Quick Links

Cleveland is the Charlie Brown of U.S. cities. For years, the city on the shore of Lake Erie has been the butt of jokes and a victim of harsh circumstances that might otherwise prompt residents to pull stakes and pitch up tents elsewhere.

As it turns out, quite a few people have left Cleveland over the years, while those who stayed had to endure such insults as ducks reportedly flying upside-down over the city because there was nothing worth dumping on.


But those put-downs ignore some of the best things Cleveland has to offer, such as The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, a 23,000-acre Metropark system that cuts through the city, and a percolating craft beer industry that produces some of the finest lagers in the country. And a recent reinvestment into sprucing up the city has not only bolstered the confidence of locals, even a few hipsters proclaim that Cleveland is cool these days.

Still, it's hard to ignore an embarrassing history that spawned the dreaded slogan "The Mistake on the Lake."


Why Cleveland Is Often Called 'The Mistake On The Lake'

While Cleveland is no longer referred to as the 'mistake on the lake,' its history does precede it as one of the more unfortunate cities. This Ohio hotspot had a rough start from the get-go and has seen some things during its timeline that give it such a reputation. The history detailed in this article explains why Cleveland earned such a nickname during its early days as an industrial city, along with some things that still make it one of the most unique - and, at times, tough to fathom - cities in Ohio, and in the country.

Its Cash-Cow Steel Industry Went Belly-Up

There's no shortage of sources out there to explain Cleveland's low rating on the likeability scale, but it never used to be that way. At the turn of the 20th century, Cleveland was an economic steel-producing powerhouse.

But a series of hardships from the Depression to rampant inflation in the '60s and aggressive international competition in the 2000s took its toll on the industry. The sector was in a prolonged downward spiral as the city, once the fifth largest in the U.S.—even dwarfing the west-coast beauty of San Francisco—eventually wound up ranked 53rd in population.

Steel isn't as prominent as it used to be, but it's still Cleveland's primary industry. With companies starting to reinvest in growth, hopes are rising for an industrial renaissance.

Water Pollution Caused Its River To Catch Fire

One of the downsides of industrial progress is pollution and there are a plethora of countries that are reckless with the environment. The U.S. isn't immune from that category, either and Cleveland has historically been a major culprit.

One of the saddest episodes took place on the Cuyahoga River, where Cleveland factories dumped its waste like clockwork. Sometimes, the river would catch fire, which locals were already used to. But in 1969, a spark from a moving train ignited the toxic chemicals floating down the river, creating an inferno five stories high.

The flames were quickly put out with no casualties reported, but the national uproar over the incident was so intense, it prompted President Richard Nixon to establish the Environment Protection Agency.

It Hasn't Had A Major Breakout Act Since The '80s

Nashville is the heartland of country music, New Orleans invented jazz, and New York germinated punk. And Cleveland? Well, the city isn't responsible for incubating any music genres of note, and it hasn't had a major act break from its outskirts in years. For a city that lay the ground for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, it's a national embarrassment.

RELATED: 10 Most Memorable Movie Scenes That Were Filmed In Cleveland

To be fair, Cleveland was the birthplace of some musical treasures like Tracy Chapman, The Raspberries, and The James Gang. But the last export Cleveland ever generated was industrial-goth act Nine Inch Nails, a band that commented that the city's negative vibe motivated them to play well enough to ditch the place for the big time.

The Sports Teams Are Horrible

It's hard to be a Cleveland Browns fan and for good reason. The National Football League franchise has been dismal, earning such degrading monikers as the Clowns, Frowns, and even the Round Mounds. In 2017, the team didn't win a single game. The city was even without a franchise for three seasons when it was moved to Baltimore in 1996.

As for hockey? Forget it. The city hasn't iced an NHL team since 1978 when the Cleveland Barons folded after only two seasons.

But there have been a few bright spots of late involving other Cleveland franchises. In 2016, the Cavaliers won their first National Basketball League title. That same year, Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians—which haven't won a title since 1948—managed to snare a berth in the World Series.

Its Tourism Campaign Was A Laughingstock

OK, let's face it. Cleveland ain't New York, even though The Big Apple has more than its share of downers. But after the wringer that Cleveland was put through with declining employment and population base, not to mention a fiery river, some brave souls in 1974 tried to put a happy face on the surroundings by promoting the city with the tagline "The best things in life are here."

The campaign intended to get rid of Cleveland's inferiority complex with its cute slogan and jingle, but detractors slammed it for detracting attention away from the economic problems and the smog that covered the city. It also didn't help that the campaign came out just before a special beer promotion at a Cleveland Indians game triggered a riot of drunken fans, creating national headlines.

Other errors were pointed out, including a brochure showcasing mostly suburban life than the city at large. It wasn't long before The Best Things campaign was shelved.

Cleveland's Weather Doesn't Help Matters Any

What many people might not expect when visiting Cleveland is its wild lake effect weather. While other surrounding areas in Ohio are chilly (an understatement) during the winter, Cleveland experiences one of the snowiest winters in the country due to its proximity to the lake. While this phenomenon alone does not cause it to be a mistake, it is one of the rough details that tourism leaves out when it comes to visiting this historic city.

When its lake isn't on fire due to water pollution, it's causing anything and everything in its path to freeze almost instantaneously, depending on the conditions at the time. Lake Eerie is a force to be reckoned with, and Cleveland is nothing more than its subordinate when it comes to harsh winter winds, and hazardous snowy weather.