Why Do Cincinnatians And Clevelanders Dislike Each Other?

Nov 5, 2015

Other than the Steelers, there's one team every Bengals fan loves to hate. Cincinnati squares off against the Cleveland Browns Thursday night in a rivalry that's only grown over the years... especially when former coach Sam Wyche famously chastised a Cincinnati crowd saying, "You don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!" Earlier this year WVXU's Tana Weingartner teamed up with Kabir Bhatia at WKSU in Kent to figure out the source of all this intrastate animosity.

Here's an encore presentation of their report:

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

It's something Ohioans just know. Cincinnatians do not like Cleveland, and Clevelanders do not like Cincinnati. How could two major cities in the same state -- a state once known as the heart of it all – have so little love for each other? WVXU's Tana Weingartner teamed up with Kabir Bhatia at WKSU in Kent to seek out an answer for Ohio Public Radio.

Everyone knows they either don't or aren't supposed to like the other city. But why? Why do Cincinnati and Cleveland have such animosity toward one another? Was there one defining moment when the two cities drew a line? 

We put the question to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. Emmy Beach with the Ohio History Connection responded. "We looked hard and long for information for why this may be and historically we just weren't able to find anything.” 

Strike out.

Next we asked a pair of history professors from different ends of the state. First up: Andrew Cayton, former University Distinguished Professor of History at Miami University. He recently became the Warner R. Woodring Chair in Early American History at The Ohio State University.

"I can't think of a specific instance," he says.

While many people believe the rivalry has something to do with sports, historians say it goes back further than the Browns and the Bengals or the Reds and the Indians. Though certainly things like Paul Brown moving to Cincinnati and starting the Bengals didn’t help relations.

Cayton says the best guess at why the two cities have always been at odds is because they're just so different.

"Cincinnati remains a city that is primarily kind of Southern and kind of Appalachian and German very much in its character," says Cayton. "Whereas Cleveland is a city that really came into its own later in the 19th century. So the immigrant populations are different there. So you have more Italians; you have more Polish."

And what does Professor Kevin Kern from the University of Akron have to say about that? He agrees.

"Politics here were very different," Kern says. "They tended to be more like New England.  There tended to be more acceptance of things like abolition. And Cincinnati really did represent southern immigration: people coming in from Kentucky and Virginia and bringing with them those attitudes."

Cayton continues, "Really, Cleveland belongs in a state with Buffalo, Detroit and Toledo.  And Cincinnati with Louisville and Nashville; with Memphis; with Knoxville to some extent."

Kern adds, "You had George Pendleton, who was the Cincinnati Democratic boss. And Henry Payne, who was the Cleveland Democratic boss. A lot had to do with patronage: who got what job.  Some it had to do with policy issues. People (would) argue till they were blue-in-the-face about things like the tariff and currency."

"Cincinnati has unions but they’re not as big," says Cayton. "Cincinnati is always a much more kind of commercial city; a 19th century city. You see factories in Cincinnati, but not to the extent of the big steel factories that you would see in Cleveland and Youngstown and Northeast Ohio."

So it seems Cleveland and Cincinnati are actually very similar except for their origins, politics, demographics, sports teams, climate, economies and history. 

At least there is one thing people in both cities can agree upon: Everyone hates Pittsburgh.

This story first aired July 21, 2015.