Omaha Commercial College
The best source material for Omaha Commercial College comes from contemporary newspaper articles in the Omaha Daily Bee. The scholarship image is from the University of Iowa digital collection.
Omaha Commercial College was founded in 1885 by brothers Marion, George, and Lee Rohrbough. At that time only one other commercial college existed in the West. Beginning as a small school of 40 students, OCC had become the largest commercial college in the West with more than 1,100 students by the beginning of the twentieth century. In its ads, OCC also laid claim to the title “Best in the West.”
In 1905, OCC listed five departments—business, shorthand/typing, English training, telegraph, and penmanship. But with the new building opening that year, the Bee noted that OCC had plans to add to their offerings. And with the new facility, the school hoped to add concerts and lectures, along with literary, athletic and social entertainments. Soon a school orchestra, a school band, a literary society, and a debating club began to appear in news of the school.
As commercial needs changed, OCC revised its offerings. In 1910 it listed departments of bookkeeping/accounting, business agriculture, civil service, banking, telegraphy, business normal, and pen art. Advertisements also were beginning to target eighth-grade graduates. Those who had not been able to attend high school could enroll in the prep department at OCC.
At some point around the end of 1911 or the beginning of 1912, school ads for and news from OCC end.
Bricks and Mortar
Omaha Commercial College occupied four different buildings in its first twenty years. In 1905 the new Rohrbough Building opened at 19th and Farnam Streets. Made of gray pressed bricks with light stone trim, the building measured 66 by 132 feet. It contained four stories, providing space for all the divisions of the college, even allowing space for the Omaha School of Law. The building included an auditorium with seating for 700.
Of especial mention was the gymnasium, containing locker rooms and showers for both men and women. Its dedication featured boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. A special teacher was hired to oversee the programs.
After OCC closed, the building became known as the Lyric Building, containing studios for teachers and artists, according to the Omaha World Herald. In 1925 a fire started in a photographer’s studio, destroying the upper two floors. In 1978 the Midtown Upstairs Supper Theater opened in the building.
Newspaper image of the Rohrbough Building. Omaha Daily Bee (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1905-04-16/ed-1/seq-49) Last accessed 2-23-2018
Team name: Newspapers referred to the team as the “Commercials”
School Colors: Originally Lavender and Yellow, colors were changed in 1902 by a vote of the school. Green and White were thought to be more distinctive colors among schools in the Omaha area.
Omaha Commercial College began football in 1902. That the team had uniforms and were trying to schedule games was listed as an advertising “pointer” for the school. A note in the Bee that winter suggested a very vigorous recruiting campaign. The article noted that the school had the names of every good football player within 500 miles of Omaha. It promised that the school would make “special arrangements” for “crack players.”
The few results available show that while OCC played colleges such as Doane, Amity, and Boyles Business College, most opponents were town and club sides—The Dodge Light Guards of Council Bluffs, Woodbine (IA) Athletic Club, the Surly (IA) Giants, and the Harlan (IA) Heavyweights. The Commercials also played Omaha High School. In 1904 OCC tried a hand at indoor football.
Newspaper records show that OCC students occasionally participated in track meets and in basketball after the opening of the gymnasium. A school team also played in a summer baseball league in Omaha.
Newspaper image of the 1902 football team. Omaha Daily Bee (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1902-12-21/ed-1/seq-42) Last accessed 2-23-2018