Who's Huffman?: WYSO Curious Investigates The Huffman Legacy In Dayton
In southwest Ohio, you’ve heard the name Huffman: There’s Huffman Historic District. Huffman MetroPark. Huffman Dam, Huffman Building, Huffy Bikes -- and so WYSO listener JoAn Howard wanted to know: who is Huffman?
The answer to JoAn’s question takes us back to 1812, when William Huffman, the first in this Huffman legacy, moved to Dayton. It was a not-so-glamorous place at the time. There wasn’t much development or transportation, according to Tom Morrow from the Dayton Railway Historical Society.
"In the middle 1800s, your ability to be able to get around was limited to your legs, or a horse or a horse-drawn vehicle," Morrow says.
William Huffman's son, William P. Huffman, knew Dayton residents needed a way to get around. He owned land on the outskirts of town and wanted people to build homes there, so he and his business partner created the Dayton Street Railroad.
"(It) was more or less a mechanism to convince people to build a home in those outlying regions," Morrow says.
Dayton grew around the Dayton Street Railroad, and William P. Huffman had made a name for himself.
Ryan Qualls works at the National Park Service and says William P. had ten children. Many of them were notable, like a son who helped develop sewers, and a daughter who married into the family that built the Dayton Arcade. Then there was Torrence Huffman, who lent land to the Wright Brothers. That land -- east of Dayton -- was where they developed the first practical airplane. Today, it’s known as Huffman Prairie, but back then it wasn’t known for planes -- it was known for cows.
"The Wrights were able to make use of the cow pasture for several years during their early experiments, and then with their flight school and as a test field for their company," Qualls says. "...This area, I believe, furthered on their idea that they were working with a mindset of limitless possibility."
“Limitless possibility” is a good way to describe the Huffman family, too. Torrence’s brother George led the Davis Sewing Machine Company in the late 1800s. They also tried making bikes, but Qualls says they had difficulty competing with early cars and motorcycles.
"That affected the overall business. They ended up liquidating the assets of that company and reformed it as the Huffman Manufacturing company," Qualls says. "...They made equipment for early automobiles, service stations and bicycle wheels and then they began producing bicycles again, wholly, in the 1930s."
Those bicycles were called Huffy Bikes -- a name that’s now known around the world. Horace Huffman’s son, also named Horace, joined the company and became a champion for some of the bike trails that are still around today.
The Huffmans probably wouldn’t have expected their name to be on so many landmarks in Dayton, but to Qualls, it’s no surprise.
"That Huffman name has really survived because of the lasting effort they made," Qualls says. "...The Huffmans were really interested in promoting Dayton and seeing Dayton last forever."