johnson, Tom Loftin

Johnson, Tom Loftin,

1854–1911, American municipal reformer, mayor of Cleveland (1901–10), b. Georgetown, Ky. He acquired a substantial fortune from streetcar and steel interests, and, deeply influenced in the 1880s by the writings of Henry GeorgeGeorge, Henry,
1839–97, American economist, founder of the single tax movement, b. Philadelphia. Of a poor family, his formal education was cut short at 14, and in 1857 he emigrated to California; there he worked at various occupations before turning to newspaper writing
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, he devoted himself to reform. After two terms (1891–95) as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he became (1901) mayor of Cleveland, serving four terms. He fought strenuous battles for municipal reform against political bosses (especially Mark HannaHanna, Marcus Alonzo
(Mark Hanna), 1837–1904, American capitalist and politician, b. New Lisbon (now Lisbon), Ohio. He attended Western Reserve College for a short time, then entered his father's wholesale grocery and commission business at Cleveland in 1858.
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) and business interests. Although his plans for municipal ownership of public utilities were not realized, he helped create civic consciousness in Cleveland, initiated sanitary measures, and improved facilities to help the city's poor. Cleveland, in the time of Johnson's mayoralty, was called "the best governed city in the United States."


See his autobiography (1911); biography by C. Lorenz (1911).

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Johnson, Tom Loftin

(1854–1911) businessman, U.S. representative, mayor; born near Georgetown, Ky. Moving about the South during the Civil War, he had little formal education. Settling in Louisville, Ky., he worked for the street railroad owned by members of the du Pont family and gained their respect when he invented the first farebox for coins. The du Ponts then financed a series of Johnson's business ventures—taking over the street railroad in Indianapolis (1875); building a street railroad in Cleveland (1879); and then branching out into the steel business, where he made a fortune during the 1880s. After the great flood in Johnstown, Pa. (1889), he gained national attention by directing relief efforts. Meanwhile, he had become a supporter of Henry George and his single-tax doctrine, and Johnson was determined to devote himself to reforming the government. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., Ohio; 1891–95) where he supported free trade. He then served four terms as mayor of Cleveland (1902–08), where he battled for municipal reform against Mark Hanna and local business interests by combining the "grandstanding" of the populist with the "scientific" methods of the progressive. He improved the services available to the city's poor, started sanitary measures, and encouraged civic spirit. He also fought for home rule and more equitable taxation, for public ownership of utilities, and for public works and social services. Although some regarded his reforms as radical, most Americans respected them as a model of good government for cities, and Johnson's reputation would survive his premature death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.