Beckett Paper Company. Mohawk Paper's Dayton Street mill in Hamilton is Butler County's oldest paper mill. Known as the Beckett Paper Company during most of its history, it began operations in May 1848 on the Hamilton Hydraulic, a local canal network that provided power, not transportation. Beckett claimed its Hamilton plant to be "the oldest operating fine paper mill west of the Allegheny Mountains." International Paper Co. acquired the plant from Hammermill Paper Co. in 1986, and Mohawk purchased the operation in 2005.
Early company names included Miami Paper Mill; Beckett, Rigdon and Martin; Beckett, Rigdon and Company; Beckett and Laurie; Beckett, Laurie and Company; and William Beckett and Son. In 1887, it was incorporated as the Beckett Paper Company. In May 1959, Beckett became part of Hammermill. It has produced a variety of products, ranging from newsprint made from rags through the Civil War era, and writing and bond papers until World War I, to uncoated fine grades for the advertising industry during most of the 20th century. A company publication in the 1970s said "many old-timers in the industry still call us 'The Cover Mill,' since we developed the first cover paper, the famous Buckeye Cover, in 1894." That article said at the end of the 19th century, "the company's experiments with the then new aniline dyes led to the development of the industry's first extensive range of colored cover papers." Among its thousands of customers was the American Book Company, a Cincinnati publishing house that produced the popular McGuffey Readers in the 19th century. They were written by William Holmes McGuffey while he taught at Miami University in Oxford. In the 1840s, the availability of cheap power -- the privately-owned Hamilton hydraulic -- attracted Calvin Reilly, a Toledo businessman, to invest in Hamilton. He hired Adam Laurie, a young Scotsman experienced in papermaking, to design, build and manage a paper mill. Also involved in the construction was John L. Martin, a Vermont native who was an experienced civil engineer and millwright. When Reilly encountered financial problems, Laurie sought capital to save the project. The new investor was William Beckett, a young Hamilton lawyer who had been acquiring real estate in the area. Subsequent partners in the mill were Martin and a Hamilton lawyer, Francis D. Rigdon. Laurie was superintendent of the Miami Paper Mill until 1857, and a partner until 1886.
In May 1848, the $12,000 mill opened, producing about a ton of rag-based newsprint each day. Its location then was described as north of Dayton Street and west of the Hamilton Hydraulic, which drew water from the Great Miami River north of Hamilton. (See entry for Hamilton Hydraulic.) In the 1880s, the hydraulic canal was filled and the railroad now owned by the Norfolk Southern was built over part of the waterway route. The mill has been rebuilt, modernized and expanded several times. The original plant was razed and reconstructed in 1905. The 1913 flood caused extensive damage and production stopped for six months while the plant and its machinery were rebuilt.
A Beckett managed the mill for 126 years. William Beckett, a founder, directed operations until 1896. He was followed by his son, Thomas Beckett, until 1923; another son, Minor Beckett, until 1928; and then a series of grandsons, Guy Beckett, Dan Beckett and finally William Beckett, who was president from 1958 through 1974. May 2, 2005, Mohawk Paper Mills completed the purchase of the Beckett Mill from International Paper. Mohawk, based in Cohoes, N. Y., was reported to have paid $65 million for the produced seven brands of paper. Mohawk also restored the Beckett Paper Mill name to the Hamilton operation.