The first settlers came to Red Oak in the early 1850s. However, the community's growth really began with the arrival of the railroad in 1869. On March 20, 1876, the town was officially named Red Oak Junction. In 1901, the "Junction" was dropped and the city became known as Red Oak.
With the arrival of the railroad, Red Oak became a frenzy of activity. The population of Montgomery County, of which Red Oak is the county seat, tripled in size between 1870 and 1880. Red Oak became the trade center for the area with industries such as meat-packing, a brewery, a glove factory, buggy manufacturing, a cannery, flour mills, and a brick and tile works.
In 1888, 2 enterprising young men, Edmond Osborne and Thomas D. Murphy, purchased a woodcut of the Montgomery County Courthouse that was under construction at the time. To offset the expense of the woodcut, they decided to sell advertising around the picture and add a calendar pad. Because of their venture, Red Oak became known as the birthplace of the art calendar industry. The Thos. D. Murphy Co. was in existence for over 100 years before closing.
Wealth From the Railroad
Red Oak's spectacular collection of turn-of-the-century homes reflects the wealth the railroad brought to the area from 1870 to 1916. Because of the railroad, building materials such as wood, stone, marble and granite could be delivered from other parts of the country. The size of the home made a statement as to the financial success of the owner.
Red Oak has a proud military history. During World War I, Red Oak's Company M went to the front lines with a full strength of 250. They fought at Belleau Woods, the Argonne Forest, Sr. Mickel, and Swepps. In the end, the Company suffered 160 casualties with 52 killed in action.
In World War II, Red Oak received national publicity because of the large number of casualties in the European conflict. On March 6, 1943, more than 100 telegrams arrived with the news of soldiers missing in action. In April, official reports confirmed that 27 had been taken prisoner at Faid Pass. Every Memorial Day the cemetery is lined with American Flags and the Court of Honor presents a memorial ceremony. Veterans Day programs are also a part of remembering Red Oak's military history.
View historic photos from Red Oak in the Photo Gallery.