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‘Real NCR’ can’t be moved

By Fred Bartenstein

Originally published in the Dayton Daily News, Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reprinted with permission


“We are part of all we have met.” — John H. Patterson, 1844-1922

As I read the news coverage and commentary about NCR’s world headquarters moving to Georgia, it occurs to me that it is only the corporation with a three-initial symbol on the New York Stock Exchange that is leaving Dayton.

The real “NCR” — at least what that name has come to mean in the Dayton region — isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, it couldn’t be taken from us. It’s in our DNA, in the very landscape we inhabit, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the way we live and conduct ourselves as a community.

What I’ll call “the real NCR” is a collection of powerful and influential ideas that changed the world and shaped Dayton as we have come to know it in the 20th and 21st centuries. John H. Patterson — who, by the way, bought but did not found the organization that became National Cash Register Company in 1884 — was the person responsible for many of the ideas.

But he also attracted and built a culture supportive of social entrepreneurs who refined his ideas and added their own — people like Charles F. Kettering, Edward Deeds, Thomas Watson, James Cox, and Arthur Morgan.

This culture nourished Wilbur and Orville Wright, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Josephine Schwarz, Miriam Rosenthal and countless others who build on their heritage and add to it today.

What were some of the game-changing ideas that still make Dayton Dayton?

Treating workers like human beings and not just instruments of production. Cooperation among business, government and the public for civic progress. An egalitarian approach to participation, education, public health, parks and open-space, recreation and philanthropy.

Efficiency and professionalism in local government. Creative institution-building for tackling new challenges. A higher social value for merit and innovation than for birth and wealth. A belief that progress is possible, and, therefore, that change is welcome.

We have been mistaken in associating the real NCR with a corporation that manufactures and markets products that could not have been imagined by its founders, far-seeing as they were.

The real NCR is a legacy of ideas, institutions, enterprises, and landmarks that make our region what it is today.

These aren’t going anywhere and will shape the lives of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Let me name just a few: the City of Dayton, the Miami Conservancy District, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Dayton Foundation, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, Culture Works, the United Way, Hills & Dales Park, Old River, Hawthorn Hill, Moraine Farm, the NCR Golf Course, Carillon Historical Park, Patterson Boulevard (the filled-in Miami and Erie Canal), and Dorothy Lane (named for John H. Patterson’s daughter).

The NCR story this week is not a replay of “Chicken Little” or “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”It’s more like the “Wizard of Oz.”

We are slowly realizing that it wasn’t a wizard corporation that made the magic behind that moat and brick curtain on Patterson Boulevard. We had the magic all along — the heart, the courage, and the brains — and we can continue to use them to shape our future. We are grateful to our forebears and benefactors, and we — not Atlanta — inherit their legacy.

Fred Bartenstein has lived in the Dayton area since 1975. Formerly president of the Dayton Foundation, managing director of the Victoria Theatre Association and a Dayton assistant city manager, Bartenstein is a consultant living in Yellow Springs.