Header Graphic
Paper and Type in the Miami Valley

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, February 26, 1933



Paper And Type In The Miami Valley

By Howard Burba


Passing through the Miami valley a stranger travels but a few miles until he is impressed with the unusual number of paper mills stretching over a span of some 40 miles in length.  Before he has covered the distance between Dayton and Cincinnati he is asking himself the reason for it.  Yet seldom is he aware, when he reaches the end of the valley, that he has traveled the most important single paper-making district in the United States and one with a total daily productive capacity of 2500 tons.

            Nothing just happens.  There must be a cause for everything.  Ferreting out the reason why so many paper mills should have been located in the Miami Valley since its earliest settlement, or to be exact, since away back about 1845, is a task both interesting and instructive.

            It is only natural that in speculating on the subject one connects paper-making with wood pulp, and recalls at the same time that the kind of wood pulp used in the manufacture of paper has at no time been obtainable in the Miami Valley.  It is a natural product of Canada and the northwest.  Why, then, should one find such an unusual umber of paper mills, of all sizes and typed and kind, away down here thousands of mils from the base of raw material?  It would be just as sensible to ask why Akron has more rubber-tire factories than any other city in the world when not a pound-of rubber is produced in the United States.  Yet both questions can be answered in the same breath and in two words-power and transportation.

            One notices that the farther down the valley one goes, the more numerous the paper mills become,.  At Miamisburg, and points south, the river is wider and deeper than at Dayton and points farther north.  Naturally it was easier to develop water power more cheaply at the most favorable sites.  When one considers the enormous quantities of water necessary to successfully operate a paper mill, it leaves little room for speculation as to why founders of the paper industry in the Miami valley chose the sties that they did.  That their wisdom was well founded is evident from the fact that almost all of the paper mills erected in the valley are still operating today.  Some few of the original mills still retain the names given upon their christening.

            Away back in 1846 the first paper mill in the middle west was established at Dayton.  I t was know as Ellis-Chaflin & Co., and Col. Daniel E. Mead, pioneer of a family that is today world-famous in the paper industry, operated it.  He was quick to note the advantage of having a paper mill located in close proximity to the country’s most important trading points, and is a section where there was an abundance of cheap water power.  The Miami canal and the river whose name it bears, were capable of providing that.  The problem of securing wood pulp did not enter in, for the first paper mills in this territory utilized rags and wheat straw as raw material.  So if one credits any single agency with being responsible for the unusual number of paper mills that have sprung up in the Miami valley over a period of almost one hundred years, that credit rightfully belongs to the Miami river and the long-defunct Miami and Erie canal.

            In the same year that Col. Mead started the old Ellis-Chaflin mill a similar industry was established at Chillicothe, known as the Chillicothe Pulp & Paper Co.  In about the year 1850 Beckett’s paper mill was erected along the canal at Hamilton, and in 1858 the Wrenn paper mill was started at Middletown.  In passing, it is interesting to note that this mill, very early in its existence, turned to the manufacture of blotting and filter paper, and that it is, even at this late day, one of the three or four in the United States devoted exclusively to the manufacture of this type of product.

            It was not until 1866 that strawboard came into general use for paper-making, and that when Messrs Hill and Peck, two young Scotch immigrants, established at Middletown a mill for the production of manila paper.  Their equipment consisted of one small 36-inch machine with a total capacity of 800 pounds of paper every 24 hours.  Since their product was used largely by butcher shops-and where is the “old-timer” who doesn’t remember that brown manila paper once a part and parcel of every meat store-their friends were constantly fearful that they would glut their market if they kept their mill operating on a full-time basis.  Down at west Carrollton there was a whisky distillery that found revenue following the Civil War.  So the old distillery was converted into a paper mill, and assumed its place in paper-making history as the father of the long chain of similar plants since established in this justly celebrated paper0making town.  The conversion came in 1871, when A. H. Friend, who owned the distillery building, replaced the still with paper-making machinery and called his new venture The Friend Paper Co.  Hundreds of thousands of tons of paper were produced by this company up to 1912, when it was absorbed by The Miami Paper Co., headed by W. W. Sunderland.  Today it is known as the Miami-Oxford Paper Co.

            From that time on the erection of paper mills in the valley became almost an epidemic, and papermaking took almost first rank as one of the most important industries of this section.

            A straw board mill was built in Piqua in 1876 by Messrs. Lommis, Recter and Wall and a second mill was built there in 1880 by Francis Jarvis, Gen. W. P. Orr, Lewis Leonard, Harvey Clark and G. N. Ziegenfelder.  This second mill was built to use the water power of the old hydraulic race emptying into Rocky Branch creek.  The mill was destroyed by fire in 1901, two years after it had been acquired by the American Strawboard Co., a corporation owning several strawboard mills throughout the valley.  The F. Gay Co. of Piqua was organized in 1872 to manufacture paper-makers felts.  This company was taken over by Gen. Orr and his son, A. M. Orr, and reorganized in 1901 as the Orr Felt and Blanket Co.  Piqua has several paper converting plants whose output today is quite material.

            A strawboard mill was built in Tippecanoe City in 1885, known as the Tippecanoe Strawboard Co., by W. W. Crane, H. E. Hawver and W. C. Staley.  The company was later reorganized as a unit of the American Strawboard Co. and still later was reorganized under its present name, the Piqua Strawboard Co.

            The Raymond Bag Co. of Middletown was organized in 1868 in Cincinnati and incorporated in 1897.  This plant was located in Cincinnati until 1910 when it was removed up the valley to Middletown.

            The Champion Coated Paper Co. was established in Hamilton in 1895 with one small machine.  The business expanded rapidly and was prospering when fire completely destroyed the company’s coating plant in 1902, with an estimated lost of $1,000,000.  The plant was rebuilt and the company continued to prosper.  IN 1913 the company was again visited by fire, in addition to the raging flood that was sweeping the valley.  This time the fire did damage to the extent of $2,500,000.  But the company kept right on and today is numbered among the largest paper manufacturers in the world.  Champion Coated Paper Co. developed the process of coating both sides of a sheet of paper in a single operation. 

            The Black-Clawson Co. of Hamilton, manufacturers of paper-making machinery was established about the year 1880.  Peter Black founded the small machine shop which was destined to grow into a large manufacturing industry.

            The Crystal Paper Co. was founded in Middletown in 1894.  At the outset of manufacture, total production amounted to 400 pounds every 24 hours.  Production is now rated at 30,000 pounds every 24 hours.

            The Wardlow-Thomas Paper Co. was established in 1899 by taking over and reorganizing the manila paper mill previously mentioned as having been the first of its kind west of the Allegheny mountains.  The new company planned to continue the operation of the mill on the same type of paper but business in that line did not start off well.  The company was fortunate enough to secure a large contract from the National Biscuit Co. to make waxed paper for their crackers and other products.  This grade of paper proved successful and today a large part of the company’s output is confined to that type of paper.  The original Sorg Co. has been augmented by the acquisition of the W. B. Oglesby Paper Co. of Middletown, purchased in 1917, and by the purchase in 1923 of the Frank Smith Paper Co. of Franklin.

            In the year 1900 the Colin Gardner Paper Co. was established in Middletown.  The Gardner interests subsequently organized the Gardner-Harvey Paper co. in 1908.  The Gardner Paperboard co. in 1916 was formed to take over the old National Boxboard Co. which was then operating under a receivership.  The Enterprise Machine Co. of Middletown was another Gardner enterprise and was formed in 1917 primarily as a repair and parts shop for the Gardners and other paper manufacturers.

            The Shartle Brothers machine shop began in Middletown in 1912.  This company is now well known as a manufacturer of paper making machinery.

            The Richardson company located at Lockland, O., was merged several years ago with the Gardner-Harvey plants, the new incorporation reorganized under the name Gardner-Richardson Co.

            The Peerless Paper Company, located in Dayton, at the southwest corner of Webster and Idylwild and acquired in 1925 by Mead Pulp and Paper Co., with principal operating plants in Chillicothe.  The mill produced book paper for several years following the purchase but was then dismantled and the machinery sent to Chillicothe.  The building at Webster and Idylwild was leased to the Frigidaire Corp.

            At one time a unit of the American Strawboard Co. was located in Dayton.  This plant was built sometime during the late 1800's and was located along the north bank of Mad river between Keowee and Findlay sts.  Along about 1905 the mill was completely destroyed by fire and only the bare walls left standing.  The plant was never rebuilt but stood idle and deserted for about 25 years before it was wrecked to make room for the Barney Community Center.

            Among other paper plants in the Miami valley should be mentioned the Aetna Paper Co. of Dayton, and the Maxwell Paper Co. of Franklin, operated by the Howard interests.  The Maxwell Paper Co. was formerly known as the Harding Paper Co., division of the American Writing Paper Co.  The American Writing Paper Co. also had a plant located at Excello, in Butler co.  This mill is now known as the Harding-Jones Paper co.  The Franklin Board and Paper Co., the former Patent Vulcanite Roofing Co., of Franklin, was reorganized under the name of Logan-Long Co.  The Srere Pulp and Paper Co., a subsidiary of the former Srere Bros. & Co., went through several reorganizations, being known at various times as the Miami Valley Tissue Mills; the Superior Paper co. and currently as the Miami River Mills, Inc.

            A company known as the Sterling Paper co. was operating in Hamilton over a decade ago but this mill was dismantled in 1919.


            From time immemorial there has been a natural affinity between paper and type.  It is only natural that since the Miami valley had in a large way monopolized the paper-making industry of the country that printing and publishing plants should spring up and flourish in its chief city, and within earshot of the giant machines from which spin miles upon miles of the finest paper human ingenuity can produce.  That the printing industry has flourished along with its sister industry, paper-making, is admirably attested in a survey but recently completed by The Printing Industry of Dayton.

            Four members of this organization of master craftsmen, Henry Heuman, Carl P. Knab, John N. Taylor and Frank R. Somers, were chosen to make the survey, and they began their work on the sixth day of June, 1932.  Their finished report brings some startling figures, and serves to show the layman that the printing industry has actually become one of the chief contenders for financial honors in the city of Dayton.

            According to the survey, there are 47 commercial printing plants and seven specialty printing plants in Dayton, along with such allied industries as seven trade composition plants and paper houses; two plants devoted to the making of electrotypes, seven to producing photo-engravings and two establishments engaged in the manufacture of printing inks.  With a total of 75 companies included in the survey, it is not difficult to understand how the total sales of printing and printed specialties mounts to the staggering total of $25,586,361 in a single year.  And let it be remembered that these figures are for a period when conditions were far from normal in every field of endeavor.

            To put it in more forceful terms, Dayton printing sales amount to 10 percent of the total sales of all products manufactured in the city, and the number of persons employed in the printing industry, 3899, is equivalent to 7 percent of the wage-earning population of Dayton.  The salaries paid these employes in 1931 alone reached the sizable amount of $7,299,636.

            Today, according to this new and complete survey, the printing industry of Dayton represents a grand total investment of $22,000,000.  In the matter of equipment, which forms the larger part of this tremendous investment, the most modern machines are to be found.  There are, for instance, a total of 132 platen presses in operation in the 47 commercial printing plants of the city; a total of 32 automatic presses; 128 fast envelope presses, and 88 hand-fed, flat-bed cylinder presses, in addition to rotary, offset and transfer presses to the value of many thousands dollars.

            Naturally, special machinery, is required for the bindery departments maintained by these plants, and this item also represents a vast outlay of money.  There is a total of 394 machines in use in the bindery departments of these plants, running all the way from stitching and perforating machines to stamping, gluing and gilding presses.  And it is of more than passing interest to note that in several instances one finds machines actually designed and built by the men who own them, and that numerous patents protecting their ingenuity are now registered in the patent office at Washington.

            We know who founded the paper-making industry in this territory.  Unfortunately, historians have not been so careful to keep track of the pioneers in the printing industry, and the owner of the first “job shop” in Dayton must forever remain unknown.  However, there is every reason to believe that the first commercial printing every turned out here came from the diminutive little hand-press brought in about the year 1806 from Lebanon by a man by the name of Crane.  Even his surname has been lost to posterity.  Crane attempted to establish a weekly paper here, but after issuing a few numbers he was seized with fever and ague, and in consequence of this illness returned to Lebanon.  No file of the paper was preserved and even its name has been forgotten.  But where there was paper and type and a printing press there must have been a natural demand for job work.  And no printer has yet been known to turn a deaf when called upon to provide an outlet for publicity.

            As one giant industry grew out of the crude little paper machines installed and operated by Col. Daniel Mead in 1846, why is it not reasonable to suppose that from the early effort of that man Crane, and from the seed he sowed in the first “print shop” of which there is any record, there sprang this other modern giant of industrial achievement, this necessary adjunct to all commercial and social life-the printing industry.