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Omaha Magazine

Omaha CVB: Omaha Ingenuity

May 26, 2020 08:59AM ● By Keith Backsen

Omaha has always been a city of innovators. In 1916, business was slow for Joe Saunders and his three brothers. Their family’s Omaha real estate business was seeing few clients. Just when they thought it could not get worse, the car they used for real estate showings broke down.

One of the brothers arranged to borrow a car and agreed to pay six cents per mile for the use of the automobile. While the Model T made cars more common, most people could not afford to own one. Joe started thinking, how many others need to borrow a car for a temporary purpose or for a Sunday drive. Joe started with one car from his home on a trial basis. He placed an ad in the local paper, “Automobiles for Hire.” He offered the Model T for 10 cents a mile, and if you could not drive, he would provide a driver.

In 1917, Joe changed the name of the company to Saunders Drive-It-Yourself System and his one car grew to more than 100 cars and trucks by the end of that year. The Saunders family would eventually sell to Avis.  

Omaha’s innovative ways and entrepreneurial spirit lives on today. In March, Brickway Brewery transformed its craft brewery business to make hand sanitizer for first responders during a time when none could be found on store shelves. Outlook Nebraska, an Omaha toilet paper factory staffed with visually impaired employees, worked overtime to churn out more product. Nebraska Medicine and UNMC developed a new way to disinfect masks to allow for extended use—something medical teams across the country desperately needed as they dealt with a severe shortage of supplies. The last few months have been challenging but have also provided an opportunity for us to witness the strength of our community and the resilience of
its people.

We know life feels different as we settle in to a new normal. However, one thing that will never change is Omaha ingenuity.

This column was printed in the June 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.