From Kromekote to Benefit, 1946-1994
Although the process was patented in 1929, and first mass marketed in 1939, it wasn't until after World War II that Champion capitalized on Kromekote, a product long regarded as "the Cadillac of fine printing papers."
"Because of its luxurious appearance, its unmatched smoothness, and its superb printing qualities," boasted The Log in April 1953, "cast coated paper has been called the greatest contribution to the printing art since the introduction of coated paper over 60 years ago."
At first, Ed Knapp said, "the paper was sometimes referred to as Drum Coat, but everyone recognized that this would not make a good trademark. A number of people put on their thinking caps and someone, I don't know who, invented the word Kromekote," explained Knapp, who worked in the research department when the process was developed and the name selected.
Kromekote -- cast-coated on one side only - was the result of a process which combined coating, drying and finishing in one operation. This was done, explained The Log, "by pressing the freshly coated paper against a mirror polished casting drum. In this way, the paper assumed the general smoothness of the casting surface," and became an ideal product for magazine covers, menus, brochures, post cards and a variety of other advertising and packaging needs. Before the Kromekote process, said The Log, "the glossiest paper was finished by rubbing with flint stones."
Champion's Hamilton-based research department started working on the Kromekote idea in 1926, the year the department opened under the direction of Don Bradner. "Cast coated paper and the process for making it were the inventions of Don Bradner," recalled Ed Knapp in a 1981 interview. Walter Holzberger, who became a Champion chemist in 1921, said "the whole project was abandoned at least once, and a year or so later resumed because of some unrelated development elsewhere that seemed to have a possible application." Bradner, who came to Champion from DuPont, developed the process as a byproduct of another invention, known as R1, "which was never a commercial success," said Knapp. "The R1 process had to do with the use of raw starch as an adhesive in the paper-coating composition."
The research department was still fine tuning the Kromekote process in 1941 when World War II involved the United States. Defense restrictions stunted the development and marketing of the product until Germany and Japan were defeated in 1945.
Kromekote had a key role in post-World War II plans developed by Reuben Robertson Jr., who envisioned "a new and better Champion -- particularly in respect to the antiquated Hamilton mill," noted Allen Roudebush in Research on the Loose. "A lot of the old antique coaters were torn out and replaced," said Roudebush, which "increased production greatly over the 12-foot diameter and one 6-foot diameter drums run during World War II."
"Of more importance," Roudebush observed, "was the rationalization of the grade pattern. It's readily apparent that the fewer changes of weight or grade made on a paper machine the better, each such change necessitates waste and often down time."
Roudebush said "several of the smaller machines were utilized only for the production of raw stock for Kromekote conversion after some upgrading and mechanical improvement. The old cylinder board machine was shipped to Texas along with the No.1 machine from No. 2 mill by the river. Although there was a general upgrading of the facility and the equipment after World War II, the greatest payout and the least expense came from Reuben Jr.'s classic rationalization of producing that which was most profitable with the least day-to-day change," said Roudebush.
When the war ended, two drums in the Hamilton mill were producing Kromekote. Five new cast-coating drums were installed in 1946 and 1947 as demand increased.
"At Hamilton, the Kromekote expansion program was pushed vigorously," noted the company's annual report for the period ended March 31, 1950. "Building changes were carried out to house additional Kromekote facilities, two more drums of the largest type were installed, and related items of equipment required for the additional drum capacity were put in place."
The report also said "one of the principal accomplishment during the year was the development of a new cast-coated paper known as Kromekote Colorcast, which is characterized by unusual gloss, brilliance of color, and rub resistance, making it particularly suitable for fancy box wrappings, gift cards and other specialties."
In 1950, Champion introduced a refinement, Cast Coat, which had the same qualities as Kromekote, but was coated on two sides. In the summer of 1952 -- when employment reached 3,500 people in the mill and the general offices in Hamilton -- The Log said "the new paper is being produced on cover stock in 119 and 146-pound weights, and on enamel stock in 70 and 80-pound weights."
Champion ran a series of full-color magazine inserts in 1954 and 1955 advertising Kromekote cast coated paper "for the finest reproduction." The ads listed eight cast-coated papers known as Kromekote: enamel, label, litho, cover (cast coated one side or two sides), postcard (also one or two sides) and box wrap.
By 1963 there were 22 drums, varying in width from 60 to 128 inches, in operation in the Hamilton mill as the demand remained high for Kromekote products.
Kromekote "continues to be the life blood of the Hamilton mill," declared CHIPS in 1986. "While Kromekote represents only about 35 percent of the total tons of paper we produce here, these tons account for as an astounding 72 percent of our total profit," noted the April 25, 1986, article. Profits from all grades for the first two months of year were $7.26 million, of which $4.13 million came from Kromekote sales.
But the article said "current economic conditions also favor our foreign competitors," especially mills in England, Belgium, Japan and Germany which "have developed a cast-coated sheet that rivals Kromekote quality, and at times exceeds Kromekote quality."
Do cast-coated papers have a future in a company which started 100 years ago as the Champion Coated Paper Company? "Kromekote is a great name," replied Dan Maheu, vice president and operations manager at the Hamilton mill, in a December 1993 interview. He said it still commands respect in the market, but the Hamilton mill faces a challenge in maintaining that reputation. "It has basically been unchanged for 50 years, and technology has caught it," he cautioned. "We have to make improvements and changes in the cast-coated line to make it a vital product." Maheu said "product development is critical to bring out new features and resolve old problems. We have to get the unpredictability out of the product. We're making progress."
"The good news is that it can be done," said Maheu. "The other part of the good news is that we have a lot of drums, a lot of manufacturing points, we can actually service very well the customer who wants a smaller order. But we've got to remove the glaring problem that has been with Kromekote since day one. You hear it all the time that when Kromekote is good it's good, but when it's bad, it stinks and you can never tell what you've got. And, it's the most expensive sheet out there in the market place. But the good news is that our folks are coming through with some things that are going to turn some printers' heads," he predicted.
Reuben Buck Robertson Jr. -- who was responsible for the vigorous promotion of Kromekote after World War II -- was a son of Reuben B. Robertson and Hope Thomson Robertson, and a grandson of Peter G. Thomson, Champion's founder.
He was born June 27, 1908, in Asheville, N. C., where his father had directed the company's Canton plant since its opening in 1907. Reuben Sr. became president of the Champion Paper and Fibre Company in 1946 and in 1950 was elevated to chairman of the board, turning over the presidency to Reuben Jr.
The younger Robertson -- who earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Yale University in 1930 -- started to work that same year as a mill hand in Canton. By 1934 he was its assistant general manager. He became a vice president in 1935, and moved to the general offices in Hamilton in 1938 to handle a variety of duties, including supervising the start of cost control systems. In 1941 he added the title of general production manager for the company, then including plants in Hamilton, Canton and Pasadena, Texas.
His tenure was interrupted by World War II service. In 1942, he was called to Washington to serve on the War Production Board before a stint in the U. S. Army from 1942 to 1945. It wasn't the last of his government service. In 1950 President Harry Truman appointed Robertson a member of the Wage Stabilization Board; in 1953 he led an evaluation of the mutual security program in Germany; from 1953 to 1955, he was vice chairman of the Business Advisory Council for the Department of Commerce; and in 1955 he was vice chairman of the Hoover Commission study of business organization of the Defense Department. He took a leave of absence from Champion from August 1955 until April 1957 to serve as deputy secretary of defense, the No. 2 position in that department.
"He was one of the most patriotic men I ever had the opportunity to know," said his boss, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson, who also praised Robertson's "great energy and great ability."
"He came to the Hamilton mill in its moment of despair," said J. William (Bill) Harris in a 1993 interview. "It wasn't getting anywhere fast. Reuben started in -- one by one -- cutting heads off, and other things, and he finally got on top of the Hamilton mill," said Harris, who started with Champion in Canton in 1933 and came to the general offices in Hamilton in 1949 as the company's first director of budgetary control. "Each mill then was hell-bent on doing its own thing, although Reuben Jr. tried to change all that, and did change that," explained Harris, who climaxed his 48 and a half years with Champion as its vice president-controller.
"Reuben had notions about getting Kromekote everywhere," Harris said. "Until after World War II, Champion didn't have any international business, and Reuben had expansion on his mind. He was exploring all these possibilities -- with the thought that he would put drums all around the world. He succeeded in getting drums in Japan and in Belgium."
Harris, in writing a history of the company in 1976, said "on the international scene, as a part of a planned post-war program for the development of its overseas trade, Champion embarked upon its initial venture in pulp making outside the United States. Exploration of the possibilities of such a project, which were initiated in 1957, were concluded with the announcement in January 1958 that Champion had acquired an interest in a Brazilian company and would soon start construction on Brazil's first completely integrated bleached kraft pulping plant. In 1959, Champion undertook increased financial participation in the new development and assumed complete managerial control of it. In that year the mill, which was located about 100 miles north of Sao Paulo, started operations," Harris reported.
"During 1960 and 1961, however, the Brazilian government underwent a drastic political and economic change that was accompanied by inflation and a severe devaluation of the cruzeiro." Other Robertson-guided overseas ventures, Harris said, included in 1949 Champion licensing its coating machines to Intermills in Belgium, and in 1954 acquiring an interest in the company.
"I became the man to go hither and yon" during this period, Harris recalled, including a trip to Taiwan during Reuben's last days to weigh the advisability of buying two paper mills there. "Reuben had gained knowledge of the mills when he was assistant secretary of defense," Harris said. "A high point was our visit with Madame and Chiang Kai-shek. She was his goodwill ambassador. We were there two or three weeks. We declined it; our report was negative." Not all the expansion exploration was abroad. "We also went to Lawrence, Mass., where Peter G. first got the license for coated paper. We stayed for about two weeks," but nothing materialized, explained Harris, who retired in February 1982 after working for three years and eight months on details of the Hoerner-Waldorf merger.
Robertson -- whose awards for business and public service were numerous -- also found time to contribute to the community. He was a founder of the Hamilton Safety Council, a director and campaign chairman for United Appeals (now the United Way) and active in the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Hamilton Industrial Council and other professional and charitable organizations. "In behalf of Hamilton, he was generous and warm-hearted, giving gladly of his time, energy and substance, and guiding his great paper company in support of many good works in the community," said William Beckett, president of the Beckett Paper Company and a colleague in many civic ventures.
Although Robertson's corporate achievements were many, they were overshadowed by his personal impact on all levels of the Hamilton operation. "Reuben's deep understanding of the feelings of others and his abiding respect for their rights -- whether their position was high or low -- made Reuben the great man he was," said Andy Anderson, director of personnel administration during the era. In a special edition after his death, The Log said "the things for which Robertson is best remembered by Champions are his qualities as a man: his hustle, his enthusiasm and optimism, his willingness to listen, his keen memory and understanding of all phases of the business, his respect for the rights of others."
Those eulogies are consistent with the philosophies which Robertson had stated during his busy life, including his respect for the men and women who worked for Champion. "It is not our machines, our buildings, our money or our materials that make the difference between success and failure," he emphasized. "It is the people in our company that determine how successful we are. We can have the most modern and perfect machines that can be made -- but they will do no better than the folks who run those machines."
The respect for Robertson has survived for more than 30 years after his death, as evidenced by statements during interviews conducted in 1993.
"He was remarkable," said Noel Samuels. "He remembered people's names. He was uncanny in his ability to do that." Samuels recalled being in a large group that included people from Hamilton, Canton and Pasadena mills. "He started around the room and he introduced every man. It was unbelievable. He could remember people's names if he had met them," Samuels said. Robertson "had a lot of charisma," said J. William Harris. "He knew everybody. Everybody had respect for him. When he walked through the mill, he knew everybody by their first name. He was presidential timber."
Ed Bauer said Robertson "was closely connected to everybody in the mill. Everybody liked him, and respected him. He always had a smile and had time to stop and talk, and that was something people liked about him. And, he made some good decisions, too," Bauer declared.
His personal enthusiasm was legend, and it affected many who worked around him. "In the office, nobody would stand close to Reuben's door when it was closed," said Violet Fisher, his secretary. "You could never tell when he would come bursting through. There were some exciting collisions before we got in the habit of standing clear." Bill Harris recalled Robertson's penchant for meetings. "He had meeting after meeting," said Harris, who remembered an associate "who said 'everytime I've been in a meeting with him, I've left with the feeling that I've had a missile up my rear-end and I'm ready to take off.' And that's the way Reuben was. He'd leave you all charged up," Harris said.
The Reuben B. Robertson Jr. era ended suddenly in the early hours of Sunday, March 13, 1960, as he and his wife, Peggy, were driving home from a social function in Cincinnati. The 51-year-old Robertson swerved to avoid a stalled car, but grazed the vehicle instead. As he walked back to the stalled car, Robertson was struck by a third car, killing him instantly.
"When Reuben Robertson Jr. died, we said that's the end of an era, and it was. Everybody felt secure while Reuben was there," recalled Jim Hoerner in a 1993 interview. Ed Bauer said he was at home eating lunch with his wife when he heard the news of Robertson's death. "I just couldn't believe it. Later in the day, when I walked into the mill, I could tell everybody felt the same way. It was just like going into a morgue," Bauer said. Bob Schaney considered Robertson's death the biggest change during his nearly 33-year Champion career. "The Champion family thing was big when Reuben Jr. was alive. After his death, when they started getting away from the Champion family attitude, employee attitudes changed," said Schaney. Bauer agreed. "It seemed like there was a definite break then in the attitude. I remember a remark later by someone they brought in as he was walking along the sorting line. He said 'maybe it was a good thing that Reuben got killed.' That almost started a riot among those women. A group went to the mill manager over that, and it took some time to get that situation calmed down."
Robertson's premature death may have denied his popular leadership to more than Champion and the communities where the company operated. After his death, the Journal-News said Martin A. Coyle, chairman of the Butler County Republican Committee and soon to be a delegate to the party's nominating convention, "reported that he was aware that extensive plans had been made by top Republicans in the country to consider Mr. Robertson as a strong potential candidate for the vice presidency on the GOP ticket" at the convention which chose Richard M. Nixon to oppose Democrat John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.
Water has been an asset, an expense and a problem for the Hamilton mill. Its location beside the Great Miami River and atop a vast underground reservoir has provided a plentiful supply of the resource for papermaking and related needs. Daily consumption was 16 million gallons in 1938, an average of about 11,000 gallons a minute. By 1952 as production increased, it had jumped to 20 million gallons a day, and in 1965 daily usage reached 38 million gallons.
Conservation programs have emphasized the cost of water since at least the mid 1920s. "We go to tremendous expense to supply this water" which "becomes a valuable raw material for making paper," employees were reminded in 1926.
In the 1950s, corporate and public attention focused on the water that leaves the Hamilton mill. That concern led to acquisition of 100 acres of the former John J. Troutman farm in 1955 as the future location of a waste treatment plant. The land between the Great Miami River and Hamilton-Cleves Road (Ohio 128), then about a mile south of Hamilton, became the site of the first primary waste treatment facility built by a paper company on the river.
The $437,000 plant opened Aug. 2, 1961, under the direction of Richard Bauman, stream improvement supervisor, as mill employees were reminded that whether it would "continue to be adequate depends upon all Champions and how successful we are in minimizing the mill's water consumption and raw material losses."
Four years later, R. O. Stephenson, mill manager, announced that treatment facilities "were taxed to the point of over-capacity by unusually high daily waste flows. This increase is due to more and more raw materials and water being flushed into our sewers." He said "approximately 10 percent of all our raw materials find their way into the sewer, and must be processed at our treatment plant. These are raw materials that increase our overall costs of making paper. If we can reduce this loss by only 1 percent, it would mean a $500 per day savings to the division," he said in launching a campaign to reduce the loss. Improvement was noted within a few months. In September 1965, the average daily loss of coating was 14.54 tons. By January 1966, it had dropped to an average of 9.5 tons.
As part of that waste reduction program, Harold Judd, of technical controls, reviewed the mill's 1965 water situation in articles in CHIPS. Daily use was about 38 million gallons, Judd said, "of which 12 million gallons are used directly in the paper-making process. Twenty-six million gallons daily are pumped from the Great Miami River through steam turbine condensers for generation of electric power and returned directly to the river. Of the 12 million gallons," he noted, "about 5 million gallons daily are obtained from deep wells and 7 million gallons daily are from the Great Miami River."
Judd said "deep wells have been a substantial source of water for Champion since 1922-1924. During this period, seven wells were installed north of the mill proper -- five along the west bank of the Great Miami River and two along the south side of Two Mile Creek. In 1955 and 1956, two wells were installed in the island area north of the dam above Two Mile Creek " (now Combs Park). In 1965. he said, "only four wells are productive because of underground water supply problems. This 5 million gallon daily output just meets the mill's well water needs."
In explaining the function of the waste treatment plant, Judd said "our mill wastes are conveyed to the plant through a 42-inch dual sewer pipe. Half of this line is leased from the City of Hamilton at a cost of $2,058 per month. Through this line flows over 12 million gallons per day of waste water. Twelve million gallons of water per day would fill a tank the size of the Ohio Division office building eight times in 24 hours," he said.
A November 1966 report on the river by the Miami Valley Water Quality Committee identified Champion as one of just 22 industries in the region working with the group to improve water quality. The report said paper industries along the river had spent $13 million in pollution control in the last decade with the Hamilton mill responsible for more than $2 million of the total. But $2 million would seem like a drop in a bucket during the decades of the 1970s and 1980s as environmental concerns broadened and knowledge increased.
For example, in 1975 Champion and City of Hamilton signed a 20-year agreement in building a $13.6 million wastewater treatment plant expansion. "The Hamilton mill will transfer its primary treatment facility to the city," CHIPS explained. "In return, Hamilton will provide capacity for the corporation in its expanded operation. The city and Champion will share the cost of the project, along with operating and maintenance expenses. Considerable saving can be realized in the construction and operation of one plant as opposed to separate plants," the announcement said."
After passage of a series of national clean air acts between 1963 and 1970, nine coal-fired boilers at the mill had to be abandoned and new units installed with electrostatic precipitator to cleanse stack gases. A steam plant on North Third Street also was abandoned. The new facilities were operating by Aug. 2, 1975, permitting the mill to meet air emission standards -- at a cost of more than $9 million.
In recent years, the Hamilton mill became the first paper mill in North America to recycle 100 percent of its solid papermaking waste and boiler ash instead of landfilling the materials. In December 1989 Champion entered a three-year agreement with Systech Environmental Corporation in which Systech brokered the mill's daily averages of 35 tons of dry papermaking waste and 40 tons of boiler ash to cement companies. The program earned Champion a national award for its environmental and energy program. Doug Banks, then vice president and operations manager of the Hamilton mill, accepted the award from the American Paper Institute and National Forest Products Association in Washington, D. C., in 1990.
According to a 1993 report, waste minimization programs include reducing landfill materials through "recycling primary sludge and boiler ash, using solvent recycler to reclaim maintenance shop cleaning solvents, and daily sewer loss monitoring." Dry handling systems for all boiler ash eliminate the need for ash ponds and possible water contamination problems. The mill maintains its primary wastewater treatment plant and uses the city's facilities for secondary treatment. All major sewers are monitored for fiber and non-fiber losses, which "insures no excess loss of process materials and no degradation of water quality in the Great Miami River." The report also notes that "$4 million was spent in 1990 to install screw presses at the wastewater treatment plant to get 50 percent plus solids. Without solids of this level," the report said, "primary sludge could not easily be recycled."
"The Hamilton mill evaluates all raw materials in use to determine if less toxic substitutes may be used," the report emphasized. "Materials no longer used as a result include some solvents and dyes." In addition, the mill in 1993 had three environmental staff people (all with degrees in scientific fields) and more than 60 employees trained to handle chemical emergencies. In addition, the company provided annual training to all employees in working with chemicals and waste materials.
"The Hamilton mill is continually evaluating alternate disposal techniques to make environmentally sound process changes and improvements." The report also emphasized that "as equipment is replaced or updated, all changes are evaluated from an environmental improvement point of view, and not just a production point of view."
In its Good Friday edition in 1961, a Journal-News editorial, in noting the observance commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, called it "the darkest day in the history of the Christian world." Among those employed at the Hamilton mill on March 31, 1961, that Good Friday would be regarded as "Black Friday." That day Champion announced employment cutbacks at all operations, reducing the total work force at the mill and General Offices in Hamilton to about 3,300 people with a total payroll exceeding $24 million. A company release said "the total number of layoffs in the next few days will affect less than one out of 10 Ohio Division Champions and at the same time add greatly to the job security of nine out of 10 Ohio Division Champions."
Al Roudebush, in Research on the Loose, described it as "a massive layoff," including "about one-third of all production workers . . . and perhaps a larger fraction of technical and administrative personnel." Roudebush said "the effects of this on those fired can be easily imagined while some of those retrained bore permanent scars-- manifested by a great reluctance to stick out their necks or to obligate even prima facie necessary expenses. This was particularly noticeable in our research lab which suffered both from reductions in staff and reductions in funding which allowed it to deteriorate to the status of a technical pig pen," Roudebush said.
Noel Samuels recalled "Black Friday" as a tragic day when "they laid off by seniority and moved people all around." Bob Schaney -- who survived while his wife, a 17-year employee then, was among those let go -- said "they got rid of too many, and they started to have problems as a result. They called a bunch of them back," he said. Schaney's wife was among those later rehired.
"The company had lost money that year -- just one year. As I remember, that was the first year they lost money," said J. William (Bill) Harris in describing the reason for the cutback. On "Black Thursday," which he said was the day before "Black Friday," Harris was called to the office of his boss at 8 a.m. "I had no inkling of it," recalled Harris, who said "on the back of an envelope, he wrote first this many (a number) by this time tomorrow, and by 5 o'clock tomorrow, give me this many more" (another number). When he got back to his office, Harris said "I sank deep into my seat, and cried. I had to let some of my best friends go."
The onus of "Black Friday" fell on Karl R. Bendetsen, who has assumed leadership of the company a year earlier upon the death of Reuben B. Robertson Jr.
Bendetsen, with bachelor and advanced degrees from Stanford University, had practiced law in Washington, Oregon and California and was associated with logging and mining interests before World War II. His army service from 1940 through 1945 involved a variety of assignments, ranging from his direction of the controversial relocation of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast to an assistant chief of staff in planning the D-Day Normandy invasion in 1944. He returned to his law practice after the war before serving as an under secretary of the army from 1948 to 1952, when he joined Champion as a general consultant. Three years later, he was a vice president and general manager of the Texas Division, and in 1957 he became vice president of operations.
J. William Harris, in recounting a trip to Canton with Bendetsen after "Black Friday," said the Champion president asked about his popularity with people. After Harris told him the truth, he said Bendetsen told him he "he hated to do it, but 'Reuben and I had talked about this many times before his death. and I had to do it.' "
"Did he save the company?" said Harris, repeating an interviewer's question. "The alternatives in leading the company were Dwight Thomson or Herb Randall. I understand there was some controversy between them at the time," said Harris, who emphasized that Bendetsen was the first non-family member to lead Champion.
"Somebody had to save it, and it wasn't either of the two family guys. Karl was the only one who could have handled it. He made some tough decisions, among which was 'Black Friday.' He probably did save the company," Harris said. The retired controller recalled an incident when managers from several Champion operations were involved in profit planning meetings. "Some fellow during a break said, 'all of this is fine, but when are we going to get back to our regular work?' Karl looked over his glasses and said, 'this is you regular work.' "
"Karl was rough and tumble," said Harris. "But he had a tough act to follow" (Robertson). "He had to make a lot of tough decisions. He ran a tight ship. He learned fast. He was there all the time. He probably was a workaholic -- hours didn't mean anything to him." Harris described him as "a powerful man -- no question about it. He let it be known that he was in charge. You either bought or you didn't, and if you didn't, it was out the door you went."
Bendetsen -- who retired in 1973 as chairman, president and chief executive officer -- also should receive some credit for expanding Champion distribution, which Harris said was a major development. "The embryo of Champion's distribution division was started in 1933 with the acquisition of Dwight Brothers Paper Company in Chicago" and others were added later, he said in his 1976 company history.
Harris said "the acquisition of Carpenter Paper Company in 1961 added 35 additional warehouses in 33 cities, all west of the Mississippi. Carpenter was then regarded as one of the largest and most eminently successful paper merchandising organizations in the world," Harris explained. "In 1962, the Whitaker Paper Company was acquired consisting of nine distribution warehouses, all located east of the Mississippi. With these two sizable acquisitions, the company's distribution division of Champion Papers was formed," Harris wrote.
Bendetsen also was at the helm when Champion expanded its holdings in Hamilton in 1960 and 1961, including acquisition of the North Third Street property and the opening of Knightsbridge.
The misfortune of another Hamilton company, the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation, made possible the purchase of the North Third Street tract, on the opposite bank of the Great Miami River from the Hamilton mill. Aug. 2, 1960, BLH announced the sale of the majority of its former Hamilton Division to Champion. The Hamilton Division, including the Niles Tool Works, traced its start to the 1840s. It was the locally-owned General Machinery Corporation until a series of post-World War II mergers transformed it into Lima-Hamilton and finally Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, which had moved its Hamilton operations to Eddystone, Pa., by January 1960.
Champion acquired four factory structures, a steam plant and two office buildings in the transaction. The former Niles shop on west side of North Third Street was renamed No. 4 mill. The former American Can factory, the iron foundry and Diesel A structures on the east side of the street were designated No. 5 mill. The north end of that complex (the former can factory), near Black Street, was demolished in November 1962 and converted into a truck parking area. The BLH offices near Vine street, including the former General Machinery administration building and a structure built by the U. S. Navy during World War II, were originally assigned to Champion research, but have served a variety of functions in recent years.
No. 4 mill, at the southwest corner of Third and Black streets, was called a "paper supermarket" in a 1978 article in Merchant Salesman. The "complex has become a stocking point for Champion grades made at all Champion paper mills, not just the Hamilton mill," CHIPS said. The 300,000-square- foot center contained 15,000 tons of paper in stock sizes and master rolls. CHIPS said it "houses one of the largest single inventories in this country of fine printing papers, of which 28 different grades and 2,300 different items are kept in stock. More than 425 tons of paper are shipped per day," the article said. "The Champion computer system permits a maximum stock order processing time of 48 hours, and if the order is placed before 10:30 a.m., and the stock is available, the shipment will be made the next day. The location of the Hamilton warehouse has a distinct advantage in terms of reaching the major markets. Located within 400 miles of 40 percent of the U. S. printing market, within 500 miles of 50 percent of that market, and within 600 miles of 70 percent of that market," CHIPS explained.
Many Hamilton employees found themselves in different surroundings in August and September 1961 as Knightsbridge opened as Champion's new corporate headquarters. Plans for the new office in Hamilton had been announced in April 1958. The center was named Knightsbridge, the company announced, because of the recognition of the company's knight trademark and to give the building a distinctive address.
August 1961 was moving month from the General Office Building on North B Street, opposite the Black Street Bridge, to the new structure at the southeast corner of Neilan Boulevard and South Avenue, which the city renamed Knightsbridge Drive in honor of Champion's decision to locate the complex in Hamilton.
The Knightsbridge opening set off a series of additional moves as "the Stone House" became the Ohio Division offices. Departments formerly in other mill locations were shifted into the office building, (opened in August 1925) and some of the vacated mill offices were converted to other uses.
Knightsbridge -- which employs about 900 people -- has experienced several changes in form and function during its 33-year history, the most recent a $45 million investment announced in 1988 and completed in 1991. The 182,000-square-foot expansion added offices, conference rooms and a new cafeteria. Improvements were made on the 68-acre campus, including the addition of a pond, hundreds of trees and establishment of a 16-acre prairie grass area. The pond, an aesthetic improvement, also is functional. Water is pumped from the natural aquifer to cool the building, then discharged into the pond. Water from the pond is used to irrigate the surrounding grounds, which allows it to eventually return to the aquifer.
The major event of the Bendetsen years was the merger of Champions Papers and U. S. Plywood Corporation, announced in 1966. In a letter to employees, Bendetsen explained that "Champion and U. S. Plywood do not compete with each other in any way. We have different products, different manufacturing processes, different markets and different customers. The two companies do have in common dependence on the forest for their basic raw materials. Each company makes efficient use of just part of the forest. Essentially, however, each use is different. Consequently, as things stand now, we both unavoidably fail to utilize efficiently important parts of the forest. So by joining hands we can, in the longer range future, each generate savings in the cost of our basic raw materials which should help each company."
U. S. Plywood -- which had sales of $537.3 million in its 1965-66 fiscal year -- operated 90 plants producing fine hardwood paneling, softwood plywood, lumber, adhesives and other industrial and building products distributed through 163 branches in the United States and Canada.
Bendetsen chaired the new company while continuing as president of Champion Papers, and Gene C. Brewer, then president of U. S. Plywood, became president of the new company and of U. S. Plywood. The merger, effective Feb. 28, 1967, combined 31,000 employees and 130 manufacturing operations.
Headquarters of the new company -- first known as U. S. Plywood-Champion Papers Inc. -- were established at 777 Third Avenue in New York City, resulting in the transfer of operations and people from Knightsbridge in Hamilton.
Champion introduced its first recycled grade of paper in May 1990. Called Benefit and made in Hamilton's No. 2 mill, it was available in seven and three text, cover and writing weights with a Benefit writing line designed for use in laser printers. At its unveiling, Benefit met the minimum Environmental Protection Agency standards of 50 percent recycled fibers and contained 10 percent de-inked fibers, most of which were recovered from post-consumer waste.
"The fiber content of Benefit comes from three sources: de-inked fiber containing post-consumer waste, recycled manufacturing waste and high-quality softwood and hardwood pulps," explained Ed Farley, then director of premium papers. "Uncoated printing and writing papers have demanding end use applications that require strength, excellent printability and aesthetic appeal. At present, these characteristics can only be achieved with a well-balanced sheet like Benefit. Also, in the balance is Champion's desire to help generate market demands for recycled products." Farley said "this just makes good sense because it puts to use waste paper that otherwise would be destined for the municipal solid waste landfill."
Nearly four years later, Dan Maheu, vice president and operations manager at the Hamilton mill, pronounced the recycled product a success "It's the only way," he said. "Recycling is the future of this place. That comes back to not having our own pulp source. We've cut our virgin pulp consumption to 50 percent. That's down from 80 percent two years ago," he explained. "I can see a time when there won't be 100 percent virgin paper. For us, recycling is a requirement to get on the field. If you want to stay in this business, you're going to have to go to more recycled papers, and it must be as good or better than virgin." An example, he added, is All-Purpose Litho, "our recycled product, which is indistinguishable from the virgin product."
"We've made some real headway in the uncoated line," he said. "Benefit is that 100 percent recycled, minimum 25 percent post- consumer sheet that prints exceptionally well, and we offer it with no apologies. It's a premium printing sheet, and it's in trendy colors, and we'll keep it there. It is going to be our avant garde product. We are to come out with 'always be on the edge with benefit.' And Carnival is now recycled, and it probably is one of the best quality recycled sheets. We have rescued a dying grade. It will be a source of good, solid colors. We'll keep the colors updated regularly. It prints very well, it's bright and it's color is consistent from run to run," Maheu said.
At the end of 1993, in addition to 11 colors in the original Benefit line, 13 new unique fashion colors had been added, including three available in a fibered finish. Among the new line was Benefit Vertical, a sophisticated linear embossed texture. "Printers and graphic designers are demanding more recycled papers," Maheu said. "They expect a recycled product that has all the attributes and consistency of premium papers produced from virgin fiber. Benefit is the paper they have asked for."
Other recycled products from the Hamilton mill include All Purpose Litho Recycled (50 percent recycled content); Carnival (50 percent); Kromekote Recycled (50 percent); and Mystique (50 percent). All are considered recycled content papers under Federal Trade Commission classifications. The FTC -- reacting to public concern and confusion about marketing claims for recycled products -- issued guidelines to clarify the questions. The FTC action distinguishes between recycled paper and recycled content paper.
A recycled paper, according to the FTC, is manufactured entirely from recycled fiber. An example is Benefit, which has met that standard since April 1993. A recycled content paper, according to the FTC, is manufactured with a mixture of virgin and recycled fibers. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency has defined post-consumer waste as "products . . . for consumer use which have served their intended purpose and have been separated or diverted from solid waste for the purpose of collection, recycling and disposition," including old newspapers, magazines, corrugated boxes and mixed waste papers. Pre-consumer waste or manufacturing waste, according to EPA, is "waste generated after the completion of the papermaking process, but recovered from the waste stream," including trimmings, printing waste, mill wrappers, obsolete inventory and rejected unused stock.
What is the status of the Hamilton mill as it observes its 100th anniversary? Is it productive and profitable? What are the mill's strengths and weaknesses? What does the future hold for the Hamilton operation? Dan Maheu, a Champion vice president and operations manager of the Hamilton mill, provided frank answers to those questions during an interview in December 1993.
"Productive and profitable are two different things," emphasized Maheu, who said the Hamilton mill -- with a daily capacity of 536 tons of paper, including 384 tons coated and 152 tons uncoated) "is not making enough profit to justify its existence." He also said it has the potential to become profitable. "I can very easily envision it making an excellent return on investment. But it has to focus on the right products. We're seeing a shift in products and a shift in service here. We're seeing a shift in who we're competing against," Maheu said. "It's becoming more productive. It's always been fairly productive, but not always doing the right things. There's still a lot of functions out there that customers don't pay for," he observed.
"The most glaring weakness," Maheu said, "is that it is a high-cost manufacturing operation. It's not that it's a hundred years old. It is not high cost because it is 100 years old. We can be a low-cost producer if we pick the right field to compete in."
One strength, he said, is that the mill buys all its fiber. "We're not tied to having one source. A specialty mill can't be tied to one source, because you have to use different fibers for different things. In our specialty grades, we have to be recycled. We have to shift our dependence away from virgin and go to more recycled and alternate sources of fiber. Recycled meaning not post-consumer, because that is the most expensive fiber we use," Maheu declared.
"The fact that we have several product lines is a strength for us," Maheu said. "It's a strength because we can take a risk with one or two product lines. It's a weakness because it adds a lot of complexity to the system. We have a wide range of products we can offer the printing community, from our fancy colored uncoateds to the Kromekote. I think recently there's been a realization that this mill has the opportunity to complete Champion's offerings. We make good white paper and publication paper. This mill can make Champion more of a one-stop shopping center for printers."
Other Hamilton strengths, he said, are (a) "that we have a lot of smaller-sized pieces of equipment that allow us to attack markets," (b) "that we have a lot of employees with longevity and good experience," and (c) that "we're in a good location for serving the specialty markets. We're close to the big printing centers."
To assure the future of the Hamilton mill, "the critical thing will be to develop the products and the services that command the revenues that make a high-cost operation profitable," Maheu said. "We're going to have to keep developing products and services. And, we must continue to ratchet down the cost of the operation by eliminating non-value added activities."
The mill's 1,500 employees bear major responsibilities in this process, he said. "They will point out the changes that need to be made. They will determine how to make their jobs easier. If they're making their jobs easier, we're becoming more productive. They're also going to drive the cost-saving ideas. They'll also have to learn more about the business."
One of the "things about the Customer Driven Quality program," Maheu said, "is that it drags our employees out there into the business world. There they realize that if these people (customers) aren't writing checks, we (employees) aren't going to be getting checks. If they have an understanding of the business, and connect everything we do to the betterment of our business, everybody's job is secure and everybody is getting good raises." On the other hand, he said, "when the business stinks, we have concessionary bargaining, head-count reduction and all the other negatives." Maheu called the CDQ program "a partnership with our customers," and said "it's not a quality program, it's an involvement program. The customer gives feedback not only on quality, but also on service."
He said CDQ "is helping to drive change, because the customers are telling them (mill employees) they need to do things to improve the product. For a specialty business like us, it is critical that we're close to the customer. The customer also can tell us where there are other opportunities," he continued. "The feedback we get from our customers also helps us keep current with the trends in the market. They'll tell you which way to go, and they'll also tell you about your service, and what your competitors are doing."
The benefit to the employee, he explained, is that "they can see that they've done something, and then the customer starts ordering more paper. They know what they've done has made their position more secure. It's not some gift from heaven and it's not the economy, it's what they've done." The program benefit employees, he said, because it enables them "to know why they're doing what they're doing. It helps to motivate people. The Customer Driven Quality program is the key to what we're doing," Maheu stressed. "It gives our people a sense of purpose. It gives them a vehicle to strive for success, as opposed to survival" as those associated with the 100-year-old Hamilton mill reflects on its past and prepares for its future.
Maheu never knew Reuben B. Robertson Jr. -- who died more than 30 years before Maheu came to Hamilton -- but he would embrace many of Robertson's ideas, especially his views on profitability and change.
"Our basic, long-range objective is for Champion to continue to grow, expand and diversify. To do this," Robertson declared, "we must constantly improve our ability to market a top quality product at competitive prices and produce a good profit. This is the only way we can continue to enjoy the success that has meant so much to each and every one of us in terms of pay, security, opportunity and sense of personal accomplishment."
Robertson also said "I realize that change in an organization creates problems of understanding -- understanding of the reasons for change, understanding the effect of the change, getting acquainted with new bosses, new procedures, establishing new relationships between departments and activities. We need everyone's help in making these changes workable," said Robertson, who piloted Champion through an era of rapid change after World War II.
Robertson's age-less advice is still relevant to Hamilton Champions as the century-old mill faces, in Maheu's words, "a shift in products and a shift in service" and "a shift in who we're competing against" as it begins its 101st year.
# # #