A native of Germany, John Dice was born in 1841 and immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio with his parents at the age of five. When thirteen years old, “he was apprenticed to Isaac and Benjamin Bruce to learn carriage making. He remained with them five years.” From 1859 to 1864, he worked as a journeyman carriage maker in Cincinnati, except during the time of his military enrollment in the Civil War.
After his term of service with the In 1864, he left his childhood home near Cincinnati and settled in Portsmouth, where he opened a carriage shop on Second Street, between Jefferson and Market streets, in the heart of what became the Boneyfiddle.
His business prospered and in 1868 he built his Carriage Works, a “three-story brick building 30 x 124,” which, when in full operation, employed twenty-five men. In September 1870, Dice expanded his business when he and Thomas T. Yeager purchased the longstanding livery stable of R.S. Maklem. Known as the City Livery, the business was located on Market Street, near Third.
In the livery business, Dice and Yeager partnered with former Scioto County Sheriff, John W. Lewis, who managed the day-to-day operations of their stable and fleet of vehicles. According to the Portsmouth Times, the company’s “Clarence Hack” was particularly popular with wedding parties and its “white team” of horses, first put together by R.S. Maklem, were used to pull hearses at funerals.
With these two prosperous and aligned businesses, Dice emerged as one of the Boneyfiddle’s leading entrepreneurs. In 1881, the Portsmouth Times reported that Dice had “sold buggies as far South as Alabama, and as far West as the Mississippi River; he has also shipped buggies to Niagara Falls.” The primary market for Dice’s buggies, carriages, and other vehicles was local and regional.
In May 1895, City Council awarded him a contract to build “the new city police patrol wagon.” Manufacture and delivery would take six weeks and Dice’s firm would be paid $200. When adjusted for inflation, in 2018, Dice was paid the equivalent of $6,000 for the wagon. The Portsmouth Daily Times reported that its design “will be fashioned after the style of the metropolitan regulation patrol and will be for the use of one horse. It will be painted a very brilliant and striking color so as to be easily distinguishable from all other vehicles in the city.”
Dice was a Republican and politically active and would also play an instrumental role in the management of Portsmouth’s first public water system. Elected to the Water Works Board of Trustees, he served from 1893 to 1899 and, as President of the Board, he was deeply involved in its day-to-day management during these years. Under his leadership an additional ten miles of water lines were constructed and pumping capacity increased, ensuring the city’s infrastructure kept up with its growth.
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