History of Commerce in Cleveland, OH

From: A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
Publishers: The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924


"The continual effort to raise himself above
himself, to work a pitch above his last height,
betrays itself in man's relations." -Emerson.

Under this head will be included transportation, water, air, interstate urban and interurban, and trade and utilities. As early as 1679 the first sailing vessel, the Griffin, breasted the waves of Lake Erie. There was no Cleveland at this time to invite a call from this commercial agent. Then 100 years later and more (in 1786), an Englishman had a trading station at the mouth of the Cuyahoga. After the founding of the city by Moses Cleveland there were some calls on the port by lake vessels, but the lack of harbor facilities made the attempts of very little consequence. Inland water transportation began with the building of the Ohio Canal, and lake commerce with the improved harbor facilities.

In 1851 the opening of the railroad to Cincinnati was celebrated and transportation facilities were greatly increased. Then came the Lake Shore Railway, the Baltimore & Ohio, the Erie, the Nickel Plate, the Pennsylvania Lines, their efficiency made constantly greater by extensions, consolidations, and connections, until from the ox teams of the pioneers, and the canoes of the Indians, we had advanced to a great system of lines connecting Cleveland with the outside world, with hundreds of trains thundering daily in and out and through the city, carrying its products to the ends of the earth.

It will be impossible within the limits of this chapter to trace in detail this development. A great addition to the facilities for handling freight was made when the Belt Line Railroad around the city was constructed. This is a parts of the New York Central System, the successor of the Lake Shore and other lines, and was promoted and carried through by William R. Hopkins, the present city manager of Cleveland. Another similar railroad is the Newburgh & South Shore, which performs the same service for the lines handling the products of the various plants of the American Steel and Wire Company.

When the Union Passenger Station on the lake front was constructed it was the pride of the city, but it has long been outgrown and there is now under way the building of a new one at the Public Square estimated to cost some $60,000,000. In this project all the railroads entering the city except the Pennsylvania Lines have joined. A new union passenger station had been considered for many years, but to be constructed on the lake front. To O. P. and M. J. Van Sweringen is given the credit for originating and carrying forward the Public Square project. Interested in the subject of rapid transit for Cleveland they first bought a large tract of land north of Shaker Lakes. This they sold and bought another south of the lakes, developing Shaker Heights Village. They built rapid transit lines to the city through Kingsbury Run. In this work the difference between the level of the run and the city came up for solution and the idea of entering the city on the lower level was born, and from this was developed the station on the Square as a project that was conceived by men of vision as a natural evolution. They secured property near the proposed site of the station and built Hotel Cleveland, an up to date hotel with a thousand rooms, as the first building of the terminal group, bought the Nickel Plate Railway, and the project was launched.

Today the steam shovels are busy, buildings are being razed and the work of the great project of a depot at the Public Square is progressing rapidly. This condition has not been brought about without opposition. Interests favoring the lake front site have been active in and out of season. It is a matter of history that the New York Central Railway, the Big Four, and the Pennsylvania Company had agreed upon building a union station on the lake front. Then came the World war, and the United States control of the railroads. For six years previous, men of prominence in the city had been pointing to the Public Square as the logical place for the union passenger station. Regional Director A. H. Smith asked for an opportunity to study plans providing for centering all lines in a depot at the Square. Engineers worked them out and an ordinance was prepared to be voted upon by the people January 6, 1919. The ordinance was submitted to a vote of the people and a majority in favor of the project was the result.

As a matter of fact, the interest of the regional director was centered in freight relief, which was one of the problems of the war period, and that led to his interest in the proposed passenger station. High level freight yards were secured at Orange and Broadway avenues, and new freight houses constructed. It has been suggested that these will be doubled under the new plan. The general plan of the station project is to turn all passenger trains up Walworth Run, Kingsbury Run, and the Cuyahoga Valley to the center of the city's life.

Among the advantages pointed out are that this will give through ways for passenger traffic and free the industrial areas of the city from the interruption of passenger trains, that it will leave the lake front freer for lake shipping, and take the interurban lines from the surface in the downtown sections of the city. It is pointed out that the lines entering the station will be electrified within the city limits. In this project the Pennsylvania Company has not joined, occupying the same position as they do in connection with the Grand Central Station, New York.

The history of this great project dates from an act passed in the Legislature of Ohio in 1915 permitting electric and steam railroads to combine in erecting a subway station. The bill was introduced by Senator Meyers. Previous to this under Mayor Baker some action was taken. Then Mayor Baker in 1915, after the passage of the act referred to, submitted terms agreed upon with the Union Terminals Company acting for the railroads and these were ratified by the city council in 1915. The plans call for seven tracks from the east in a cut forty feet below the level of Broadway. The Union Terminals Company has acquired all the land between Ontario Street, Prospect Avenue, West Third Street, and Canal Road. Three important properties of the city are included, the fire house on Champlain, the fire house on Hill, and the police station on Champlain Avenue. Negotiations by City Manager Hopkins were entered into by which the city receives $1,700,000 for its property referred to.

In referring to the opposition to this project it should be stated that in 1921 the Interstate Commerce Commission reported adversely on the proposition, but it was reopened and approved.

This depot undertaking contemplates the building of street railway stations under the Square operating in subways for some distance out. This takes us to the street railway question which is an important factor in the growth and development of the city. The first street railway man in the city was Henry S. Stevens. In 1859 he organized the East Cleveland Street Railway Company. A line was built from Bank (now West Sixth) Street to Willson Avenue (East Fifty fifth Street). Lake View Cemetery was opened and the line was extended to that point. In 1868 this company ran a line on Garden and Ohio streets. In the '70s it was capitalized at $300,000, had fourteen miles of track and A. Everett was president, Henry A. Everett, secretary, and T. F. Frobisher, superintendent.

In the same year Henry S. Stevens and E. E. Williams organized the Kinsman Street Railway Company and a road was built from Bank Street to the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railway on Kinsman Street. The company began with a capital of $30,000. This was increased to $500,000. It had three and a half miles of trackage, all except one mile being double track. This road went into the hands of a receiver in 1876. The West Side Street Railway Company was organized in 1863 with a capital of $80,000. D. P. Rhodes was the first president. In 1864 it opened a line over Detroit Street to the terminus of Bridge. In 1879 Elias Sims was president and it was operating a line over Pearl and Fulton to Lorain Street.

The St. Clair Street Railway Company or the Superior Street Railway Company was organized in 1867. It built a double track road from Water (Wiest Ninth) Street to Willson (East Fifty fifth) Street, a distance of three miles. G. B. Bowers was president and superintendent and W. A. Dutton secretary and treasurer in the '80s. We have referred to the Rocky River Railroad, a steam line running to Rocky River, of which enterprise Elias Sims was the promoter and president of the operating company.

The rolling mills out in Newburg employed a great many men and its population was increasing and in 1873 the Broadway & Newburg Street Railway Company was organized with a capital of $200,000. A double track road was opened on Christmas day of that year. Six years later the company was operating nineteen cars and had eighty six horses in use. Joseph Stanley was president and superintendent and the trustees were Joseph Stanley, Samuel Andrews, Charles Hathaway, J. W. Sykora, E. Grasselli, E. Fowler and William Meyer. In 1874 the South Side Railway Company was organized and it ran lines from Superior and Seneca to Jennings and Professor streets. The president was Alfred Kellogg and the superintendent A. M. Emerson. The Woodland Hills Railroad, a single track line, was built from Willson out Woodland by John Rock. This was in 1874, the road was a mile and a half in length. The Superior Street Railway Company was formed in 1875 and it built a double track road to Giddings Avenue, a distance of two and a half miles. The first president was J. H. Hardy. Five years later Charles Hathaway was president, J. W. Carson, treasurer and A. Bartlett, superintendent. This road connected at Giddings with a steam line to Euclid, built by the Lake View, Collamer & Euclid Railway Company.

Thus we have outlined the beginning of the Cleveland Street railways, the original traffic arrangements to meet the needs of the city on its upward path, the old horse cars, the unheated cars, the driver with his heavy mittens in zero weather exposed to every storm that blew, the slow schedule, the wait at the foot of heavy grades for an extra horse, and yet a necessity and a great factor in the development of the city.

Consolidations came with larger volume of traffic and in time the lines east of the river were united as the Big Consolidated, with Henry Everett at its head, and the lines west of the river as the Little Consolidated, with Mark Hanna in command. In the meantime Tom Johnson and his brother Al had been interested in the Cleveland Street railways, had brought about many reforms in management and then transferred their interests. Electric power was substituted for the horse and the trolley for the whiffietree. Still more efficiency came with the consolidation of all the lines, but the franchises were dependent upon the city council and the street railways were in politics, the car riders interested in low fares as well as good service must be reckoned with.

Tom Johnson made Cleveland his home, was elected mayor, advocating three cent fare. The people knowing him as a street railway man, believed this low fare possible and he was reelected repeatedly on the leading issue of three cent fare. When he was elected all the lines were controlled by the Cleveland Electric Railway Company. But this company had their franchises and the mayor began the project of building a three cent fare line. A company was formed called the Forest City Railway Company. In May, 1903, the city council passed an ordinance permitting this company to build a line on Fulton Road and Dennison Avenue.

In the face of numerous delays by reason of court orders the project was hampered, but on November 1, 1906, the line was opened and the first three cent cars were operated. To show the intensity of the struggle, this new line could operate only to the east end of the viaduct, the viaduct being free territory. All that stopped the new line from getting to the Public Square was the strip from the viaduct. That strip had been free territory, but was tied up by injunction. On December, 1906, late in the night Mayor Johnson, for the low fare company, got authority from the board of public service to build tracks on this strip. At midnight the tracks were laid on the pavement. Barrels full of cinders were placed along the tracks and trolley poles with scantling for arms were placed in the barrels and these were nailed to loaded wagons to keep them in place. The next morning the cars went to the Square. On April 28, 1908, there was three cent fare on all the lines in the city.

Not to follow all of the intervening history by the failure of the city council to renew the franchises, all the lines in the city were placed in the hands of a receiver, appointed by the United States District Court. Then under a new franchise drafted by Judge Robert W. Taylor, of that court, the street railroads of the city were placed on their present footing, being operated by the company and the city in joint control. This was brought about March 1, 1910. The rate of fare is fixed on a sliding scale depending upon the earnings of the company. This ordinance also provides for the purchase of the lines by the city under certain conditions.

The street railways of the city carry more than a million "fares" daily and on account of the crowded condition of the streets there are 15,000 collisions annually. About one million and a half of dollars is paid out annually in the settlement of damage suits. The present rate of fare is six cents for single fare, but nine tickets are sold for fifty cents, and one cent is charged for a transfer. As we write negotiations are on foot between the employes, who are demanding increased wages, and the company, and if the increase is granted a higher rate of fare many be the result.

There are five electric lines entering the city, the Cleveland & Eastern Traction Company, running east, the Cleveland Southwestern & Columbus Railway, the Lake Shore Electric Railway running to Detroit, and the Northern Ohio Traction & Light Company, operating what was originally the Akron Bedford & Cleveland Railway, and the Chagrin Falls Railway. In competition with the passenger traffic of these lines are numerous bus lines that have been operated since the advent of better county and state roads.

Thus the traffic accommodations have kept pace with the growth of the city. The Ohio Canal that was in the early days a great boon to the little settlement at the mouth of the Cuyahoga, in 1850, besides its passenger traffic, carried eighty different varieties of freight. In 1839 nearly 20,000 people came to Cleveland by canal. This passenger traffic continued for many years. By 1905 the freight traffic was confined to hay, stone, lumber and coal. All this now is but a memory.

In Mr. Orth's history of Cleveland is a very minute description of the birth and growth of Cleveland's lake traffic, beginning with the first vessel, and carried up to the time when Cleveland was one of the great shipbuilding cities of the country. In 1796 Erie was the leading port on the south shore of Lake Erie. In 1808 Alonzo Carter built the Zephyr. This was the first vessel built in the city. In 1809 Joel Thoip built the small schooner Sally. The next year Murray and Butler built the Ohio of sixty tons, and in 1814 another schooner, Sally, of twenty five tons. In 1813 Levi Johnson built the Pilot, of thirty five tons, manned by Capt. John Austen, and two years later the Neptune of sixty five tons. In 1821 the Prudence was built by Philo Taylor and the next year the Minerva, of forty four tons, by Noble H. Merwin. Now commenced the building of larger vessels. In 1826 John Blair built the Macedonia of sixty tons, the Lake Serpent of forty tons, and the Comet of fifty tons.

But the lack of harbor facilities made the navigation of the lakes dangerous, as well as the shallowness of Lake Erie with its violent storms and in 1841 there were only nineteen sailing vessels on Lake Erie and but two of them were built in Cleveland.

Just what was the freight cargoes in those days may be of interest. In 1830 the schooner Detroit cleared from Cleveland with ninety one barrels of flour, 101 barrels of whiskey, sixty three barrels of pork, fifty one barrels of dried fruit, twenty four barrels of cider, and sixteen barrels of beef.

With the coming of steamboats vessels of larger tonnage were constructed. It was in 1807 that Fulton's Clermont made a trip on the Hudson. Two years later a steamboat sailed the St. Lawrence, two years after that the Mississippi. In 1816 the Walk in the Water, of 342 tons, built near Buffalo, was launched on Lake Erie. In 1818 the Walk in the Water came to Cleveland, stopping for a while off the mouth of the Cuyahoga before going on to Detroit. Three years later it was wrecked off Buffalo Creek. The second steamer on Lake Erie was built at Buffalo. In 1831, having served its time, it was sent over Niagara Falls as a spectacle. The Erie Canal was opened in 1826 and the Welland three years later. The early carrying trade on the lakes, both passenger and freight, was very profitable. Steamboats were built without much knowledge of their construction and manned by men without experience, but all in the mad haste to make money. The Madison, built at Erie, was said to have earned her entire cost in one season. The casualties were very large.

In 1831 the William Peacock burst her boilers, scalding to death seventeen persons, and the same year the Washington was wrecked. Seven years later another steamer of the same name was burned with loss of many lives. In 1841 the Erie was burned and 300 people perished. In 1850 the G. P. Griffith was burned with another sacrifice of lives. In 1854 the E. K. Collins was burned, the Garden City wrecked, and the Peninsula lost in a storm. In 1855 the Baltimore was wrecked. In 1860 the Gazelle and Arctic were wrecked and the Lady Elgin burned, with great loss of life. In 1862 the North Star was burned off Cleveland. In 1863 the Queen of the Lake was burned, the Sunbeam wrecked, and the Pewabie sunk. In 1866 the Traveler was burned and the Cleveland wrecked. In 1868 the Courtland, the R. N. Rice, the Atlantic, the Caspian, the Northerner were sunk and the Ironsides, the Sea Bird. and the City of Toledo were burned on the lakes. The R. G. Coburn also went down that year in a storm. Practically all of these steamboats were side wheelers. The large side wheelers began to be used as early as 1844.

The Cleveland that we have mentioned as being wrecked was 190 feet long, had 132 berths and carried the first steam whistle used on the lakes. Before that time bells and guns were used. The Empire, built in Cleveland in 1844, was of 1,136 tons burden. It was the first steamer built in the United States of over 1,000 tons burden, and 200 tons larger than any other steamship in the world. It made fast time and sailed from Detroit to Buffalo in twenty four hours. It was built by G. W. Jones and D. N. Barner and Company of Cleveland and was commanded by Captain Howe.

Ten years later still larger steamboats were built but the many disasters and the competition of the railroads cut down the passenger traffic, but the freight traffic increased. In 1841 the first screw propeller was built at Oswego, New York The first one of that type built in Cleveland was the Emigrant. These became the favorite until 1882 when the iron propellors came into use. These iron freight propellors have been great agents in the iron ore traffic. These great vessels carrying enormous cargoes of ore, together with ore unloading machines that are capable of unloading 6,000 tons and more daily, have been great agents in building up the commerce of Cleveland necessary to its industrial growth.

The men engaged in the lake traffic following the advent of the railroads combined in various transportation companies for the more systematic conduct of the business. Among prominent vessel men of Cleveland may be mentioned Capt. John W. Moore, Capt. Thomas Wilson, Capt. William S. Mack, Capt. Phillip Minch, Capt. Henry Johnson, the vessel broker, W. J. Webb, and the marine surveyor, Capt. C. E. Benham. Captain Benham has served in various capacities connected with the shipping in the port of Cleveland and takes a great deal of interest in river and harbor improvement.

The air service that came into so much prominence during the World war is now taking on a commercial phase and seems destined to become a part of our commercial life. Cleveland is a logical aviation center. Starting with the mail service it is drifting into commercial lines. For over two years there has been maintained direct air mail service from New York to San Francisco. Last season passenger service between Cleveland and Detroit was maintained. Daily service will soon be renewed. Train time is from five to five and a half hours, while the time by plane is ninety minutes. Over 500 flights have been made over Lake Erie. Over 26,000 passengers have been carried a total of 1,000,000 miles with only one serious accident.

The Glen L. Martin airplane factory, located in Cleveland, has built here 100 planes. The first one was built in 1918. It now has contracts aggregating a million dollars. The lessening demand for Government work has turned the attention to the question of commercial aviation. The demand must precede the establishment of factories. It is said that this country is especially adapted for air navigation. The International Airways Company has been organized in Cleveland. It is incorporated for $1,000,000 and Maj. L. B. Lent is the president. The offices are in the Cleveland Discount Building.

It is said that the demand for fast transportation is increasing. Among other items connected with the service as contemplated, the Cleveland banks send two and one half millions of dollars daily for clearance in New York, that arrives too late for clearance the following morning, resulting in an annual loss of from $40,000 to $50,000. Some put the loss at $1,200 per day, that could be saved by this faster service. There are other considerations that enter into the problem.

What grew into a great public utility was that of supplying gas to the city. It replaced the candle and the oil lamp in the home. Streets were first lighted with lard oil lamps. In 1849 the first gas was furnished in Cleveland. Its use grew with the years, but at first it was used only for lighting. Then came the gas stove and its use became common in the kitchen. Until the advent of natural gas, however, it was little used for heating purposes. The Cleveland Gas Light and Coke Company and the Peoples Gas Light Company supplied the city for many years. It was during the administration of Tom L Johnson as mayor that the East Ohio Gas Company laid its pipes to the city in competition with the artificial gas companies and the passing of the ordinance fixing the rate to be charged was accompanied by a dramatic scene in the city council. The natural gas brought from the West Virginia fields could be furnished cheaper than gas could be manufactured, it was thought, and the question of rate was before the council. A councilman claimed to have been offered a bribe and in a dramatical manner carried the money to the desk of the presiding officer. This carried over a few votes that were needed and the ordinance was passed. An arrest was made, but the one charged with bribery was never prosecuted.

In time the East Ohio absorbed the other companies, the Peoples Gas Light Company, which was furnishing gas to the west side, and the Cleveland Gas Light and Coke Company, which was furnishing gas to the east side, and this company is now the sole one with which the city has to deal in the matter of its gas supply.

The city directory of 1848 says that "Cleveland is now the Emporium of Northern Ohio and is next in importance to Cincinnati." It had at that time three wards. Lorenzo A. Kelsey was mayor, M. M. Spangler, treasurer, S. A. Abbey, marshal, and Jabez Fitch, attorney. This latter office is now called that of law director. J. K. Elwell was harbormaster, J. A. Craw, city sexton, O. F. Welsh, market clerk, John M. Bailey, sealer of weights and measures, and there was a city officer called the weigher of hay. A. S. Sanford was chief of the fire department, Smith Inglehart was collector of the port, and Louis Dibble keeper of the lighthouse.

There were four military companies in the city, the Ringgolders, an artillery company commanded by Gen. A. S. Sanford, the German City Guards, commanded by Capt. Frederick Silberg, the German Yagers, commanded by Capt. A. Seywert, and the Hibernian Guards, commanded by Capt. P. A. McBarron. This was supposed to protect the commercial interests of the Cleveland port. An aid to commerce was the telegraph. The Atlantic Lake and Mississippi Telegraph Company had an office in operation, with E. B. Ely as secretary. The Weddell House, the Cleveland Hotel opposite, the New England Hotel on Merwin Street, Farmers' Hotel or exchange, the United States Hotel, the Mansion House kept by Stephens and Young, on Water Street, the Napoleon Hotel at Water and St Clair, the American House, and the City Hotel on Seneca were running. The rates of the latter are published at seventy five cents per day. The term "Tavern" had been discarded as the city had now a population of nearly 20,000, including Ohio City. N. E. Crittenden was operating a jewelry store. The lawyers had increased faster than the doctors for there were seventy of the former and only twenty doctors. There were no garages, but a number of livery stables, no photograph galleries, but several Daguerreotype galleries, twenty dry goods merchants, five hardware merchants, seven druggists, five jewelers (we have mentioned Crittenden), and nineteen clothing stores. James F. Ryder's Daguerreotype gallery was the oldest in the city.

In the '50s E. I. Baldwin and Company were leading dry goods merchants on Superior and Luetkemeyer and Schmidthusen in hardware. The Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad and the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula were each running three trains daily out of Cleveland. Taylor Griswold and Company were dry goods merchants on Superior and the Angier House at the corner of Bank and St. Clair were entertaining travelers. Horace Waters had added pianos to his stock of melodians. Saloons had increased more rapidly than any other line of business and there were 125 in the city. This was due no doubt to the breweries that were making a beer or present use ale that had a large sale.

The Cleveland Grays were organized and commanded by Capt. T. S. Paddock, and the Washington Guards, commanded by Capt. Tobias Ossman. The Cleveland Light Dragoons were commanded by Capt. L. Hackman.

The most we can do in discussing the intervening history up to the present time during which the city has grown to hold a commanding place among the cities of the United States is to touch here and there, mentioning some of the leading firms that have their place in the commercial life of the city but, no doubt, omitting many that deserve notice and the hotels. The Hollenden on Superior, the Cleveland on the Public Square, the Statler and Colonial on Euclid, the Winton on Prospect, the American House, on Superior, with its long history, the Hotel Euclid, the Olmsted on Superior, the Kennard House, with its long history like the American, and the Hawley on West Third Street, and the Murphy on East Ninth Street are some of the down town hotels that deserve mention. The Doanbrook, the Sovereign, Fenway Hall, Clifton Manor and others outside of the congested district add to the number. There are in all 120.

The leading department stores in the city are the May Company and the Bailey Company. As indicating the volume of trade, by a count made on one shopping day, 40,000 shoppers entered the former, a fair record for one day.

Among the leading dry goods stores of the city are the William Taylor Son and Company's, the Halle Brothers Company's, the Higbee Company's, the Lindner Company's and on the west side, the Friese and Schuele Company's and the John Meckes Sons Company's. The leaders in the china and glassware lines are Kinney and Levan, C. A. Selzer and George H. Bowman. In hardware the William Bingham Company, the George Worthington and the Cleveland Hardware Company are some of the large firms. The Sterling and Welch Company are now second in the large line of carpet and rug stores. Among the hundreds of groceries we can with safety point to Chandler and Rudd and William P. Southworth and Company as downtown leaders, in the retail business, and William Edwards and Company, the Haserot Company, the Higgins-Babcock Company, the Weideman Company, and the Fisher Brothers Company in the wholesale line, the latter having the distinction of successfully operating the largest number of retail stores of any firm in the city. They have nearly 150 stores. The next firm in point of numbers is the Mathew Smith Tea, Coffee and Groceries Company, which has sixty eight stores.

It is more difficult to select any outstanding firms in the furniture line, for out of the 150 and more engaged in the business many handle other goods becoming prominent in several ways and almost entering the class of department stores. The lumber trade has been large in the city. Back in the '60s 15.000,000 feet of lumber were received at the Port of Cleveland in a single year. There are 150 firms in the city engaged in the lumber business.

Engaged in the coal and ore and shipping trade are some of the largest and most influential companies in the city. M. A. Hanna and Company takes high rank and is one of the long established firms. The prominence of Senator Hanna in public life, his established fame and enduring place in American History, has brought the great firm he established into more than business prominence. There are many others of almost equal prominence.

In the various lines of commercial endeavor in the city there has been continuous growth with the advance of the city save two, the brewing industry, which belongs to the industrial chapter, and the saloons, which belong to this. Before the passage of the prohibition amendment there were nearly 3,000 saloons in the City of Cleveland. Today there are only 117 and ninety that are designated as cafes.

The enforcement of the prohibition amendment to the constitution of the United States has brought many cases into the courts, but in all of its difficulties it is safe to say that Cleveland, with its cosmopolitan population, has not been second among the large cities of the country.

One thing observable in the trade of the city is the localizing in later years. Instead of one center of trade we now have many and as the city enlarges its borders these centers of trade increase and the lines of business are multiplied.


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