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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BEMIS, EDWARD W. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BEMIS, EDWARD W. (7 Apr. 1860-25 Sept. 1930), a college professor, expert on public taxation, and proponent of municipal ownership, was a political ally of TOM L. JOHNSON, serving as superintendent of the Cleveland Water Works from 1901-09. Born in Springfield, Mass., Bemis, son of Daniel W. and Mary W. Tinker Bemis, was educated at Amherst College (A.B., 1880; A.M., 1884) and Johns Hopkins (Ph.D., 1885), studying history and economics. He reportedly taught the first university extension course in America, at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1885, then taught economics at Amherst (1885-86); Vanderbilt (1888-92); the University of Chicago (1892-95), which he had to leave because of his "radical" views; and Kansas State Agricultural College (1897-99). Bemis prolifically wrote about local government, tax policy, municipal ownership of utilities, working conditions, labor strikes, trade unions, socialism, and religion and social problems.

Tom Johnson gave Bemis an opportunity to enact his reforms as head of the municipal waterworks, a department described as "a nest of party hacks." Bemis replaced the spoils system with the merit system, unleashing protests from both the department and the local Democratic organization. Bemis ran the department in a businesslike manner, installing a record 70,000 meters and reducing rates. The elimination of graft and incompetent workers enabled completion of the water-intake tunnel. Bemis also crusaded for higher tax evaluations on properties owned by utilities and railroads. After 1909, Bemis moved to New York City, where he served in similar capacities and worked as a consultant.

Married on 28 Oct. 1889 to Annie L. Sargent, Bemis had three children: Walter S., Alice L., and Lloyde E. Bemis died in Springfield, MO and was buried in New York City.

Biographical Notes on Edward W. Bemis, WRHS.

Last Modified: 14 Jul 1997 10:54:05 AM

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