Major Lee Zeigler was born in North Carolina and came to Cincinnati as a young man. He worked for the gas company and saved $500, with which he became a coal dealer. As Zeigler made more money, he expanded into a moving and storage business that was incorporated in 1919 as the Zeigler-Schaefer Company.
Zeigler became the most influential businessman in the East End, employing both white and Black workers. He was often asked to lend his employees money until payday, which inspired him to start Major Savings and Loan in 1922.
Labor agitators burned Zeigler-Schaefer’s moving equipment, so Major concentrated on his savings and loan enterprise and started the Zeigler Realty Company. In the 1950s, Zeigler acquired another Black-owned savings and loan in Cincinnati, Horace Sudduth’s Industrial Building and Loan, converted to federal regulations and renamed the business Major Federal Savings and Loan.
Penn Zeigler, Major’s nephew, was born in Virginia and relocated to Cincinnati to be closer to his uncle. For work, Penn herded cows and pitted cherries before he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917. After serving in France and earning the Croix de Guerre, he was discharged as a sergeant in 1919.
Returning after the war, Penn married, had a family and worked as a mailman for 22 years when an injury forced his retirement. He then went to work for his uncle and became president of Major Federal Savings and Loan and, along with his son, Ralph, operated Zeigler Realty.
At the age of 71, Penn got his first taste of politics when asked to chair a citizens’ committee in Lincoln Heights. He was elected Mayor (1967 to 1971) and won millions of dollars in federal grants for urban renewal. After the civil unrest of the late 1960s, Penn chose not to run for re-election.
Besides his business and political career, Penn Zeigler had many civic accomplishments. In the early 1920s, he was the first African American to serve on Cincinnati’s Dan Beard Region Boy Scout Council. Zeigler also served on the boards of the Lincoln Heights, Urban League, the Community Action Commission, the Community Chest Social Action Commission, and was an Episcopal layman at St. Michael and All Angels Church.
Major Federal Savings and Loan was the longest-lived African American savings and loan in Cincinnati, operating in Walnut Hills from 1921 until 1986. Pauline Allen Strayhorne and Penn’s son, Ralph, led the company after Penn’s retirement.
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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