Friday, September 21, 2001

City's gimmick made a point

But 15 years later, Hamilton's punctuation mark has faded

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — When this city adopted the exclamation point as part of its name 15 years ago, Hamilton! received worldwide attention.

        Stories appeared in newspapers as far away as Europe and Japan. As city mayor, Greg Jolivette carried a sign with Hamilton's new name to New York and was interviewed by broadcaster Charlie Rose on the CBS Morning News. It was noted by Esquire magazine, albeit sarcastically.

[photo] Stewart Jones came up with the idea of adding an exclamation point to the city's name.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        But today, Hamilton's famed punctuation mark has a much lower profile. It doesn't generate much more excitement than an ordinary comma or period.

        The city's exclamation point is not on street signs, city office doors, police cruisers or police uniform patches. The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce no longer includes it in its logo. The post office doesn't use it, and never has.

        Yet it hasn't completely dropped from view. It's still used in the heading on city stationery and appears in some promotional materials by the city, the chamber and the Greater Hamilton Convention & Visitors Bureau.

        “It's not as prominent as it once was,” City Manager Steve Sorrell said. “A lot of people make fun of it. But it got the city a lot of publicity, which is exactly what it was intended to do.”

        In their distant travels, some Hamilton officials and residents still encounter people who mention the exclamation point.

        It happened to Butler County historian Jim Blount when he was touring Italy three years ago.

        “When I mentioned to some Americans in my tour group where I lived, they immediately brought up the exclamation point,” he said.

        Last year, Mr. Sorrell was asked about it at the International City Managers Association meeting in Portland, Ore.

        Attaching the eye-catching punctuation mark to the end of Hamilton's name was the brainchild of Stewart Jones, a longtime Hamilton resident who was chairman of a Cincinnati advertising agency, Brewer, Jones and Feldman Inc.

        The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce asked the agency to help develop a “Hamilton Has It All” promotional campaign.

        Mr. Jones, now 82 years old and retired, said he was trying to think of some attention-grabber for the city when he recalled how the musical Oklahoma! received its punctuation mark.

        “The authors were trying to think of a catchier title for the play when they decided to add the exclamation point,” he said.

        On May 28, 1986, City Council voted 5-1 to change Hamilton, Ohio's name to Hamilton! Ohio.

        George McNally, who's still a city councilman, cast the dissenting vote. He still dismisses the exclamation point as a silly gimmick that wasn't worth the $35,000 it cost the city to change its stationery and entrance signs.

        “I didn't think it would be effective in attracting businesses to the city, and it proved true,” Mr. McNally said. “Who would invest money in a city based on an exclamation point? If it really worked, we'd have communities with two or three exclamation points after their names.”

        Hamilton Mayor Adolf Olivas supported the exclamation point as a councilman in 1986 and still thinks it has value.

        “It's a no-cost remedy for getting the city a little play,” he said. “We stopped using it in the middle of sentences in letters and printed material because it made word processors go crazy. But I and a few other council members still use it when appropriate at the end of sentences, in letterheads and on businesses cards.”

        Mr. Olivas said the exclamation point began its decline when a former city economic development official decided to stop using it in promotional materials.

        Hamilton was never able to persuade Rand McNally to use Hamilton! on state maps. And most residents never bothered using the exclamation point.

        Mr. Jolivette, now a state representative, and Mel Less, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce, said they can't think of any specific businesses that came to Hamilton because of the exclamation point.

        “Whether it does anything for us in terms of economic development, I doubt it,” Mr. Less said.

        But both men say the exclamation point was worthwhile.

        “At the time, it was neat,” Mr. Jolivette said. “We got a lot of good publicity for free.”


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