Nelson Business College
Cincinnati and Springfield, Ohio
1856-1930 and 1881-1914
Nelson Business College advertised heavily in Cincinnati newspapers and in the Cincinnati city directories. John B. Shotwell’s History of the Schools of Cincinnati has a section on the college as does the Centennial History of Cincinnati by Charles T. Greve. The 1878 ad (right) is from the Daily Star.
English born Richard Nelson opened a business college in Cincinnati on 1856, regarded as the first actual business college in the nation. Seeing that existing business schools, focusing on theory, did little to prepare graduates for the real-world problems facing them at work, he created a new model. “From the first day until the last students in the business department are engaged in actual business transactions.” Ads emphasized that all instructors were “practical business men.”
Departments included Business Penmanship, Mercantile Law, Banking and Business Transactions, Bookkeeping, Correspondence, Shorthand, and Typewriting. In 1889 he opened a Preparatory Department for high school age students.
When Nelson found that existing textbooks were insufficient, the school published its own texts: Mercantile Arithmetic, Nelson’s New Bookkeeping, and Accounts and Business.
Bookkeeping was taught “as it is used in the business world. Shorthand students were taught “the latest Pitman and New Rapid systems.” Typing students were required to become proficient on each of the seven brands of typewriters commercially available. In addition, students “were drilled daily in business arithmetic, penmanship and bill making.”
The demand for Nelson Business College graduates was so great that soon the Nelson family began to open branch campuses. One son, Richard J., opened a branch in Springfield in 1881, which was later managed by his brother Horatio. A third son, Albert, opened a branch in Memphis in 1898. The Nelson Ladies’ Business College was operated by a daughter, Ella, in Cincinnati.
With a student-faculty ratio of 20 to 1, Nelson ran classes both day and night. For the war year of 1917-18 enrollment in Cincinnati was listed as 139 males and 610 females for a total of 749.
Schools are last listed in the Springfield city directory in 1914 and in the Cincinnati city directory in 1930.
(Richard J. Nelson (right), son of the founder, was principal of the Springfield branch of Nelson Business College and later of the Cincinnati branch. Image from
Bricks and Mortar
The first home for Nelson Business College in Cincinnati was the new Chamber of Commerce Building at the southeast corner of 4th and Vine Streets. That fortress-like, four-story stone building was demolished in 1911. By 1900 the Nelson Business College had been relocated to the Odd Fellows Temple at 7th and Elm streets, its final home. Here it occupied eight rooms on the fourth floor. Built in 1894, it was razed in 1942 to make way for a parking lot.
When Richard J. Nelson opened a branch in Springfield, it located in the northeast corner building of Kelly Arcade. Newspaper photos of the interior show a huge hall. The arcade was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and was subsequently razed in 1988.
Kelly Arcade in Springfield, Ohio. Nelson Business College was housed in the part left of the "Arcade" entrance sign. Image from the Library of Congress.
Both the Cincinnati and Springfield branches sponsored sports programs—at least on a limited basis. Both College Football Data Warehouse and Dr. Roger B. Saylor show that Hiram College defeated a Nelson Business College in 1902, but which branch isn’t clear.
In 1895 the Kentucky Post shows that a football team had been organized by the students at the Cincinnati branch with games against Hughes High School and Rugby Military Academy. The Cincinnati Post notes a 1906 game with St. John’s High School and a 1909 match with the Ohio Military Institute.
The Springfield branch played two of the games mentioned in the Data Warehouse. In 1908 the Nelson team lost to neighboring Cedarville College 12-0 and to St. Mary’s Institute (now Dayton University) 16-0.
A basketball team—described as “fast”—was organized in 1910 at Springfield. The team promptly defeated Cedarville., but later lost to New Carlisle 28-22.
A baseball team from the Cincinnati branch lost to Norwood High school 13-3 in 1905 and to Ohio Military Institute 17-0 in 1909. The Springfield team lost to Cedarville College 5-4 in 1912.