Made in Cleveland: Superman may be the ‘Man of Steel,’ but he has Rust Belt roots

The world's first superhero was dreamed up in the suburban Ohio home of Jerry Siegel in the 1930s

Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library

According to his origin story, Superman was born on the planet Krypton—but the “Man of Steel” actually has much more down-to-earth, Rust Belt roots. Located on Kimberly Avenue in Glenville, on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, is a modest, blue and gray three-story home. In front of the otherwise unassuming, privately-owned residence, a white fence is marked with a large red “S.” This was once the home of Jerry Siegel, the writer who co-created the comic book superhero with friend, illustrator, and fellow Clevelander Joe Shuster. 

Frustrated at how little many Clevelanders knew about their homegrown superhero, The Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo wrote several stories highlighting Superman’s Cleveland connection. “We’re the only place in the world that can say that Superman was born here,” Sangiacomo says. “And yet very little was being done about that.”  

In 2007, Sangiacomo organized a public meeting that resulted in the founding of The Siegel and Shuster Society, dedicated to promoting awareness of Superman’s legacy in Cleveland. Board members include comic book fans and relatives of both Siegel and Shuster. The society has led trolley tours, helped champion a Superman license plate for Ohio, and installed a Superman-themed welcome sign at the Cleveland International Airport.

Siegel Childhood House.
Siegel house. | Photo: Michele Herrmann
A Superman flyer.
A Superman flyer. | Photo courtesy of Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop

Thanks to a few recent additions, Siegel’s childhood home is now easy to spot; a triangular plaque indicates that “this is the house where Superman was born.” It was here, in the 1930s, that Siegel began to imagine and write about a man who was bulletproof and incredibly strong. According to the plaque, “Jerry wasn’t popular. He was a dreamer and he knew how to dream big. [Siegel and Shuster] didn’t just give us the world’s first superhero … they gave us something to believe in.” 

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Origin story

The Superman co-creators were the sons of Jewish immigrant families who settled in Glenville. They met at Glenville High School in the early 1930s and became fast friends. Both were shy and shared an interest in adventure and pulp science fiction magazines. Siegel penned stories, often illustrated by Shuster, and self-published a magazine called Science Fiction.

After high school, they both decided to pursue careers in comics. Their earliest Superman prototype was based on a short story called “The Reign of The Superman,” in January 1933. The story featured a bald villain with telepathic powers, but Siegel and Shuster decided that their character would be a force for good and recast him as a crime-fighting hero with super strength. 

A larger-than-life statue of Superman in flight was donated by Cleveland artist David Deming.
A larger-than-life statue of Superman in flight was donated by Cleveland artist David Deming. | Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library

In the beginning, Siegel and Shuster had a hard time selling their superhero. The duo eventually went to work at Detective Comics—now known as DC Comics—and the company gave Superman his debut in Action Comics No. 1 in 1938. The following year, Superman got a newspaper comic strip, followed by his own comic book. 

Hometown hero

The Siegel home’s current owners, Jefferson and Hattie Gray, moved into it in 1983. They didn’t know about the Superman ties until two years later when city officials approached them, interested in making the house a landmark. The couple’s daughter, Fannie Gray, still lives there. “To us, it was just a house,” she says. “We were shocked and surprised but we just embraced it. Who doesn’t like Superman?”

Sangiacomo and Brad Meltzer—author of Book of Lies, a biblical reinterpretation of Superman—led a campaign to restore the home, raising more than $100,000. The renovations, completed in 2009, focused on roof repairs and the attic space in which Siegel dreamed up one of the world’s favorite superheroes. 

The Superman influence isn’t limited to the former Siegel residence. In Kamm’s Plaza, on the west side of Cleveland, Carol and John’s Comic Book Shop provides a free souvenir map marking all of the Superman-related spots throughout the city. The family-owned shop sells memorabilia alongside graphic novels, comics, and other ephemera. The current owner, John Dudas, is somewhat of a local hero himself: In July 2013, the shop held a Superman-themed fundraiser to benefit three women who had been kidnapped and held captive by Ariel Castro in his Cleveland home.

In 2016, Mike Curtis, a writer for the Dick Tracy comic strip, donated his extensive collection of Superman memorabilia to the Cleveland Public Library. A sizable collection of Superman comics and graphic novels is housed in the library’s Ohio Center for the Book along with a “life-size” cutout of Superman. A larger-than-life statue of the Man of Steel in flight, donated by Cleveland artist David Deming, is on display in the library’s second floor lobby.

An empty lot located on Parkwood Drive and Amor Avenue, nine blocks from Siegel’s childhood home, is all that remains of where Joe Shuster and his parents lived after moving to Cleveland from Toronto. While the apartment duplex is long gone, a fence featuring a replica storyboard of the pages from Action Comics No. 1 marks its place.

Today, the Grays encounter Superman fans who come from all over the world to see the home; the family permits photos of the exterior to be taken. “You just learn to accept it,” says Gray. “Superman has become an important part of our lives and this is where he was born and we want to respect that.”

If you go

Jerry Siegel’s house is located at 10622 Kimberly Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The home is a private residence so please be respectful.

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