Journal-News, Wednesday, June 2, 1999
Robertson led Champion Papers surge
By Jim Blount
Reuben Buck Robertson Jr. had a Champion Papers pedigree. His grandfather, Peter G. Thomson, was the firm's founder. His parents were Reuben B. Robertson Sr. and Hope Thomson Robertson. His mother was a daughter of man who started the company in Hamilton in April 1894. His father had directed the company's Canton, N.C., plant from its opening in 1907 until 1946 when he became president of the Champion Paper and Fibre Company. Reuben Sr. was elevated to chairman of the board in 1950.
Reuben Jr. -- who was responsible for the vigorous promotion of Champion's Kromekote line after World War II -- was born June 27, 1908, in Asheville, N. C. He earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Yale University in 1930.
That same year, Reuben B. Robertson Jr. started to work as a mill hand in Canton. By 1934 he was the plant's assistant general manager.
He became a company vice president in 1935, and moved to the general offices in Hamilton in 1938 to handle a variety of duties, including supervising the start of cost control systems. In 1941 he added the title of general production manager for the company, then including plants in Hamilton, Canton and Pasadena, Texas.
His career was interrupted by World War II. In 1942, he was called to Washington to serve on the War Production Board before a stint in the U. S. Army from 1942 to 1945. Those terms wouldn't be the last of his government service.
After the war, he returned to the Hamilton mill and, according to colleagues, whipped it into shape. In 1949, he was named the company's first director of budgetary control.
Champion's research department on North B Street was still fine tuning the Kromekote process in 1941 when the United States entered World War II. Defense restrictions stunted the development and marketing of the product until Germany and Japan surrendered in 1945.
Reuben Jr. directed post-war plans for "a new and better Champion," much of it based on aggressive promotion of the coated product. He replaced old machinery to achieve increased production and promote quality and reliability.
To illustrate, when the war ended, two drums in the Hamilton mill were producing Kromekote. Five new cast-coating drums were installed in 1946 and 1947 as demand increased for the product used for fancy box wrappings, gift cards and other specialties.
In 1950, when Reuben Sr. became chairman of the board, he turned over the Champion presidency to his son, Reuben Jr.
That year, Champion introduced a refinement, Cast Coat, which had the same qualities as Kromekote, but was coated on two sides. In the summer of 1952, employment reached 3,500 people in the mill and general offices in Hamilton as Champion prospered.
Reuben Jr.'s personal enthusiasm is legend to those who knew him. He also had a way of infecting the same spirit into people who worked around him. "He had meeting after meeting," recalled a management colleague, who said "everytime I've been in a meeting with him, I've left with the feeling that I've had a missile up my rear-end and I'm ready to take off. And that's the way Reuben was. He'd leave you all charged up."
His personal philosophies reflected his respect for the men and women who worked for Champion. "It is not our machines, our buildings, our money or our materials that make the difference between success and failure," he emphasized. "It is the people in our company that determine how successful we are. We can have the most modern and perfect machines that can be made -- but they will do no better than the folks who run those machines."
He was proud of Champion's employees -- many of them second and third generation workers -- and they were proud of him.
But Champion wasn't his only priority. The other aspects of Reuben B. Robertson Jr.'s service will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 9, 1999
Reuben Robertson Jr.'s promising career cut short by 1960 accident
By Jim Blount
Peter G. Thomson, founder of Champion Papers, encouraged his employees to become involved in community service. He set the example by contributing his knowledge, philanthropy and leadership to a wide range of local, state and national causes and charitable organizations. He would have been proud of his grandson, Reuben B. Robertson Jr., who managed the company from 1950 to 1960.
Robertson's World War II experiences, for example, included brief service in Washington on the War Production Board in 1942, and a three-year term in the U. S. Army.
He was born into a Champion family June 27, 1908, in Asheville, N. C., and earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Yale University in 1930, the year he started his Champion career. He came to the corporate office in Hamilton in 1938.
During his high-energy career, Robertson won numerous awards for business and public service, much of it to the benefit of Hamilton and surrounding Butler County.
He was a founder of the Hamilton Safety Council, a director and campaign chairman for United Appeals (now the United Way) and active in the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Hamilton Industrial Council and other professional and charitable organizations.
"In behalf of Hamilton, he was generous and warm-hearted, giving gladly of his time, energy and substance, and guiding his great paper company in support of many good works in the community," said William Beckett, president of the rival Beckett Paper Company and a Robertson colleague in many civic ventures.
His service extended well beyond Hamilton and the paper industry. He expanded his reputation for leadership to national and international venues.
In 1950 President Harry Truman named Robertson, then Champion's newly-appointed president, to the Wage Stabilization Board.
In 1953 he led an evaluation of the mutual security program in Germany. From 1953 to 1955, he was vice chairman of the Business Advisory Council for the Department of Commerce. In 1955 he was vice chairman of the Hoover Commission study of business organization of the Defense Department.
He took a leave of absence from Champion from August 1955 until April 1957 to serve as deputy secretary of defense, the No. 2 position in that department. "He was one of the most patriotic men I ever had the opportunity to know," said his boss, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson, who also praised Robertson's "great energy and great ability."
Meanwhile, Robertson's corporate achievements were many, but they were overshadowed by his personal impact on all levels of the Champion operation.
"Reuben's deep understanding of the feelings of others and his abiding respect for their rights -- whether their position was high or low -- made Reuben the great man he was," said a colleague. Later, a company publication said "the things for which Robertson is best remembered . . . are his qualities as a man: His hustle, his enthusiasm and optimism, his willingness to listen, his keen memory and understanding of all phases of the business, his respect for the rights of others."
The Reuben B. Robertson Jr. era ended suddenly in the early hours of Sunday, March 13, 1960, as he and his wife, Peggy, were driving home from a social function in Cincinnati. The 51-year-old Robertson swerved to avoid a stalled car, but grazed the vehicle instead. As he walked back to the stalled car, Robertson was struck by a third car, killing him instantly.
Robertson's premature death may have denied his popular leadership to more than Champion and the communities where the company operated. After his death, a report said "extensive plans had been made by top Republicans" to propose Robertson as a candidate for the vice presidency on the 1960 GOP ticket. That spot went to Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts as Richard M. Nixon opposed Democrat John F. Kennedy in the presidential election.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 16, 1999
Indians returning to Main Street
By Jim Blount
Indians will return to Hamilton this weekend, a part of the third annual Pioneer Jamboree in the Historic Main Street area. The Friday through Sunday program, scheduled between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, will include Native American crafts, food and demonstrations.
The presence of teepees in Rossville will recall the late 1790s and early 1800s when Indians were frequent visitors to Hamilton and Rossville.
In the 1791-1794 period, when the Indians and the encroaching U. S. Army were in conflict, the wooded hills west of the Great Miami River afforded an excellent observation point. From those heights, the Native Americans tracked comings and goings and activities within Fort Hamilton. The fort had been built almost at river level on the east side of the river.
After a decisive battle in August 1794 and completion of the Greenville Treaty a year later, relations between settlers and Indians improved and trade steadily developed between the diverse cultures.
Lots in Hamilton were laid out in 1794 by Israel Ludlow. Settlement began the next year. Most early residents were army veterans or civilian contractors and employees of the army. Most had some experience dealing with Indians, as allies as well as enemies.
John Sutherland -- identified as "the earliest merchant of Hamilton" and a founder of Rossville -- learned something about Indians while a packhorseman in Gen. Anthony Wayne's army. He settled in Hamilton after the 1795 treaty, and opened a store. "Here he did a large business with the Indians, who came in from the surrounding country to exchange furs for the articles of the white men," said the 1882 county history.
The visitors probably came from nearby Indiana Territory. The Treaty of Greenville had pushed Indians into the northwest corner of Ohio and west into what became Indiana.
"It was then common every few days to meet with Indians in the streets of Hamilton who came to sell their peltries to the storekeepers," recalled James McBride, who arrived here in 1807. "I recollect once of a company of 70 or 80 Indians who remained encamped in the lower part of Rossville for about a week" in 1808.
In exchange for their furs, the Indians sought a range of items from local merchants, including fabrics, blankets, ribbon, cooking utensils, tools, sugar, tobacco, grains and flour, weapons and ammunition.
Whiskey also was a popular trade item, and an occasional problem. The 1882 county history said when Indians "got liquor they frequently became intoxicated, and were then very troublesome."
According to the same source, during the local encampments residents saw "squaws taking the drunken Indians across the river . . . to their camp on the other side of the river. Two squaws would take hold of an Indian, one on each side, and conduct him across the stream, singing a slow, monotonous song as they waded through the water."
About 30,000 people moved into Ohio between 1795 and 1800. The 1810 census -- the first to cover this area -- counted 210 people in Hamilton and 84 in Rossville. They were part of the 11,150 scattered over Butler County.
Butler County was created in March 1803 with the first court meeting in July. By 1803, most of Fort Hamilton had been dismantled or recycled for government and commercial uses. Hamilton, the county seat, included taverns, mills, blacksmith shops and other businesses.
Midwest Indian population dwindled for several reasons between 1795 and 1830. Tribes yielded much of their land in treaties, agreeing to move and reside on smaller tracts in return for annual government payments, hunting rights, provisions and other concessions.
By the mid 1820s, a national removal policy started to evolve. At this time, the federal government listed 2,350 Indians in Ohio and a total of 11,579 in Indiana and Illinois.
Removal laws enforced in the 1830s and 1840s forced tribes to leave their eastern holdings and move to reservations west of the Mississippi River.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 23, 1999
Calvin Brice was under age, but determined to join army
By Jim Blount
Calvin S. Brice was a bit player in the Union cause during the Civil War, a risky experience he could have avoided because of his age. But the 1861-1865 conflict provided the Miami University graduate with an apprenticeship in railroading -- knowledge that enriched him as an adult.
Brice has been described "as a poor boy in 1859" when he arrived in Oxford. He became "one of Miami University's most distinguished alumni."
He was born Sept. 17, 1845, in Denmark, Ohio, a village in Morrow County, a son of a Presbyterian minister. At age 13, Brice entered the preparatory department at Miami, and a year later was accepted into the freshman class.
He was 15 when the Civil War erupted in April 1861. That month Brice enlisted in the University Rifles, raised by a Miami senior, Orzo J. Dodds. The Oxford group went to Columbus and became part of the 20th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Instead of going off to war, Brice was sent back to Oxford, too young to be accepted by the army.
Brice enlisted a second time in 1862. The Oxford home guard unit was organized by Professor Robert White McFarland, a future Miami president. This group became part of the 86th OVI. The regiment -- enlisted for three months -- left Camp Chase in Columbus June 16, 1862. The 86th was assigned to West Virginia, guarding railroads in areas around Clarksburg, Grafton, Parkersburg, Fairmount and Wheeling.
After uneventful service, the 86th was mustered out Sept. 25, 1862, enabling Brice to return to Oxford for his senior year. He was graduated from Miami in June 1863, and located in Lima to teach and work in the office of the Allen County auditor.
At age 19, in July 1864, Brice enlisted a third time. He formed a company in Allen County company for one-year service. In September 1864, was commissioned captain in the 180th OVI.
For three months, the regiment patrolled the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad in Tennessee before being sent to Washington, D. C., in January 1865. By March it had moved to New Bern, N.C., helping to open a railroad to supply Gen. William T. Sherman's advancing army. While Sherman's army was moving north from Savannah, Ga., the 180th was part of a force that reconstructed a rail line from Beaufort to Goldsboro.
The 180th -- which lost 11 killed and 31 wounded in March 8-10 skirmishing -- rebuilt that vital rail segment in time to replenish Sherman's army.
April 9, when Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met at Appomattox, Va., the 180th Ohio joined Sherman's travel-worn troops at Raleigh. From there the regiment moved to Charlotte for garrison duty.
In July the regiment entrained for Ohio and muster-out. Brice, not yet 21, left the army with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
That fall, Brice enrolled in law school at the University of Michigan. In 1866 he was admitted to the bar in Cincinnati and moved to Lima where he opened a modest practice.
In 1869 he married a woman who also had an Oxford connection. She was Olivia Meily of Lima, who was graduated from Western College for Women in 1866 and 21 years later became Western's first woman trustee. Calvin and Olivia Brice were the parents of four sons and two daughters.
In 1889, Brice became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and in 1890 was elected to the U. S. Senate, serving March 4, 1891, to March 3, 1897.
But it wasn't law and politics that brought Brice fame and fortune. It was railroading, a topic to be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, June 30, 1999
Lawyer Brice turned to railroading after Civil War military service
By Jim Blount
Calvin S. Brice wasn't a native of Butler County and, except for his college years, never resided in the county, but, with his financial success and generous philanthropy, he played a key role in the area's history.
The 1863 graduate of Miami University and Civil War veteran had a modest law practice in Lima until attracted to railroad planning, financing and management in 1870. Most of his Civil War service had been guarding railroads and rail construction crews. As a young lawyer, he handled legal affairs for the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad, later renamed the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.
Gov. Charles Foster (1880-1884) said he first met Brice in 1871. "At that time I had just been elected to my first term in Congress. Mr. Brice came down from Lima to see me about the Lake Erie & Western Railroad. That road was then built from Fremont to Findlay and was projected to Lima, Celina, through Indiana and on to Louisville. The projectors ran out of money and the enterprise was stopped," explained Foster, a friend and business colleague.
Brice succeeded in saving and extending the railroad. In 1887 he became president of the 430-mile system between Sandusky, Ohio, and Peoria, Ill.
He also worked with established capitalists to plan and build a railroad from Toledo to the isolated and untapped coal fields in southeastern Ohio.
Brice went to great lengths to finance his projects, including a winter 1870-71 trip to England and Europe to secure loans. "He was the most successful borrower I ever saw," said Gov. Foster. "He could borrow money and secure financial backing anywhere. He bought anything and everything, and he did it without money. The men of affairs had implicit confidence in him."
Foster, then a business partner, said Brice was "the inspiration and manager of the inception and construction of the Nickel Plate," a railroad built in 1881-1882 between Buffalo and Chicago with extensions to Detroit, Toledo, Lima, Fostoria, Sandusky, Cleveland, Canton, Zanesville, Steubenville, Wheeling, W. Va., Indianapolis, Peoria and St. Louis.
After building the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway -- commonly known as the Nickel Plate -- Brice sold it at profit to the Vanderbilts. (The Nickel Plate continued until 1964 when it became part of the Norfolk & Western Railway.)
His business career as an investor and manager involved more than a dozen other railroads, most of which became segments of larger companies.
With his partners, he helped develop a new transportation system in the South after the Civil War. This included the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia and the Macon & Brunswick, both acquired in 1881 while he was building the Nickel Plate. The East Tennessee line quickly grew from 592 to 2,954 miles by 1890.
His later ventures included the 292-mile Memphis & Charleston (between Memphis and Chattanooga); the Richmond & Danville, which by 1885 was a 2,669-mile system stretching from tidewater Virginia to central Alabama, with branches to the state capitals and most of the principal cities in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia; the 336-mile Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway; the 295-mile Alabama Great Southern; the Mobile & Birmingham; and the Knoxville & Ohio Railroad.
He also was involved with the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the Chase National Bank of New York, the Southern Trust Company and interests in banking, public utilities and railroad-related industry in Lima.
In addition, Brice served Ohio in the U. S. Senate from March 4, 1891, to March 3, 1897.
What could have been his greatest accomplishment -- a railroad in China to be built with the cooperation of that nation's government -- fizzled after Brice died Dec. 15, 1898.
None of Brice's railroads served Butler County, but his fortune had a lasting impact here. That legacy will be covered in a future column.
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