Champion Paper, which later became Champion International Paper, International Paper and then Smart Papers, is a former paper mill in Hamilton, Ohio. At its height, Champion Paper was part of “The Paper Valley,” aptly named due to the concentration of paper mills along the Great Miami River and the Miami & Erie Canal, with 30 separate mills operating in Crescentville, Port Union, Rialto, Hamilton, Woodsdale, Rockdale, Excello, Middletown, Franklin, Miamisburg, West Carrollton, and Dayton.
Peter Thompson relocated to Hamilton with the intention to construct houses and in 1891, he acquired 187 acres west of the Great Miami River to develop into subdivisions. 4 A national recession led to Thompson to renegade on his proposal and instead, he founded the Champion Coated Paper Company in November 1893 and constructed a small factory on Seven Mile Pike (North B Street) to coat paper made by other facilities in the city. 2 Production began with just nine employees on April 1, 1894, with the first delivery made on May 4.
Thompson had foreseen the demand for coated paper thanks to recent improvements in photography and the development of halftone printing and acquired the Eagle Paper Company in Franklin in 1897. 2 He then purchased a glue factory in St. Charles, Illinois in December. The Belt Line Railroad (later a part of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad) completed a line to Champion Coated Paper on November 25, 1898, 5 and a new office building was finished in October 1899. 2 In December 1900, the company announced that a new paper manufacturing mill would be built in Hamilton, which opened on June 7, 1902. 2
On January 6, 1906, Thomson’s son-in-law, Reuben B. Robertson, Sr., founded the Champion Fibre Company in Canton, North Carolina to supply the Hamilton mills with wood pulp. 2 6 Champion Fibre had acquired over 50,000 acres of forest for raw material, and constructed an uncoated paper mill in Hamilton. 5 By 1910, the Champion factories in Hamilton were the largest in the world with a daily capacity of 525,000 pounds of paper.
A flood in March 1913 dud considerable damage to Champion’s mills, and fire on March 26 destroyed the coating plant. 2 It was swiftly rebuilt and expanded upon with 10 new double coating machines by June. 5
Thomson was regarded as an innovator in employee relations. 4 A full-time physician was hired in 1916 and beginning in 1917, employees were able to select group insurance coverage for themselves and dependents. Workers at the B Street plant were also able to purchase home necessities at the Champion Company Store between 1917 and 1934.
An advertising department was added in 1924 followed by the Technical Research division in 1926. 4
Thomson continued to direct the mill and all of its operations until his death on July 10, 1931. 4
Great Depression and World War II Growth
During the Great Depression, production at Champion during the Great Depression shifted to plain grades of paper to save costs and reduce consumer prices. 4 Additionally, most of Champion’s 4,000 employees worked five or six days a week instead of six or seven days a week to starve off any layoffs. The company took advantage of weak markets to plan future expansions.
A new factory was opened in Sandersville, Georgia on December 1, 1938. 2 The opening was well-timed as demand for paper soared during World War II. 4 The company shipped 95 tons of paper that were turned into 4½-million maps for military maneuvers in the Carolinas in 1942 and 6,000 tons of paper that were turned into maps used by Allied forces on D-Day in 1944.
Champion after the war diversified into the production of bag paper, cardboard, and carton, and began to implement vertical integration by purchasing timberland for raw material and paper-marketing stores to capture sales of finished goods. 6 But the 1950s saw little growth in the overall paper industry and by the end of the fiscal year 1959, net income at Champion had fallen by 50%.
The company acquired the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton facilities on North Third Street on August 2, 1960, 2 and on August 7, 1961, after more than three years of planning and construction, the administrative offices for Champion relocated from North B Street to a suburban campus on Knightsbridge Drive.
Karl Bendetsen was tapped for the role as Champion president in March 1960, and within a year, Bendetsen had fired 20% of the company’s workforce and reorganized management to cut costs. 6 Additionally, all but the top-selling 20 paper grades were dropped from production and the company’s fleet of seven private jets were eliminated. Profits soared at Champion, and the company was regarded as one of the best managed in the world.
To combined shared resources and better withstand volatility, Champion Papers merged with the U.S. Plywood Corporation on February 28, 1967, becoming U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers with a combined 31,000 employees and 130 factories with its headquarters in New York City (and later Stamford, Connecticut). 2 4 6 The Knightsbridge Drive office complex were converted into regional offices fo the company were converted into regional offices.
The plywood market fared much worse during the first year of the merger and most of the executive team had resigned by 1970. 6 On May 11, 1972, shareholders approved renaming U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers to Champion International. 2 The Hoerner Waldorf Corporation, a paperboard, and corrugated-box manufacturer, merged with Champion in 1977, allowing Champion to strengthen its paper market assets but forcing a reinvestment in its aging facilities. 6
Champion acquired St. Regis Corporation, a magazine paper, and newsprint producer, for $1.8 billion in 1984. 6 The deal rescued St. Regis from a hostile takeover by Rupert Murdoch and allowed Champion to double its land holdings, making it one of the largest landowners in the nation. Champion instituted a steep debt reduction plan to prevent the company from being vulnerable to takeovers, which required the closure of seven wood-product plants and the sale of assets in the packaging and building supply divisions. The company’s product line was narrowed to include the manufacture of newsprint and white coated papers.
Profits began to tank in the early 1990s, and Champion recorded a net loss of $156 million in 1993. 6 Instead of cutting costs, the company reinvested in its facilities, spending $45 million to expand its regional offices in 1991 2 and spending $5.5 billion to add capacity company-wide and to conduct environmental overhauls of its mills. 6 Champion then sold off a large portion of its timber holdings in California, Oregon, and Montana to generate cash.
The investments paid off as the year 1995 proved to be Champion’s best ever with net sales of $6.97 billion and net income of $772 million. 6
In October 1997, Champion announced corporate restructuring plans with the intention to sell its Hamilton factory and offices. 1
Merger and Closure
Finland-based UPM-Kymmene, Europe’s largest forest products company, announced its merger with Champion on February 17, 2000, but after the talks stalled, International Paper announced their intentions to merge with Champion May 12. 2 International Paper assumed control of Champion’s operations on June 21 and announced its plans to phase out the regional office complex on Knightsbridge in September 2000. 2 4 The company then sold its Hamilton mills to a Florida merchant banking firm that rechristened the operations as SMART Papers. 4
Miami University then purchased the former purchasing and engineering building at International Paper’s Knightsbridge offices for $650,000 in February 2002. 2 The remainder of the complex was sold to Harry Wilks for $3.5 million in April 2004 which was then sold to Mahendra Vora and Timothy Matthews for $6 million in January 2005. The Knightsbridge offices were rechristened as Vora Technology Park in March.
SMART sold off a significant portion of its production lines to Mohawk Papers in 2009, leaving just one active paper line. 7 On October 13, 2011, the company announced the closure of its Hamilton operations, citing competition from Asian companies, raw material and chemical cost increases, and environmental legislation, and the mill was closed in March 2012. 4
The remaining SMART-owned buildings, Mill 1 and Mill 2, were acquired by the city for $403,000. 1 The city then sold Mill 1 to the Green Reclamation Group for $4.5 million in December. The company leased space in Mill 1, rebranded as Champion Mill Business Park, to Zumbiel Packaging and NewPage. 3