The History of the Hamilton Police Department Motorcycle Unit
The Hamilton Police Department is located in Butler County. It started it’s modern policing in 1829. It is believed that the Motor Unit started in 1923.
Sgt. James O’Connor Retires
Hamilton Journal and Daily News, Saturday, November 13, 1954, page 18
[this article was accompanied by a standard headshot photo]
After 33 Years!
Sgt. James O’Connor Retires;
Police Vet Had Much To Do
With Shaping Traffic Program
When Police Chief Charles Stricker appointed one James O’Connor as a sub-patrolman on Hamilton’s police department, on July 12, 1921, he probably didn’t know that he was appointing a man who was destined to play an important and original part in one of Hamilton’s toughest problems — traffic control and traffic enforcement.
And when sub-patrolman Jimmie O’Connor began his police career by pounding the pavements in Lindenwald on the 3 to 11 shift he probably never realized that he was to become Hamilton’s first police sergeant in control of traffic.
The three stripes of a sergeant probably looked very far away when O’Connor was transferred to the East Hamilton beat on the 11 to 7 shift. On this particular assignment, O’Connor rode the street-car from the police station to East Hamilton. After two hours of foot patrol in East Hamilton, O’Connor then walked to Lindenwald and patrolled that area until about 3 a.m. At this time he would then walk to the Butler County Fairgrounds where he called in a report to headquarters from a call box. From the Fairgrounds Jimmie then proceeded on foot to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station where he again reported to headquarters from a call box. These duties, all on foot except for the original ride to East Hamilton, completed the eight-hour, 11 to 7 East Hamilton shift.
Jim’s next assignment was to the High St. beat on the 3 to 11 shift. By 1926 the traffic situation in Hamilton had developed to such an extent that the then Police Chief Otto Kolodzik saw fit to appoint O’Connor as acting traffic sergeant. Not until Jan. 16, 1937, did Hamilton City Council take official action and create the position of traffic sergeant. Jim then received his permanent appointment to the position.
The next 15 years of Sgt. O’Connor’s service are pretty much a history of Hamilton’s traffic control. Sgt. O’Connor, along with Joe Cahill, Frank Brown and Henry ‘Heinie” Hart, took turns operating the semaphore “Stop and Go” signs at Second and High Sts.; Third and High Sts., and Main and B Sts. It was while operating the semaphore at Second and High Sts., that Sgt. O’Connor was struck by an automobile driven by no less a personage than Mayor Howard Kelley. Controlling traffic by semaphore was then considered the latest thing.
Sgt. O’Connor recalls that the first electric stoplight in Hamilton was installed at 10th and Heaton Sts. Electric traffic lights were
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later installed on High St., at the intersection of Front St.; Second St.; and Third St. It was part of O’Connor’s job to determine the downtown traffic patterns and the timing of the lights to keep traffic moving as smoothly as possible.
Used Control Tower
During this period, Sgt. O’Connor controlled the downtown traffic from a control tower mounted on a utility pole at the northeast corner of Second and High Sts. According to O’Connor, the biggest headache in traffic control was the deluge of traffic on Saturday night when practically every person who in Butler County followed the old horse-and-buggy tradition of spending Saturday night in Hamilton.
Sgt. O’Connor cooperated with Bill Howe and the Butler County Automobile Club in working out the original School Boy Patrol system for the City of Hamilton. The sergeant also made talks on traffic safety to school children in all of the classes in the city. And along with these tasks, he did his share of motorcycle duty, including the chasing of speeders.
One of O’Connor’s closest shaves, he recalls, followed the apprehension of a speed violator, Just as Sgt. O’Connor stopped his motorcycle, he was struck from the rear by another fast-moving vehicle.
As O’Connor fell to the street, the vehicle swished past within a foot of his body. The driver stopped the car about a half-block from the accident scene, and according to O’Connor, the driver staggered back to look down at the injured officer saying, “Sha-ay, about me coin in’ tomorrow, and letsh talk thish thing over.”
Jimmie had another more serious accident when his cycle hit a street-car rail, skidded and threw him. He was hospitalized for a month.
Traffic control has moved along since those first lights were installed in Hamilton. Sgt. O’Connor noted that changing theories on traffic light control have moved from the original three target intersection lights to two target lights, then to three target side-arm corner lights, and now back to three target intersection and overhead lights.
“Through the years we have always had our traffic congestion, “O’Connor said, “but we have always managed to keep pace.”
Born in Hamilton on May 30, 1894, O’Connor attended St. Mary and Adams schools. He was a machinist prior to going to work for city, having learned and served the trade for about six years at Hooven-Owens-Rentschler. During World War I he was in the U. S. Army.
Jim married, Irene Lagedrost in 1922 and had a family of three sons and four daughters. He was born and reared at 633 S. C St., left there for 12 years after his marriage, and returned there in 1934 and has remained ever since.
O’Connor enjoys fishing and, until the death of a son in 1950, spent many off-duty hours building model airplanes. His pride and joy was a gas-engined job with a 9-foot wingspan.
And after 33 years and four months of service, Traffic Sgt. James O’Connor, in his retirement which starts today, can rest assured that there are thousands of Hamiltonians who will long remember him as the tall, well-uniformed officer, who was never too busy to talk to children, and who spent many hours in instructing them in traffic safety.
Sgt. James P. O’CONNOR Obituary, Hamilton Journal and Daily News, 1959
Sgt. OConnor Stricken; First Traffic Dept Head
James P. O’Connor, 65, 633 S. C St., retired Hamilton police sergeant who directed the traffic control system of the city for many years and who was Hamiltons first traffic officer, died at his home around 9 p.m., Friday night.
Mr. O’Connor had been in ill health for many years, but his sudden death comes as a shock to his family and many friends.
He was appointed to the police department as a sub-patrolman on July 21, 1921, and served on the department for 33 years and four months before he retired on Nov. 13, 1954.
Officer O’Connor served on many assignments in the department until 1926 when the traffic situation in Hamilton had developed to such an extent that the Police Chief Otto Kolodzik appointed O’Connor as acting traffic sergeant. He served in this capacity for 11 years before he received a permanent appointment to that rank.
Considered an expert in the field of traffic, Sgt. O’Connor not only handled assignments for traffic officers but also was charged with traffic engineering duties. He determined the downtown traffic patterns and the timing on traffic lights after they were installed to replace patrolmen operating semaphore units in the center of busy intersections.
School Boy Patrol
Sgt. OConnor cooperated with Will Howe of the Butler County Automobile Club in working out the original School Boy Patrol system for the city of Hamilton and he made numerous talks on traffic safety to school children all over the city. He also served on motorcycle duty in chasing and apprehending speeders and was injured three times in the line of duty. Twice he was struck by motorists and the third time his motorcycle hit a street-car rail and threw him to the pavement.
During his 33 years service, Hamilton’s traffic control system changed from the horse and buggy semaphore system to the modern traffic control lights.
Like all police officers, Mr. O’Connor was assigned numerous and difficult tasks where the simple act of following orders and doing the duty assigned can bring resentment from the public. However, the many hundreds of children and adults who learned to know Sgt. OConnor, found him a man with mild manners who liked people, loved children and was devoted to his home and family. Many of his off-duty hours were spent in the construction of model airplanes which were the delight of the children in his neighborhood.
He was born in Hamilton on May 30, 1894, the youngest son of Charles and Mary Cortney OConnor and attended St. Mary and Adams Schools. He was a machinist prior to joining the police department, having learned and served the trade for about six years at the old Hooven-Owens-Rentschler plant. During World War I he served in the U. S. Army and was honorably discharged May 27, 1919, at Camp Jackson, S.C.
Mr. OConnor married Irene Lagedrost on May 31, 1922, in St. Joseph Church and to the union three sons and four daughters were born. He was a life-long member of St. Mary Church and was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Hamilton Lodge 38.
Members of Family
He leaves his wife, Irene O’Connor; two sons, James W. O’Connor, Hamilton, Airman Third Class Robert Lee O’Connor, stationed at Griffen Air Force Base, Rome, N.Y.; four daughters, Miss Mary Jane O’Connor, Hamilton, Mrs. Alice Kuhlmann, Hamilton, Mrs. Catherine DGeorgio, Dayton, and Miss Patricia Ann O’Connor, Dayton.
He was preceded in death by his parents, a son, John O’Connor, a brother, Charles O’Connor, and a sister, Elizabeth O’Connor.
Funeral services will be conducted at the Michael J. Colligan Funeral Home, 437 S. Third St., at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Requiem High Mass will be intoned at St. Mary Church at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Friends may call at the funeral home after 4 p.m. Tuesday.
[Note: Misspelled names: mother was Mary Courtney; the daughter is Mrs. Catherine DiGiorgio. ]
My name is Diane Beaty, and my maiden name is Kuhlmann. Sgt. James P. O’Connor is my mother’s father. Please credit Diane Kuhlmann Beaty if you decide to use some or all of this on your page as that is how I’m typically referred to on history-related pages.
Information and Photos provided by the Hamilton Police Department and Photos and information of Sgt. James P. O’Connor provided by Diane Kuhlmann Beaty