In September of 2019, Caeser Carrino wrote this article for the Wadsworth Area Historical Society newsletter. Since we are a couple of months away from Wadsworth’s largest festival, it may be interesting to review the history of the Ohio Match Company.
Whether you are a Wadsworth native or a recent resident, you have undoubtedly heard of the Ohio
Match Shop, an Ohio Company, and might refer to is as such. From the beginning of the 20th century until past the middle of that century, to natives, it was simply: THE MATCH.
Much history surrounds the Match, such as how it morphed into a single factory for making matches after Wadsworthites made matches in their homes for years before the Match was founded in in the early 1890’s. The reason matches were a popular cottage industry was that those who made matches had no way to insure they would not ignite spontaneously, therein having to carry them by hand to buyers in their neighborhoods. At one time, it was estimated there were dozens of places in Wadsworth that made matches.
With the start of the Industrial Age [mid- to late-1800’s] quick minds began to come up with ideas on how to make matches safer. It was not until sometime after 1910 that this was ‘perfected’. Here lies some intrigue as well as a turning point in what made Wadsworth the Match Capital of the World, as it was known at that time.
The Diamond Match in Barberton was eager to improve its chemical compounds to make matches safer and called upon German chemist, Hugo Shapiro, to assist them.
He had widespread respect as a Chemist in Germany and had devised some ways to mix chemicals in certain ways that made them less likely to ignite spontaneously. Diamond Match brought him from Germany to Barberton to guide them in their chemical processes. Meantime, in Wadsworth, the Match wanted that information as well, so they enticed Hugo from Barberton to come to Wadsworth to do the same. How this was done is not generally know, but several stories abounded that seemed to suggest Wadsworth was clever in its device.
While here, he not only made the matches so they would ignite only when needed, but became aware that some of the chemicals that were being used were dangerous to the health of workers. In fact, he thought some of the deaths of match workers could be attributed to these dangerous chemicals. Hugo corrected that, and, according to those who worked at the Match, wide-spread illnesses began to decrease to a point that it was no more a problem.
Match manufacturing required two huge commodities: chemicals and wood. Chemicals came in barrels and wood in huge logs. Barrels were somewhat manageable with hand-operated ‘trucks’ with two wheels and two handles, but big logs were a bit more problematic. Logs were shipped in by rail. Picking them up was difficult, so, when the logs arrived in Wadsworth, the train would stop at the crossing on Main Street, someone would push the logs off the railroad car and a couple men would roll them down to The Match. Rolling was the order of the day. Many years later, The Match had a rail spur that went right into the Match and continued to the Injector. Logs were rolled off the cars as before, but they would be within a short distance of where they would be cut, first in long timbers, and, by the end of their journey to matchsticks, into billions of sticks measuring about one-eighth inch in diameter by two-and-a-half inches in length.
There was a pecking order within The Match: Those who made the big matches as we know them [called Big Stick] was the highest order; those who made the smaller matches that fit into little boxes [called the ‘wee-wees’] were next; and those who made the matches that were in a folded paper covering [book matches] were at the end. The Match culture was strict: One did not demean an employee who was in the Big Stick department by asking if he worked in the wee-wee department.
There was pride in the hierarchy of match-making. Wadsworth is known for Blue Tip Matches. They also made matches with red tips – Rosebud Matches. Reason: Blue Tips did not sell well in the South, so they made the Rosebud [red] to accommodate the diehard southerners who still had the Civil War on their minds. Remember, The Match started only about thirty years following the end of the Civil War.
The Match was an equal-opportunity employer long before it was a word in our everyday conversations. At one time, The Match employed about 1100 workers, of whom 600 were women. It was not to be politically correct. Rather, it was because women had the dexterity to work in the book match department where the endless strings of ignitable tips were attached to a paper ‘stick’. A machine would cut them into shorter strips, fold them into a paper cover and stitch them to that cover. Those ‘books’ would fit into a paper box of a dimension that would hold twenty-five books of
matches. Women [called stitchers] would be on a long line standing behind the stream of books and would pick up twelve books, put them in the box, then thirteen the next time to fill the box. This was done in a rather fast cadence that would not dare to falter, or the entire line would be in jeopardy.
They did this for several minutes at a time, and then the machine would stop abruptly, giving the women a slight break. After a short pause all of them would go to their respective positions, and instantly the stitchers would resume the lock-step cadence. Men would stand at the end of the line and put the boxes into a large carton for shipping. The carton would then be slid to another area. It was not infrequent that the entire carton would catch fire, sending flames into the high ceiling. It was so common, that no one would turn to look at the flame.
Men usually filled the ranks of workers in big stick and wees. All manufacturing was done on the upper floors, with the ground floor reserved for the Shipping Department, lunch area and the Receiving area. Big sticks were put into manageable cartons and dropped on a two-story ‘slidingboard’. Men would be at the end to pick up the cartons and put them on fairly large wagons that were pushed by ‘mules’, or workers whose skills were limited and seasonal part-timers. The shipping area was immense and was completely filled each day, emptied onto rail cars during the later shifts, therein emptying the floor, only to have it filled the next day.
Wages at the Match were always low. When The Match first began manufacturing, employees made five cents per hour. Fifty years later, wages were in the range of one-dollar per hour. This being said, those who worked at the Match during the Great Depression never earned much money, but they had a steady income. There were few layoffs. The only reason people did not flock to the Match was that there were no job openings. People built their lives around the Match, in that they moved into the neighborhoods close to their work so they had no transportation costs, would go home for lunch and, as their children became of age, would try to get them jobs in the Match.
Of great nostalgia to many Wadsworth residents was the Match Shop whistle that blew at 6:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The Injector whistle blew at 7:00 a.m. 12 noon and 3:30 p.m.
Wadsworth ran by those whistles. To many – most of Wadsworth worked at The Match or The Injector – those whistles also meant that food was on the table because of them.