Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Becomes Ohio’s Capital

Columbus was named for explorer Christopher Columbus and was founded in 1812. It became the state’s capital in 1816.  Plans were drawn up for the state Capitol building and a penitentiary (jail) in 1812. But, construction of the state buildings was delayed for four years because of the War of 1812.

With the opening in 1831 of the Ohio & Erie Canal, which was connected to Columbus by a smaller canal, and then the National Road in 1833, Columbus became a great place for trade and a stop along the way for people who were traveling. Then, on February 22, 1850, a steam engine pulling flat cars made its maiden run from Columbus to Xenia, 54 miles away, and Columbus entered the railroad age. Five locally financed railroads were in operation by 1872.

Columbus, had a population of more than 18,000 people in 1860 and was a military center during the Civil War. Camp Jackson was a place for recruits and the Columbus Barracks—renamed Fort Hayes in 1922—served as an arsenal (a place for storing military weapons and equipment). Camp Chase, also in Columbus, was the Union's largest facility for Confederate prisoners, and the Federal Government maintained a cemetery for the more than 2,000 soldiers who died there.

Ohio State University

In 1870 the Ohio General Assembly created, through the Morrill Land Grant Act, the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, which became a vital part of the city’s life and identity. This coeducational institution, renamed The Ohio State University in 1878, is now one of the largest universities in the country.


Columbus prospered economically after the Civil War, as new banks and railroad lines opened and horse-and-buggy companies manufactured 20,000 carriages and wagons a year. The city's first waterworks system and an extended streetcar service were built during this period.


Two events prior to World War I shook Columbus's stability. The streetcar strike of 1910 lasted through the summer and into the fall, resulting in riots and destruction of street cars and even one death. The National Guard was called out to maintain order, and when the strike finally ended, few concessions were made by the railway company. Then in 1913, the Scioto River flood killed 100 people and left 20,000 people homeless; property damages totaled $9 million.

Traditionally a center for political, economic, and cultural activity as the state capital, Columbus is today one of the fastest-growing cities in the east central United States. The downtown area underwent a complete transformation in the 1990s, and the economy surged as high-technology development and research companies moved into the metropolitan area. Franklin County saw its population top 1,000,000 for the first time in the 2000 census and celebrated its bicentennial in 2003.

Historical Links

Ohio Historical Society, 1985 Velma Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211

The National Road (before the Interstate Highways!)


population chart

Today, Columbus is the largest city in the State of Ohio.  Here is a chart of how the city grew over the years.

Percent change, 1990–2000: 12.4%
U.S. rank in 1980: 19th
U.S. rank in 1990: 16th
U.S. rank in 2000: 15th

Fascinating Facts

One of the first major businesses in Columbus were companies that made horse-drawn buggies.

The Ohio State University in 1878, is now one of the largest universities in the country.

Photos used by permission: Columbus Library

LeVequeTower1938.jpg Photo loaned by Thomas Aquinas Burke
Capitol.jpg Photo loaned for the 1981 Photo Fair.