Shuler & Benninghofen Co., southeast corner of Pleasant and Williams avenue, Hamilton. Enough blankets to stretch from Hamilton to Toledo were being produced annually in a Hamilton factory in 1958 when the "oldest industrial partnership in the community's history" observed its 100th anniversary. Mariposa blankets and papermakers felts were prime products of the Shuler & Benninghofen Co. that had been formed in 1858 by Asa Shuler and John W. Benninghofen. Its origin could have been extended 12 years earlier to 1846 when Dr. Jacob Hittel built a mill on North Fourth Street between High and Market streets. Hittel's mill operated until 1852 when Breitenbach & Co. bought the property and started a woolen mill on the site. Hamilton men owning the firm included Albert Breitenbackh, August Breitenbach, J. Andrum, Asa Shuler and Titus Shuler. The mill -- built on North Fourth Street to take advantage of cheap water power from the Hamilton Hydraulic -- had six looms that depended on one waterwheel in the hydraulic canal. Despite its cheap power source, the operation lost money. After a $900 loss in one year, Asa Shuler took control, expanded markets and moved toward profitability.
In 1858 John W. Benninghofen bought the interests of August and Albert Breitenbach and the Shuler & Benninghofen partnership was formed. In 1862, because of increased business, a new mill (later to become part of the Beckett Paper Co.) was constructed on the corner of Heaton and Lowell streets. It was rebuilt after a fire in October 1865 destroyed the structure and most of its machinery. The partners were back in operation in February 1866. In 1864 the company made its first seamed felt for use on a paper machine -- for Shuey & McGuire, a local firm. Two years later its first endless felt, a product that would become the company's major line. In the later 1800s and early 1900s, Shuler & Benninghofen supplied 80 percent of the felts used in western paper mills. That product line was known as "Hamilton Felts." The web site of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office of the Ohio Historical Society says "at first the firm produced blankets, yarns and other cloths, but in 1884 the plant began to manufacture felts for use on paper making machinery. A significant improvement was made in 1888 with the production of an endless felt from special machinery of unusually large dimensions for a woolen mill. Another interesting innovation of the firm was the use of galvanized pipes through which raw wool was blown from one department of the mill to another." The OHPO says the company was "able to build up one of the most important industries in southern Ohio with products of blankets, skirts, flannel and Jacquard fabrics being sent throughout the United States and exported to Canada, Mexico, Japan and Australia. Most important to the Hamilton area, however, the felts produced by the firm helped to lay the foundation for the large modern paper industry in the city." In 1894 the mill was moved to Lindenwald -- then outside the Hamilton city limits -- to a tract between present Pleasant, Williams, Symmes and Benninghofen avenues. The plant was enlarged in 1905, 1912 and 1921, the latter a three-story, $200,000 building that increased company capacity by 60 percent. In 1958, its 100th year, Shuler & Benninghofen produced about 125,000 Mariposa blankets annually, enough to stretch 177 miles -- from Hamilton to Corbin, Ky., or Hamilton to Toledo. But its major product was papermaker felts -- at the rate of 750,000 pounds yearly, or enough to cover 113 football fields. Shuler & Benninghofen merged with the Orr Felt Co., Piqua, Ohio, in February 1967. Operations at the Hamilton plant ended in July 1967 and the building at 2346 Pleasant Avenue was sold the next month.
Asa Shuler was born Aug. 15, 1823, in Lehigh County, Pa., and came to Hamilton as a 22-year-old carpenter in May 1845. He left in 1849 to try his luck in the California gold rush. He resumed carpentry in 1852 in Hamilton and Dec. 25, 1852, married Mary Ann Sorber in Seven Mile. Shuler served four years on the Hamilton board of education, was a trustee of the Hamilton waterworks for 11 years and a director and president of the First National Bank. He died Sunday, May 12, 1895, at age 71 and is buried in Greenwoood Cemetery. His partner, John W. Benninghofen, was born March 12, 1812, in Wuelfrath, Prussia, and came to the U. S. in 1848, locating in Hamilton. He was married twice, to Gertrude Hipp before his arrival here, and later to Wilhelmina E. Klein, a German native who had moved to Cincinnati. Benninghoften, a peddler in his first years in Hamilton, served two terms on the Hamilton board of education. He died April 1881, at age 69, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Descendants of the founders operated the company until it closed in 1967.
(See Benninghofen House.)
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