The Ironton Tanks were a semi-professional football team organized in 1919 in Ironton, Ohio.
Their historical marker gives the story of the Tanks origin: "Semi-professional football began in Ironton in 1893 with a team known as the Irontonians. The Ironton Tanks, founded in 1919, was a combination of two Ironton cross-town rival football clubs known as the Irish Town Rags and the Lombards." Their name reflected both the town's deep roots in the iron industry and the desire of returning soldiers from World War I to run over their opponents.
Based on their outstanding record of 85 wins, 19 losses, 14 ties, an undefeated season in 1922, a state championship in 1926 and dual victories in 1930 over National Football League (NFL) powerhouses the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, the Tanks have a strong claim to being the best team to not play in the NFL. This motto is reinforced on the wall of Tank Stadium, where the story of the stadium opening proclaims "When the Tanks Were Tops" (2nd picture in photo gallery below). Their unmatched achievements in 1930 are recorded in a Professional Football Researchers Association's report on the 1930 season when talking about non-NFL teams: "None, however, matched the Ironton (Ohio) Tanks' 1930 achievements."
Although the Ironton Tanks ceased operations after the 1930 season, they lived on. Over half of the Tanks moved on to other NFL teams, the most, including Glenn Presnel stayed in Ironton and played for the Portsmouth Spartans (only 30 miles away) until they too folded in 1933. The combined team strength from the Tank infusion and the addition of rookie Dutch Clark, a future Hall of Famer, turned the Spartans into a power to be reckoned with. In 1932 the Spartans were among the best in the league but lost to the Chicago Bears in the first NFL playoff game, but after the next year in the depths of the depression, the Spartans too folded. Their assets were purchased to pay off debt and the team became the Detroit Lions in 1934. Without presence of the Tanks on the roster the Spartan record would have been less successful and likely not worth being bought and moved to become the Detroit Lions. So the forerunners of today's Lions were both the Tanks and Spartans.