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Wheels of Enterprise: Dayton Manufacturing

By Heidi Gauder and Bridget Retzloff

This blog is part of a series of Dayton historical pieces by Heidi Gauder and Bridget Retzloff. This installment contains a familiar name — Rogge — from past blogs, which have explored Rogge Street in the UD student neighborhood and the Brown Street business district, which had a grocery with the Rogge moniker.

Before vehicle assembly and automotive component manufacturing became signature Dayton enterprises in the 20th century, the city had a thriving industry in the sector’s prequel: wheels. An exploration of historical documents revealed some fascinating family, geographical and pop culture connections.

In the 19th century, three companies and a handful of men were largely responsible for the manufacture of wagon wheels across the Dayton region; by World War I, however, one company was out of business, and the other two merged to create a business that is thriving today, serving aficionados of custom sports cars, street rods, race cars and motorcycles. “Daytons,” as the wire wheels are popularly known, have even earned some high-profile mentions* from artists including Snoop Dogg and LL Cool J.

Company 1: S.N. Brown & Co.

The first wagon wheel company in the region was established by Harvey Blanchard in 1847. Shortly thereafter, he set up a partnership with Samuel N. Brown, and it carried the name Blanchard & Brown until Blanchard died in 1865. The firm, at Fourth and Kenton streets along an extension of the Miami-Erie Canal, changed its name to S.N. Brown & Co. By 1897, however, the company went into receivership — a form of liquidation — and ceased operations in 1899.

In addition to his wagon wheel company, Brown also owned a tract of land along Wayne Avenue south of Wyoming Street, east of Woodland Cemetery. There, he built a house at 1557 Wayne Ave., where he lived until 1898. Newspaper articles hint at financial troubles for Brown; in addition to the company going into receivership, multiple auctions were held to sell lots in the S.N. Brown subdivision around his homestead. Another Dayton wheel maker, Harman Rogge, bought Brown’s house and lived there until his death in 1919. St. Paul Lutheran Church then purchased the site with plans of constructing a church, but it failed to materialize. By 1958, the house was gone and replaced with the Kroger grocery store that remains there today. (The nearby Brown Street is connected to Samuel N. Brown by way of his father, Thomas Brown, who came to Dayton in 1828 and worked as a contractor and builder; the street was named after him in 1848.)

Company 2: Pinneo & Daniels

In the 20th century, Delco plants took up a large portion of the area around Patterson Boulevard and East First Street (today, one of the structures has been repurposed into the Delco Lofts). Before that, however, there stood a manufacturing plant for another wheel company, the Pinneo & Daniels Co. Ernst Zwick, a native of Germany, arrived in Dayton in 1852 and set up the business in 1855. By 1862, he had a partner, D. Bookwalter, and they advertised their business as “manufacturers of carriage wheels, hubs, spokes, and all kinds of bent material for carriages.” In 1865, A.W. Pinneo purchased an interest in the company, and a year later, E.A. Daniels invested in the firm as well, which was renamed Zwick, Pinneo & Daniels. A decade later, Zwick was bought out, and the company changed its name to Pinneo & Daniels.

In 1881, the company moved to First and Madison Streets, producing, among other items, the “Dayton Patent Compressed Band Hub and Tenon Wheel.” In the same year, a boiler explosion in the plant on Oct. 26 killed three people, including a student who was hit by falling debris at the nearby St. Joseph School. The coroner found the company responsible for the three deaths. In 1883, the family of one of the victims sued the company for $10,000 in damages (approximately $264,000 in value today) — the first of several lawsuits related to the explosion. The case ended in a hung jury, and at the retrial, the verdict was returned in favor of the defendant. It would be decades before more robust efforts to improve workplace safety and workers’ compensation were implemented. The U.S. Department of Labor was created in 1913, and in 1911, Wisconsin was the first state to pass a workers’ compensation law that withstood court challenges.

In 1913, Delco bought the plant at First and Madison streets for $80,000. A fledgling company started in 1909 by Charles F. Kettering and Col. Edward A. Deeds, Delco manufactured ignition systems for cars. Pinneo & Daniels relocated west of the river to the Edgemont neighborhood and remained in business until 1917.

Company 3: Zwick & Greenwald Wheel

Zwick was bought out of Pinneo & Daniels in 1875, but he was not out of the wheel business for very long. In 1881, he established Zwick, Greenwald & Co. with Jacob Greenwald, who had been a Pinneo & Daniels superintendent. Frederick Rogge was also an original investor. The company was first located at Third Street and Wayne Avenue, but the owners moved it to East Dayton for direct access to the railroad line — a key shipping component. In its heyday, the plant covered 3 acres and employed 140 to 150 people.

By 1892, two Rogges were involved in Zwick & Greenwald: Harman Rogge — a German immigrant who worked at the S.N. Brown Co. and later purchased Brown’s house on Wayne Avenue — was president, and Frederick Rogge was treasurer. (Varying accounts have Frederick as Harman’s uncle or brother, and they were married to sisters, surname Kropp, to complicate things further.) Zwick died in 1888, but his sons retained his share and interests in the company.

A new company comes together: Dayton Wire Wheel

The development of Ford’s moving assembly line and decreased production costs in 1913 meant that the automobile would become affordable to more Americans, signaling an end to the horse-drawn carriage. The leaders at both Pinneo & Daniels and Zwick & Greenwald seem to have recognized what this transportation revolution would mean for their businesses. 

In December 1916, local newspapers announced the formation of a new company, the Dayton Wire Wheel Co. At the helm was A.N. Wilcox, president of Pinneo & Daniels, and Louis Rogge, son of Frederick Rogge and vice president of Zwick & Greenwald. This new company occupied the Pinneo & Daniels plant in the Edgemont neighborhood and converted the space from manufacturing wood wheels to wire wheels. Wilcox became the president of Dayton Wire Wheel, and Louis Rogge was named vice president and treasurer.

Zwick & Greenwald continued to manufacture wood wheels until the plant was purchased by a group of local men in 1917. It was reorganized as the Dayton Automotive Wheel Co., led by George Harries Gorman. The company was liquidated in 1930.

Dayton Wire Wheel: The future is here

Charles F. Kettering’s self-starting ignition system for the automobile and other innovations helped establish Dayton as an important center for the automotive industry. Dayton Wire Wheel was also part of these innovations, but it moved forward on a slightly different path. Early on, the company manufactured wheels for the Model T, but its wire spoke wheels were equally appealing for airplanes. As one article notes, “But the wire-spoke wheels weren’t exclusive to automobiles; the fledgling aircraft industry had even more reason to use wheels that provided reliable strength without contributing much weight to the craft they supported” (McGean). That strength was also useful for specialty race cars; indeed, they were on the car that won the 1924 Indianapolis 500 race. 

In time, the automobile industry moved to stamped steel rims in standard production automobiles, as that wheel provided strength at a lower cost than the wire-spoke designs. By 1948, the majority of wheels manufactured by Dayton Wire Wheel were for specialty race cars or the automobile aftermarket. Nowadays, in addition to manufacturing the wire-spoke wheels for automobiles, it produces a line of motorcycle wheels and provides restoration services.

The company itself has changed hands only a few times since its 1916 inception. A. N. Wilcox stayed with the company until his death in 1952, as did Louis Rogge, who died in 1933. The company remained in the Rogge family, as Harold Rogge, Louis’s son, took over. In 1971, James Schardt rescued the company from going out of business; he ran the company until 2002 when he sold it to Charles Schroeder. 

Some of the structures connecting us to the past still remain: The Zwick & Greenwald plant stands at the corner of Huffman and Linden avenues and is easily seen from U.S. 35, as it backs into the north end of Steve Whalen Boulevard. The Dayton Wire Wheel plant has relocated multiple times from the original plant on Miami Chapel Boulevard to its present location in Centerville, Ohio. No signs of either the S.N. Brown & Co. plant or the S.N. Brown homestead remain, but the presence of other grand homes on Wayne Avenue can help readers imagine the home that once stood where Kroger is now located. These structures around Dayton and near the University of Dayton campus give a glimpse of the past and shed light on how these businesses have contributed to the city’s history. 

*Snoop Dogg’s admiration for Dayton Wire Wheels is evident in “Snoop Bounce” (Bounce, rock, roller skatin' on them 20-inch tires with the platinum Daytons); LL Cool J’s fondness for them can be seen in his song “Going Back to Cali” (The top is down on the black Corvette / And it's fly, cause it's sitting on Daytons).

— Heidi Gauder is a professor in the University Libraries and coordinator of research and instruction. Bridget Retzloff is a lecturer in the University Libraries. 


  • Burba, Howard. “The Old ‘Wheel Works’ Explosion. Dayton Daily News, June 30, 1935.
  • Conover, Frank. Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and of Montgomery County, Ohio. 1897.
  • Crew, Harvey W. History of Dayton, 1889.
  • MacLaury, Judson. “The Job Safety Law of 1970: Its Passage Was Perilous.” Originally published in Monthly Labor Review, March 1981. Department of Labor,
  • McGean, Terry. “Dayton Wire Wheel,” Hemmings Motor News, February 2007.
  • McKinney, James P., and I.J. Isaacs. The Industrial Advance of Dayton, Ohio and EnvironsHistorical, Statistical, Descriptive Review. Dayton, OH: Groneweg, 1889,
  • “Plant of the Pinneo and Daniels Wheel Company is Purchased by the Delco for $80,000.” Dayton Daily News, February 21, 1913. 
  • “Wire Wheels Will Be Built by Firm Established Here.” The Dayton Herald, December 18, 1916.
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