Patriotism swept across the country, bringing with it a wave of anti-German sentiment.
NORTH CANTON The village of New Berlin was worried about its image a century ago.
In April 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany, officially entering World War I, which had been raging across Europe for years.
Stark County was already sending supplies overseas, now it began sending its young men, too. Women volunteered with the Red Cross and communities organized fundraisers and donation drives.
Patriotism swept across the country, bringing with it a wave of anti-German sentiment. And for communities with ties to Germany, there was pressure to prove their loyalty to the U.S.
It's with that backdrop that on Dec. 3, 1917, New Berlin filed a petition with Stark County Common Pleas Court asking for a change.
"War Causes New Berlin to Seek Name Of North Canton," read a front-page headline in the Evening Repository. "Residents Assert Stigma Is Attached to Name of German Capital — Declare Name Has Harmed Business In Village."
Back in 1917, New Berlin was a small village with a population of about 1,301. A decade earlier, when the village officially incorporated, there were 865 residents.
The village had electricity and was connected to other cities through the interurban trolley, said M. Carmella Cadusale, executive director of the North Canton Heritage Society.
The Hoover Co. (then the Hoover Suction Sweeper Co.) was a major factor in that shift. William H. "Boss" Hoover, who was also the village's first mayor, had grown the family tannery business into an international operation.
Many people don't realize how big the company was even at this time in its history, said Megan Pellegrino, museum studies academic coordinator and curator of the Hoover Historical Center at Walsh University.
The company, which produced both vacuums and leather goods, focused on wartime production. During World War I, the company had more than $1 million in government contracts — producing canvas water buckets and tarpaulins for the U.S., saddles for France, artillery leather for England and gun slings for Russia among other items.
"It's a really big company in this tiny village of New Berlin. A big part of the village was this company," Pellegrino said.
And when young men from New Berlin started joining the military, the company's war effort becomes more personal.
"Right before the boys left for war, Boss Hoover did go out and have almost a pep rally," Cadusale said. "He insisted on calling them his boys, 'Boss' boys.'"
Community was vital at that time, she said.
"That was a really big part of their mentality back then. It was always about community and bringing the community together."
"What a rotten name"
Dropping New Berlin was more than just patriotic. It was business.
"I am indeed sorry to know your town's name is Berlin. For Heaven's sake do something towards having this name changed to an American one," wrote Cornelius O'Dwyer of Detroit in a letter to the company dated Nov. 10, 1917. "Oh! What a rotten name. New Berlin."
Boss Hoover cited that letter in a petition circulated to residents titled "Concerning the Change of the Name New Berlin."
In the petition, Hoover laid out the argument for becoming North Canton.
He told residents that "we need to be smart. We need to be patriotic" and he didn't shy away from saying that a name change would be good for business, Pellegrino said.
"The many atrocities committed by the Imperial German Armies are such a shock to the whole civilized world and surely as we read and hear of the many terrible deeds, we can not blame our real Americans for asking that we show our real patriotism by changing our name," the petition read.
Hoover notes that several banks had already dropped Germany from their names.
As the capital of Germany, the name Berlin "raises a spirit of contempt in the minds of many of our most patriotic American Citizens," the petition read.
The name change was also an opportunity to align the village with a boom town. "Canton is acknowledged to be the best known city of its size in the world. ... To be known as the Northern Section of so well and favorably known a city as Canton is no small honor," the petition read.
The company was always having to explain where they're located — no one knows where New Berlin is, Pellegrino said. "There's this thought that if we can associate ourselves with Canton, which is this bustling big city, which is well known, it can bring attention to our city."
"The map-makers have been forgetting to put us on the map a good many times," Hoover wrote in a Dec. 5, 1917, issue of the Newsy News.
The publication, which began as a newsletter for troops from New Berlin in WWI, later became the Hoover News. During late 1917 and early 1918, Hoover and his son H.W. Hoover used the newsletter to keep the troops updated on what's happening at home, including the effort to become North Canton, Pellegrino said.
The Hoover Historical Center will have an exhibit next year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the publication.
At that time, to change a community's name, you needed agreement from 75 percent of its adult residents.
On Dec. 30, a formal letter of protest, signed by 366 people, was filed with the court.
"It wasn't something everyone agreed on, obviously," Pellegrino said. "Could you imagine an entire area, an entire community, saying, 'I'm going to completely burn this bridge that connects me to our heritage, to our ethnic background?'"
New Berlin was settled largely by second-generation German immigrants (including the Hoovers) who migrated here from German communities in Eastern Pennsylvania. At that time, second-generation immigrants still had strong connections to their roots. Those settlers spoke German and lived in German villages.
"That culture, that heritage, surrounded their lives," she said. "I don't want to say that it was a complete turning their back on their German heritage, but it was a response to what was happening in Germany."
The court set a hearing for Jan. 30, 1918.
"Crowd Throngs Courthouse For Village Name Fight," according to the Repository headline.
"An interesting court battle was looked for, in view of divided sentiment, which is declared to exist regarding the proposed change," the article reads.
The North Canton supporters brought evidence — letters from soldiers and businesses, a petition signed by 784 residents, maps; the opposition didn't show up at all.
Judge Day declared that New Berlin was now North Canton.
In the end, only 110 residents were against the name change.
We don't really know, Cadusale said. The Heritage Society hasn't come across any accounts from residents of that time discussing the name change.
"I wish there was a better way to know and understand what these people are thinking," she said.
Whatever happened during that month in 1918, patriotism won out.
"Those boys left New Berlin and came back to North Canton," she said.
Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or email@example.com
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