Pfeiffer & Schwartzel Family History

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The Ups, Downs and Interesting Facts:

The box company had its share of ups and downs, successes and disasters. Fires were the company's biggest problem.  The first fire was June 6, 1898 when its original factory was destroyed.  After the fire the factory was moved to its last location on E. Market and East Streets where they had a warehouse.  In 1911, there were two fires. In February, two large warehouses filled with timber were destroyed, and in August the drying shed burned. In 1917, to help with the threat of fires, a sprinkler system was installed, but it didn't prevent fire from being their biggest problem.  In 1924, the drying shed again burned.  The most extensive fire occurred in May of 1962, destroying five warehouses and a drying shed.  Two homes on the block also were burned, as well as, the entire block between East and 18th and Market and Main being destroyed.  In 1975, lightning struck causing a small fire. 

The box company had a few other problems besides fires.  In 1906, they were sited for breaking child labor laws.  The article in the New Albany Weekly Ledger was very sympathetic stating that they only employed children to perform jobs that were quite simple and that their families needed their wages.  Another tragedy occurred in 1960 when a man, who was delivering a load of logs, fell into a vat of boiling water that was used to soak logs.  Luckily, someone was standing right there and grabbed him before he became submerged. He was severely burned and spent months in the hospital. Labor problems caused their share of problems but only once, in 1952, were they shutdown by strikers. That was the only time the plant was closed except for one or two days due to weather.

In 1897, wages at the factory were 12.5 cents per hour for 56.5 hours of work per week; they had no breaks and a half hour for lunch.  The factory's wages were fairly consistent with other industries at that time.

In the New Albany Weekly Ledger of February 19, 1919, there was an article stating, "The first egg containers ever made and used in the world were made right here in New Albany.  Did you know they were invented right here and turned out by a New Albany factory?  The little collapsible pasteboard stalls into which eggs go and which have revolutionized the egg shipping business and made it possible, were first made by W.R. Heath of the Heath-Morris Box and Basket Factory of New Albany.  Afterward Heath sold out and took his business to Minneapolis.  MORAL: New Albany is always first.  First  with egg containers, first through the Hindenberg line and first as today's shopping center."

The Veneer Business[i]:

From the beginning of recorded history there have been handmade baskets.  In America the Native American was the first basket maker. The early settlers quickly learned the Native American method of basket making.

The handmade baskets were a prelude to the development of the veneer packaging industry.  It was far too time consuming and expensive to use handmade baskets on a large-scale basis as containers for fruits and vegetables.  The baskets produced by the New Albany Box and Basket Factory were part of the veneer packaging industry that made baskets an economically feasible mass-produced item.  Before their advent, barrels from the cooperage industry were the major containers and they were intended to be reused.   Now, plastic has come along in the past 40 years to supercede veneer packaging in many cases.

The art of veneering was well known to the settlers of the United States.  The desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence is veneered.  But until the invention of the rotary lathe, veneer couldn’t be peeled thin enough for use as a container or produced economically enough, to be used for that purpose.  In 1866 James Kirby produced veneer in Benton Harbor, Michigan, thin enough to make 1/3-bushel baskets for peaches and he sold them to a firm in Chicago.  Before that time no one in the United States had been successful in cutting veneer thin enough for baskets.  It’s quite probable that Mr. W.R. Heath was associated with the Kirby firm. 

The basket making process began when logs were delivered to the log yard.  Workers remove the bark, cut the logs in various lengths, and put them into a 30' by 40' concrete steam chest to soak for about two days.  On the factory’s first floor, the wet logs went through a rotary lathe that peels the wood into long strips of veneer. Then the veneer was fed into a joiner, which cuts it into various widths for the baskets.  There were machines for making basket bottoms, lids, rims and handles.  A conveyor belt circling the third floor that carried finished baskets to a chute.  The baskets slid down the chute and were loaded onto carts where they were taken across a catwalk to the dry kiln - a large, heated room - to season the baskets for about a day.  The kiln dries the baskets in nearly 200-degree heat.[ii] 

Side Note:[iii]

While working on the family history, I decided to visit the New Albany Box & Basket Company that was owned and operated by Joe and Pat Marguet.  The visit was very rewarding as I sat in my grandfather's and great grandfather's office and thought of all the history and memories that this small room represented.  The office had not changed much since Joseph Schwartzel sat there working 50 years ago.  Probably the desk had not even been cleaned out as Joe Marguet pulled out an old stack of papers from the desk. He showed me the original deed for the company, which was dated 1889 along with old stock certificates and other papers, which belonged to Charles Schwartzel.

The box company before it closed, was only one of 5 or six remaining companies in this country that made wooden boxes and baskets.  The business has nearly died out as plastic boxes have taken over for the packaging of fruits and vegetables. In the final year, most of their production went to novelty stores, orchards, such as the Huber Farm, and for fruit baskets sold at Christmas.  The New Albany Box & Basket Co. was probably the only company left which made a complete line of wooden baskets and boxes.  They were also, probably the only company that made all their own materials (wooden parts).  They purchased large logs and machined off layers of thin wood pieces (veneer).  The veneer was than cut to the proper width and formed into baskets, such as, bushel baskets, strawberry cartons, and fruit baskets with handles.


 

[i]            “American Veneer Packages”, by Franklin E. Coyne, Lumber Buyers’ Publishing Company, 1941

[ii]  From a newspaper article in The Indiana Weekly, a special publication of the Courier-Journal, December 28, 1988.

[iii]  John Pfeiffer, visited the box factory while developing its history.