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Champion Papers

Champion Papers -- also Champion International until 2000 and formerly the Champion Paper & Fibre Co. and Champion Papers-U. S. Plywood -- produced coated paper and other paper products in Hamilton for more than 100 years.

Peter G. Thomson founded the company while developing housing subdivisions (see Grandview and Prospect Hill). Champion was incorporated Nov. 2, 1893, production started April 15, 1894, and the first shipment of paper left the plant along Seven Mile Pike (now North B Street) in May 1894. Thomson, previously a bookseller and publisher, believed that recent progress in half-tone printing would increase the demand for coated paper. He was correct. At first Champion coated paper produced by other Hamilton mills, and in 1897 bought a plant in Franklin, Ohio. By 1900, Thomson had doubled the capacity of the original plant five times. In June 1902 the company manufactured paper for the first time in Hamilton, opening a new paper mill simultaneously with a rebuilt coating plant. By 1910, a city publication boasted that "the mills of the Champion Coated Paper Company, comprising 27 acres of floor space, are the largest in the world devoted to the manufacture of coated paper." But it wasn't a smooth course. During its first 20 years, the mill survived two floods (March 1898 and March 1913), two fires (December 1901 and March 1913), several business cycles, numerous technological advances, and constant market changes. From its earliest years, Champion welcomed transplanted Appalachians, especially Kentuckians. Thomson hired people from the hills and hollows because they tended to be loyal, adaptable, hard working and ingenious at fixing machinery problems. Thomson was regarded as an innovator in papermaking and employee relations. His workers were able to save at an in-plant company store from 1917 to 1934, and had group insurance coverage for themselves and dependents after 1917. He provided a full-time industrial physician after 1916, added an advertising department in 1924 and built a research facility in 1926. Thomson -- whose philanthropy and civic leadership aided all Hamiltonians -- directed the mill and the company until his death July 10, 1931.

In the 1930s, when the Great Depression idled many local factories, production at the B Street mill shifted to plain grades of paper that were in demand and a "work-for-all policy" was implemented. Instead of devastating layoffs, most of Champion's 4,000 or more coaters, millwrights, pipefitters, sorters and other employees worked five or six days a week, a one or two-day reduction from the boom years of the 1920s. "The largest Ohio mill, and one of the largest in the world, is the Champion Paper and Fibre Co., Hamilton," said They Built a City: 150 Years of Industrial Cincinnati by the Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration, 1938. When the U. S. entered World War II in 1941, the demand for paper soared. The private sector, the government and the military needed paper for everything from patriotic posters, ration stamps and war bonds to maps -- and, of course, thousands of applications, forms and required records. Until August 1961, the mill was only a short walk from company headquarters. That month, administrative offices moved to Knightsbridge elsewhere in Hamilton. After a 1967 merger, corporate leaders relocated in New York City and later shifted to Stamford, Conn. As Champion International observed the 100th anniversary of its Hamilton founding in April 1994, employment at the B Street mill was reported as about 1,500 people. Three and a half years later, in October 1997, Champion International announced its intention to sell the Hamilton mill as part of a corporate restructuring. In May 2000, in a transaction valued at about $7.3 billion, International Paper acquired all Champion International assets. June 21, International assumed ownership and direction of the B Street mill and its 800 employees.

Monday, Jan. 8, 2001, International Paper announced it was selling the B Street mill to a Florida merchant banking firm that would operate the facility as Smart Paper LLC. (Also see Thomson Park, Knightsbridge, Champion warehouses and Smart Papers.)

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