The Generosity of George Ritter
by Reginald S. Jackson Jr., Toledo
Born in Vermillion, educated in Cleveland, George Ritter started his practice in Sandusky and moved to Toledo just before World War I.
In 1937, in the throes of the Great Depression, one of George Ritter’s clients approached him asking that Ritter put his corporation into bankruptcy. Times were tough, but George Ritter believed he could save the company. The client said he could not afford to pay but offered Ritter one-quarter of his company if George Ritter could save the company from bankruptcy. The name of Ritter’s client was John Willys.
After many train trips to New York, Ritter was able to obtain new financing and reorganize and save the company. The company was Willys-Overland.
Three years later, the U.S. Army began its preparation for its involvement in World War II and contacted a number of companies to create working prototypes of a four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car. Only two companies responded: American Bantam Car Company of Pennsylvania and Willys-Overland.
Although the contract for the vehicle was given to Bantam, Bantam proved unable to develop the vehicle in mass production, and Willys-Overland overtook the development and production. There is some controversy in history as to the origin of the name of the vehicle, but the contract was awarded for the production labeled, “Vehicle, General Purpose.” The world now knows the vehicle by its better name, Jeep.
During World War II, the Jeep was produced in Toledo by 15,000 fulltime employees who manufactured over 600,000 Jeeps. The Jeep was instrumental in the victory, and, at the end of the war, Jeeps were left all over the world. Today, Jeep is an American icon worldwide. Then, in 1952, Henry Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland, and Ritter’s wealth grew.
After the sale of Willys-Overland and Jeep, George and Mary Ritter, who had no children, set up a series of trusts which benefited several churches, hospitals, many charities, Bowling Green State University, and the University of Toledo.
George Ritter had a great love of the law, and, in 1952, he founded both the Ohio State Bar Foundation and the Toledo Bar Foundation. A devoted Rotarian, he also was the founder of the Toledo Rotary Foundation.
George Ritter was born in 1886 and died at the age of 92 in 1979. Before his death, he created what is called a perpetual trust for the benefit of several Foundations. Every year, the Ohio State Bar Foundation receives a bequest in the name of the George and Mary Ritter Trust.
Today, the Toledo Rotary Foundation is the sixth-largest Rotary Foundation in the world. The Ohio State Bar Foundation is the largest Bar Foundation in the United States, eclipsing the American Bar Foundation in size almost two to one.