Original Champion Coated
Foreground is Peter Thomson in front of original Champion Office. Background is office completed in 1925.
Champion Paper and Fiber Company, Canton, NC.
The Champion Coated Paper Company
Thomson’s dependence on the Massachusetts plant was short lived. Peter G. Thomson soon bought out the interest of his investors, and moved all production to Hamilton Ohio.
Champion’s workforce added greatly to the growth of Hamilton. Thomson purchased almost 200 acres around the plant to provide housing for the growing work force. Prospect Hill and Grand View subdivisions advertised homes that would be a 15 minute walk from Hamilton's industrial center.
In 1901, a newspaper described the Champion Coated Paper Company as a
Hamilton business that in five and a half years "has doubled the
capacity of its plant six times, and developed from a puny infant into
an industrial giant." But later that year, the Hamilton mill was
to be reduced to ashes by a disastrous fire.
Disaster struck Thomson's paper mill on Sunday Dec. 22, 1901. The Republican-News described it as "the largest fire" and "the heaviest loss" in Hamilton history, leaving the Champion mill "a blackened, wrecked and ruined mass with only the skeletons of burned and charred walls left. All else is debris and chaos in the plant proper, saving the office and the west ware room," the newspaper said. Also salvaged was an addition, nearing completion, at the south end of the complex.
Destroyed were the plant's machinery and its "large and valuable stock of paper," including several railroad boxcars loaded and ready for shipment. One of the most spectacular events, according to the hundreds who watched the fire, was the collapse of a 104-foot iron smoke stack. "There was every indication for a time," said a newspaper, "that a terrible explosion would add to the horrors of the Champion fire. The heat caused the great battery of boilers to hiss and roar, and it looked as though it would explode. Finally, the big iron stack fell and at once there was a tremendous roar of escaping steam. It is supposed the falling stack broke the steam connection and allowed the steam to escape, thus averting a possible disaster," noted a reporter. There had been a series of small explosions when a chemical room burned, but they did little harm.
The fire started as two workers were "cleaning valves on a platform in the drying room in the west end of the mill." Each man had a lantern, "which they set down at the foot of a steam radiator while they worked. Suddenly one of the lanterns exploded, scattering oil all through the room."
A slight wind fanned the flames which seemed to "spread through the buildings with almost lightning rapidity" from north to south, a newspaper reported. Fire Chief P. F. Welsh said "it was an awful fire to fight" because "the character of the stock made the heat so terrific."
Water problems hampered Hamilton firemen. "The water pressure," said the Republican-News, "was wretchedly poor, but it later improved, though no amount of water could have stopped the terrible blaze."
"There would have been a much better water service at the fire last night if the new 12-inch main in B Street had been completed. As it was, the trench greatly interfered with the firemen," the newspaper reported.
When the fire struck, plans for a $23,000 sprinkler system were said to have been on Thomson's desk, who announced after the disaster that "the Champion Coated Paper Company will at once rebuild," promising to "ultimately put up a finer and bigger plant than ever." Thomson also said "we will give employment to as many men as we can, of our present force, clearing up the wreck."
A few weeks later about 500 men were rebuilding the mill, which would be about a third larger than the former building. It was expected to employ about 650 people, a 58 percent increase over the 410 working when the fire struck.
The Hamilton mill was back in business in June 1902.
Champion grew rapidly and opened a mill in Canton, North Carolina in 1908 that had 150,000 acres of trees to supply pulp. Thomson was an innovator in reforestation techniques, being careful not to over cut his trees so that he had an endless growing supply of pulp.
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."
An early account of Champion Coated Paper was published in a 1911 issue of the Hamilton Ohio Republic-News.
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