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New Albany Box and Basket Company

New Albany Box and Basket Company produced boxes and baskets made of wood veneer for more than 100 years.  Their products ranged from small square boxes used for strawberries to large bushel baskets used for fruits and vegetables.  The factory turned out millions of boxes and baskets each year, which were sold to farmers, greenhouse owners, and candy companies. Most of the boxes and baskets were sold in the Midwest, although some were sold to companies as far away as California, Florida, New York and Canada. 

Their patents and mechanical devices covered a wide range in woodworking apparatus and enabled them to turn out three or more carloads of complete fruit baskets daily.  Many of their machines had been perfected and patented especially for them.  The factory was reputed to be the largest of its kind in the United States, operating in their varied line of trade, and its products were shipped extensively to jobbers in nearly all of the middle and Southern States.[i]     

The History: [ii] [iii] [iv] [v]                         

The New Albany Box and Basket Company began in 1880 as Smith, Young & Co. and lasted until December 20, 1996, when it ceased operation. The company was initially located on Main Street in New Albany, Indiana, where they manufactured fruit packages and baskets.  The factory was later moved to Market Street.  In 1886, Mr. William R. Heath purchased the company and the following year Mr. William F. Morris, a local graduate of the New Albany Business College, joined the company as a partner and superintendent of the mechanical work.  Mr. Heath came to New Albany from Benton Harbor, Michigan, a pioneer area in the manufacturing of veneer packaging and where some of the first veneer baskets were manufactured and sold. 

By 1888 the business became too large for the Market Street facility so the company rented additional property from the DePauw estate on Water Street between First and Second Streets.  The last site of the company, Rear Market (E. Market) and East Street (a block from the corner of E. Market and Vincennes), was purchased in1891, and a three story, 60' by 120' warehouse was built. Initially, production of the baskets remained at the plant on Water Street and the finished items were hauled to the warehouse.  The warehouse was located on the major railroad lines, which passed through New Albany.  Production was moved from Water Street after a disastrous fire on June 6, 1898 destroyed the plant and its machinery.  

Initially there were three box factories in the area. In addition to the Smith, Young & Co. (New Albany Box & Basket Co.) there were the Meur’s who made baskets and Peter Schaub who had a basket company for about 10 years, from 1872 to 1882.

On December 6, 1893, the company was incorporated as the Heath-Morris Company with 500 shares of capital stock at a value of $10,000.  Initially there were four stockholders, Mr. Heath (210 shares), Mr. Morris (240 shares), Mr. Ira G. Strunk (40 shares), and Mr. Jno F. Miller (10 shares).  Each director was paid $2.00 for attending meetings.  The initial officers of the company and their salaries were as follows:

       Wm. R. Heath                     President                  $1,500/Yr

       Wm. F. Morris                    Vice Pres.                  $1,500/Yr

       Jno F. Miller                       Sec. & Treas.             $1,000/Yr

In 1893, $1,500 was equal to $28,500 today.[vi]

The following year the company opened an office in Cincinnati, Ohio.  At a board of directors meeting on July 30, 1894, Mr. Frank F. Myers was employed to run the Cincinnati office and purchased 40 shares of stock in the company from Wm. Heath. 

In the early years there was a great deal of turmoil in the management of the company.  By the annual meeting on December 12, 1895, the struggle for control came to a head with Frank Myers replacing William Heath as president by a 3 to 2 vote of the owners.  The problems didn’t stop there.  By the annual meeting the following year, December 18, 1896, the problems of control continued with a fight as to who should be directors and who should record the minutes of the meeting.  Ira Stunk was to be the recorder of the minutes but this was challenged.  In early December, Ira Stunk had sold his shares but the stock was in dispute resulting in litigation and he was disqualified.  Wm. Morris and Jno Miller controlling 312 shares fought against Frank Myers and Wm. Heath controlling 188 shares.  In the ensuing board of directors meeting, Frank Myers was elected president, Wm. Morris vice president, and Jno Miller secretary & treasurer.  The battle for control continued until January 30, 1897, when Wm. Heath and Frank Myers were forced to sell out.  The stock that had been held by Ira Stunk was tied up in litigation, was then settled.

From 1886 until 1897, Charles Schwartzel sold insurance to the Heath-Morris Company.  Through this relationship he became interested in the company, and over the years Charles had been acquiring property in New Albany and was in a position in 1897 to start buying stock in the box and basket company. As part of the restructuring of the company on January 30, 1897, Charles Schwartzel agreed to purchase 135 shares along with F. H. Keller who purchased 10 shares and Louise Blemker who purchased shares 57, all at $30.00/share. On February 1, 1897, a stockholder meeting was held followed by a board of directors meeting with the following elected as directors and officers of the company:

      Wm F. Morris                  Vice President                  $1,200/Yr          210 Shares    

      Imo J. Miller                   Secretary & Treasures       $1,080/Yr            37 Shares

      Charles Schwartzel          President                         $  600/Yr           135 Shares

      F. H. Keller                                                                                     11 Shares

      Frank. N. Morey               Manager of Factory                                    50 Shares

      Louise Blemker                (Owner/non-director)                                57 Shares

                                                                                Total                  500 Shares

The turmoil in the company settled down but the ownership kept shifting.  Wm. Morris purchased the shares of Jno Miller, and Margaret Schwartzel, wife of Charles Schwartzel, purchased the shares of F. H. Keller and Louise Blemker.  By the time of the annual meeting and board of directors meeting the ownership was as follows:

      Wm F. Morris                 Secretary & Treasures      $1,500/Yr      247 Shares

      Charles Schwartzel         President                        $  750/Yr      135 Shares

      F. N. Morey                    Vice President                $1,500/Yr       50 Shares

      Margaret Schwartzel       (Owner/non-director)                           68 Shares

                                                                                Total            500 Shares

By April 1899 Frank Morey sold his interest in the company to Wm. Morris and Charles Schwartzel resulting in each controlling 50% of the company.

On March 22, 1898, Charles Schwartzel petitioned the State of Indiana to change the company name, but something prevented the name change until July 1, 1907, when the company became known as the New Albany Box & Basket Co.

The company was fairly stable for the next several years until the summer of 1902 when again there was a struggle for control.  At the shareholders meeting on June 23, 1902, James N. Conner was elected director of the company.  Apparently this action was against the wishes of Charles Schwartzel. After Mr. Conner was elected director, Charles Schwartzel resigned and asked to sell his stock in the company.  By August 6, Wm. Morris had decided to sell his shares to Charles and Margaret Schwartzel rather than to try to run the company himself.  Charles and his son, Joseph along with a close friend John T. Cullen, from LaFayette, Indiana, took over control and formed the new board of directors as follows:

      Charles Schwartzel          President

      John T. Cullen                 Vice President

      Joseph Schwartzel           Sec. & Treas.    

When Charles bought the factory, they were producing all sizes and kinds of fruit packages and baskets from pints to two-bushel containers.  The production in the last years of operation did not have the variety of the early days, though they continued to make handmade, fancy, baskets and many more veneer items. As the industry became standardized, the number of products became more limited. 

From the late 1800s up to when the factory closed, their products were made from any softwoods available except for the coffee tree that smelled too badly while being processed. They used woods such as soft maple, cottonwood, poplar, elm, lynwood, gum etc.  Employment at the factory stayed somewhat constant to the end, with around 100 to120 employees depending upon the season.  Besides the New Albany factory, the company owned timber property in Tennessee.  Some of the property was located around Dyersburg, Tennessee. The softwood was shipped to the factory in New Albany and the hardwoods were sold.  When the timber property was depleted, it was sold off as stump property.  In addition to property directly owned, the company also formed joint ventures to purchase additional property, such as one with the Meugel Box Co. of Louisville called the Inland Logging Co.  At one point in the history of the company it became cheaper to buy wood locally than to ship in wood from Tennessee.  Thus, over time, the timberland was sold off.

As the company prospered it branched out; in 1910 they built a plant in Louisville.  This plant made fancy-handmade baskets.  The Louisville plant had to be closed in the 1950's due to a large amount of vandalism and fires.  In the late 1920's the main factory in New Albany was extended to the property line on the east, and the dry kiln and office were built.  In those days the office looked much like a bank with teller cages where the weekly paychecks were handed out.                                                                                         

From the early 1900s to the late 1930s the company expanded and became very profitable.  This was due to Charles Schwartzel’s leadership and the changes in the economy.  As the nation moved from a farming economy to an industrial economy shipment of products from farming areas to the cities increased.  As the business grew, the number of owners grew.  In 1903, F. H. Keller returned as a director, and Edward Hannon also joined the team.  In 1908, Charles’s son Frank joined the company. By 1910, the board of directors consisted of:

      Charles Schwartzel           President

      Joseph Schwartzel           Secretary & Treasures

      Frank Schwartzel             Vice President

      Edward Hannon                Manager of Louisville Factory

      John Cullen                     Director                                       

In 1914 George Walters was listed as a director.

Dividends paid by the company ranged from:

               As Recorded:                       In Yr. 2000 Dollars:

               Dividends       Profits       Dividends      Profits

   1906      $6,000                            $113,778

   1910      $10,000                           $182,857

   1915      $20,000      $27,885          $336,843       $469,642

   1920      $50,000                           $427,500

   1925      $25,000                           $244,250

1920 appeared to be the best year in the company’s history as competition was just beginning to appear.  Besides impressive profits and dividends, salaries were also quite high.                                         

                                            As Recorded:     In Yr. 2000 Dollars:

     Charles Schwartzel            $26,000              $223,300

     Joseph Schwartzel            $18,000              $153,900          

     Ed Hannon                        $  3,300              $ 28,050

     George Walters                $  3,300              $ 28,050

     Isadore Marguet                $  1,080              $  9,234

As the company grew, its family ties grew; Charles’ sons, Joseph and Frank, came to work at the factory; so did Charles’ son-in-law, Isadore Marguet.  Joseph became secretary-treasurer and held that position until he became President in 1932, when his father died.  Frank worked at the factory until his death at age 27.  In time, Isadore Marguet’s three sons, Charles, Jean and Joe also came to work as soon as they completed school.  When Joseph Schwartzel succeeded his father, Charles Marguet became secretary-treasurer.  At that time Joseph had two of his sons, Charles and John, working at the factory.  Charles Schwartzel built the company into one of the largest companies of its kind.

As the company moved into the latter years of the roaring twenties, the competition stiffened.  The following was recorded from the January 30, 1929 board of directors’ meeting minutes:

“Charles Schwartzel mentioned that the addition to factory building took much longer time to complete than expected, that the season had advanced so machinery was very slowly set up in the new part in fact all machinery was not placed at this time.  Without this addition to factory we could not have taken the lettuce basket order from Cincinnati, Ohio and it was well to have the order as business was very slow in fact lettuce baskets we are making is a larger percent of all goods were being sold during the past several months.....

....Attention was called that profits for the past year was very small as  prices were low and competition was very keen due to so many new factories being built throughout the country and that profits may be much smaller in the coming years than the profits have been for several years past.  After talking the matter over as to whether or not to declare a dividend at this them Chas Schwartzel said he thought a dividend could be paid even though we had a lean year.  John Cullan moved to declare a dividend of $25,000, seconded by Ed Hannon”.

In the 1930's Joseph Schwartzel and Charles Marguet began attending Basket Manufacturing Conventions sponsored by the industry.  By this time there were literally hundreds of basket factories all over the country.  This was the hay-day of the industry.  Over time the industry lost out to the advent of plastics and cheap cardboard packaging.    

In the Depression years, 1931 was the worst for the company.  That year they lost $7,800 ($87,600), and paid no dividends.  By 1932 the business was fair, and starting to pick up.  May 13, 1932 Charles Schwartzel died, and Joseph Schwartzel assumed control of the company.  At the board of directors meeting of October 8, 1932, the following were listed as directors and offices each one held:                                                                                                       

      Joseph Schwartzel            President

      Charles P. Marguet            Secretary & Treasurer

      Edward Hannon                 Manager of the Louisville Branch Factory

      John Cullen                      Director

The board minutes stated that the year was fair, but demand was down, and there was a need to cut expenses as much as possible.

May 2, 1934 Margaret Schwartzel died.  When Charles died, he left all of his stock in the company to his wife Margaret.  When she died, she left half of her stock to Joseph Schwartzel and the other half to the children of her daughter Anna B. Marguet who had died May 3, 1915.[vii]  In addition to the split up of the majority of the stock in the company, in 1935 the company distributed 3000 shares of stock in the Standard Oil Company of Kentucky which was in the name of the New Albany Box & Basket Company but which had been purchased by Charles Schwartzel.  1500 shares of stock were transferred to Catherine Schwartzel, wife of Joseph Schwartzel and 1500 shares was divided equally between the members of the Marguet family.    

In 1939, Joseph A. Marguet was added to the board of directors and in 1941, he became Vice President.                                                                                                                 

The years after the death of Charles Schwartzel the company was fairly profitable, and dividends were raised.  In many of the following years the majority of profits, less taxes, were distributed as dividends, as there were now many more owners.  The ownership consisted of three groups: the Cullen family, the Marguet family and the Schwartzel family.  There was also one additional owner, Edward Hannon.  During these years it appeared that there was a heavy demand for dividends.  Also, there was beginning to be a struggle for control of the company, since no one had a clear majority interest in the company that often lead to disagreements. This struggle continued over the future direction of the company with Joseph Schwartzel in disagreement with majority of the other stockholders.  Part of the struggle may have concerned the desire to reorganize the company and its bylaws. 

As a result of the disagreements, on December 4,1943, Joseph sold out his interest in the box company to the other stockholders and Charles Marguet became president.  December 7, 1943, the company was reorganized and reincorporated in the State of Indiana[viii].  The following is the list of stockholders before the reorganization.

      Joseph C. Schwartzel               Charles Marguet                  Elizabeth Cullen Fallen

      Catherine Schwartzel               Joseph Marguet                  Anne Cullen

      Mary Gene Schwartzel              Jean Marguet                     James Cullen

      John C. Schwartzel                  Margaret Moser                  John T. Cullen

      Gerard Schwartzel                   Anna Marie Osborn              Edward Hannon

      Charles Schwartzel                  Helen Schmitt

      James Schwartzel                    Isadore Marguet

After Charles Marguet became president, Joseph A. Marguet became vice-president. Besides Charles and Joe Marguet, John Cullen, Edward Hannon and Margaret Moser became directors of the company.  Over time, a number of the Marguets began to work at the factory.  In 1981, Charles Marguet died and his nephew, Frank Marguet, became president, and Pat Marguet became Secretary-Treasurer with Joseph I. Marguet as vice-president.  After Frank Marguet died, Joseph I. Marguet became president.

The New Albany Box & Basket Company was closed down on December 20, 1996[ix].  Over the next few months the inventory was sold, and by May 1997, the machinery had been sold to their competitors, with the remaining items auctioned off.  Joe Marguet kept some of the equipment that may become part of a museum.  On August 15, 1997, the property was sold. The old factory has since been torn down.  One of the reasons the factory stayed in business for so long while many other veneer packaging companies had failed, was because they adapted to the changing market.  They had been able to adapt their machinery and inventory to meet the demands for new products, while still continuing to produce the old standards.  They had never depended on any one customer for the majority of their business.  Also, they were able to repair much of the machinery using their own personnel, which enabled them to remain in production while making repairs.


 

[i]  Book, “Advantages and Surrounding of New Albany, Indiana, and Floyd County, by D.P. Robbins, M.D., 1892

[ii]  Much of the information about the New Albany Box and Basket Factory came from notes of a speech that Joe and Marietta Marguet presented to the Historical Society of New Albany, March 27, 1984

[iii]  The Indiana Weekly section of The Courier-Journal, December 28, 1988

[iv]  Information on ownership from Register of Corporate Stock, 12/7/1893 to 8/6/1902

[v]  Book of Corporation Minutes - Shareholders and Board of Directors Meetings, 12/7/1893 to 12/6/1943.

[vi]  Consumer Price Index (estimated) 1800 to 2000, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

[vii]  The last will and testament of Charles Schwartzel and Margaret Schwartzel

[viii]  Indiana, Secretary of State, Internet site, company information section; www.ai.org/sos

[ix]  Closing date from Pat Marguet