Toledo’s Good Old Days? Were they really?

I just came across a Toledo Newsbee article from January 1st of 1931 which provided the statistics for how Toledo fared in 1930 when it came to violent deaths, such as murders, accidents, drownings and other untimely and nasty means of death. For those who like to harbor the notion that we currently live in the “worst of times”, these numbers may be eye opening, for it seems apparent that in our grandparents era of the 1920’s and 30’s, life was fraught with danger, maybe more than today.

Perhaps the most startling numbers were of those folks who died from car accidents in the city of Toledo. In one year, 1930, 120 people died as a result of car accidents. And the article points out that it was an improvement over 1929 when the toll was 121. That’s more than 2 deaths per week.  If that seems high, it is. While Toledo does record a tragic number of auto related highway deaths these days, it comes no where close to that disturbing toll. The latest stats from the Ohio State High Patrol show that in all of 2018, 33 people died from vehicle related crashes in Lucas County. About a fourth of the death toll compared to 1930.


Toledo Police Motorcyle Squad 1929

Maybe seat belts, air bags, drunk driving restrictions, training and better enforcement, and of course modern medical care, have something to so with the reduction in mortality. Consider if you will that we actually have far more cars on the street, faster speeds, and more miles driven in the city than 90 years ago.

Death story5

From June of 1930, the heartbreaking story of 5 year old killed in Toledo.

It should be noted that by 1937, the auto traffic death toll in Toledo was still high at over 100, with over 1700 injured. The Toledo News Bee and the city began to recognize there were too many drunk drivers and “madmen” behind the wheel. They began efforts to raise traffic safety awareness and campaigns.

Death story pic1

Car crashes were all too common in 1930’s.


The other number that jumped out at me from 1930, were the number of drownings. Forty-one(41) people died from drowning in Lucas County in 1930, and it was noted that the 1930 number doubled the 1929 number at 22 deaths by drowning. Our current numbers are always too high, but far less than 20.

The 1930 statistic on water deaths also includes the mysterious sinking of a speedboat in Lake Erie in June of that year that claimed the lives of 7 prominent Toledo men who were on their way to a picnic at Pelee Island Canada. The boat and the men were found, but the answers as to what and why happened only the water knows for sure.

And when it comes to murder, the streets seemed to be as dangerous in 1930, as they are today, 40 homicides recorded back then.  Compare that to 2018 in Toledo, when we had 41 murders recorded. About the same. Although, without the life saving emergency medical protocols and advances of the modern era, one could easily surmise the death toll would probably be much higher today than it is.

As for suicides. Depression was no stranger to our fore-bearers. 51 people in Toledo took their own lives in 1930, mostly by gunshot.


Mayhem and Domestic Violence were not rare headlines in 1930

Also of note in the autopsy of violent death were the number of people who died from burns, which was 26. And railroad accident(not auto-train collisions) sent 26 people to their graves. This was during the era when trains and trolleys laced the area and accidents were not uncommon.

In addition to these dangers of the era, 87 others in Toledo in 1930 died by industrial accidents, accidental shootings, sports injuries, falls, food poisoning, and other lurking menaces.

One of those was the new danger that had emerged during the prohibition era for people with severe alcohol addictions. With booze outlawed and not as easy to access, the desperate often met their need for alcohol by drinking whatever they could, such as highly toxic ethanol-based alcohols, or what was known as “canned heat”. Toledo recorded 12 deaths in 1930 from men and women who succumbed to that grim poison.

Death story2

“The Perils of Poison” Canned Heat was

These days of course, while “canned heat” is no longer the scourge it once was, our grim statistic is the growing number of opioid deaths in Lucas County..which will easily surpass 100 this year. Hopefully some day in the not too distant future, it too be be a footnote in our long history.


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