Stearns & Foster Company

Stearns and Foster Company

The Stearns and Foster Company is a now-demolished mattress factory in Lockland, Ohio. It was the most substantial cotton consumer in the United States at its peak.






History

Stearns & Foster was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1846 by George S. Stearns and Seth Foster and was the first factory in the nation to produce cotton wadding. 1 8 The company soon expanded into batting, mattresses, and related cotton products. 1 Stearns & Foster relocated to Lockland along the Miami and Erie Canal in the late-1880’s, 1 4 and grew over the years to encompass one-million square-feet over 15 acres.

At the Lockland factory’s peak in the 1970s, Stearns & Foster employed more than 1,200 people who produced 200 mattresses and spring sets daily under the Stearns & Foster and Sealy brands. 8 9

Sealy (once known as the Ohio Mattress Company) acquired Stearns & Foster in 1983, and in 1985, the non-woven textile business was sold to Morley P. Thompson Sr., which became the Stearns Technical Textile Company. 8 Stearns Technical Textile produced fabric used in products ranging from fabric softener sheets, insulation for automobiles, and disposable diaper liners.

On August 1, Sealy announced that the mattress and bedding lines at Lockland would be eliminated by September 30, noting that the facility was antiquated and limited in capacity. 1 8 Stearns Technical Textile continued to use the remainder of the plant to produce fabric used in products ranging from softener sheets, insulation for automobiles, and disposable diaper liners. 1 4 8

Stearns Technical Textile filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2001 and by 2003, the plant was operating with just a skeleton crew. 6 The company’s consumer products division was sold to Leggett & Platt and all operations were moved to Mason, Ohio. 4 9 A bankruptcy court-approved auction of the facility was held on January 14, which was purchased for $350,000 by B.A.D. Properties. 9

Fires and Demolition

Fires were commonplace at Stearns & Foster and Stearns Technical Textile. On March 14, 1994, a fire broke out on a conveyor oven where fabrics were once dried, which required the response of over 45 Lockland and Reading firefighters. 3 A more massive three-alarm fire, started in an industrial oven for cotton, caused damage to the second and third floors of Building 35 on October 26, 1999. 5

A four-alarm fire that destroyed 30% of the complex required the assistance of more than 130 firefighters and equipment from at least 27 different departments on May 1, 2004. 3 Firefighting efforts were made more complicated by rain and high winds that resulted in the collapse of several walls and roofs, large gaping holes in the floor caused by equipment removal, and a lack of water pressure because the fire suppression systems were inoperable. Additionally, a fire hose that ran from a hydrant across an adjoining railroad was severed after a train rolled over it.

B.A.D. began to tear down the parts of the complex that had been damaged by fire in February 2008, but officials complained that the work was too slow. 7 B.A.D. argued that it could not afford to destroy all of the buildings at once as the cost was estimated at $900,000. The village took B.A.D. to court, and a judge ruled in favor of Lockland in 2010. The ruling ordering B.A.D. to remove the rubble by the following spring, but as the company could not afford the cleanup costs, it deeded over a part of Stearns & Foster to the village. 11 12 Lockland received a $1.8 million grant from the Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund towards the cleanup of the plant in November.

A significant portion of the western half of Stearns & Foster collapsed in October 2012, which led to the demolition of most of the complex. The work was financed by the Ohio Department of Transportation, who acquired some of the former factory property for an Interstate 75 widening project. 11 The smokestack, the last remnant of Stearns & Foster, was imploded on March 26, 2015. 10


Gallery






Sources

[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]

  1. “Stearns to close in Lockland.” Cincinnati Post, 1 July 1993, p. 9A.
  2. “Dedication planned.” Cincinnati Post, 5 Sept. 2002, p. 1.
  3. Klepal, Dan. “Stearns & Foster fire pushes crews to the limit.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May, 2004, p. 1B.
  4. Keeme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May, 2004, p. 6B.
  5. Moores, Lew. “Stearns plant catches fire.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Oct. 1999, p. 1B.
  6. Alltucker, Ken. “Stearns says goodbye to business with auction today.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 14 Jan. 2004, p. 1D.
  7. Truong, Quan. “Eyesore hits Lockland like ton of bricks.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Oct. 2009, pp. B1, B7.
  8. Boyer, Mike. “Stearns & Foster’s Lockland plant to close.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 1 Jul. 1993, p. D8.
  9. Kemme, Steve. “Stearns & Foster employed many in Lockland.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 May 2004, p. B6.
  10. Murray, Sydney. “Iconic smokestack to be taken down.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 26 Mar. 2015, p. 13A.
  11. Koesters, Matt. “Ex-Stearns and Foster site ready for renewal.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Jul. 2015, p. 14A.
  12. Truong, Quan. “State grant of $1.7 million to help clean up Lockland rubble pile.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 23 Nov. 2010, p. B5.

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25 Comments

  1. Loved reading the story, sad to see the pictures of destruction, interesting reading the comments.

    I joined S&F as a sales rep for the West coast in 1978 through 1983. I was always proud of the fabulous product the company produced, had a S&F Dynasty for years.

    Bill Ford (another new rep from Texas) and I were given a factory tour, we were both left speechless with the size of the building, the product flow, the freight elevator that was used to hold the bundles of innersprings down as the wires were cut and the friendliness of the factory workers. The company would fly sales associates from the West coast to take a factory tour, they were always impressed.

    Even though we shipped finished goods by rail car or piggyback, my dealers would wait, the S&F reputation for producing an exemplary product made it worth the wait!

    My West coast sales manager was Merrill Norvell, President Bob Magnason, VP Sales Mike Hammer; other names I remember are Dave Ecker and Tom Tervo. Last but not least was E Foster Stearns!

  2. I worked there from 1970 til 1973 in the textile division for Leo Romero. I was 18 when I started and became a foreman at 19. The place was as busy as could be. I found the interior fascinating, I was always exploring abandoned sections on my lunch break. They had a great credit union. With all the ovens running in the summer the place was sweltering. I supervised men twice my age around dangerous machinery. We had a job to do and all pulled together. It built character in me at a young age. I’m grateful for the experience which has served me well throughout my life.

    1. I worked at S&F in summer of 69 for Jimmie Fox. He had me on the line until I stapled (Hog ringed) my finger to a mattress frame and stopped the line to get the staple removed and me unstuck to the mattress frame. I was put in the first floor where I hauled cotton bales by hand truck from the rail line to the ticking machines ()about 100 yards away. Who ever came up with that arrangement was no industrial efficiency student. A cotton bale weighs about 500 lbs and boy did my legs and back get in shape that summer. When interviewing with Mr Fox he asked ” You’re not one of those College boys are you/” to which I replied, “Do I look like a College boy?” I got the much needed job that paid $12 per hour so long as I did 12 bales every hour, time piece work.

  3. Thanks. Though some of your history is incorrect. S & F was purchased in 1984 by Ohio-Mattress, OMT, a franchisee of Sealy mattress. Shortly after buying Stearns, OMT won a major lawsuit against Sealy Inc. Damages were so large that OMT became the owner of Sealy Inc.
    I remember this as I was there covering S&F’s computer systems during this time as an employee of OMT.

  4. I worked in the Textile Division for 11 years from 1968 to 1969 and reported to Mark Perin, Plant Manager. I worked in a variety of positions from production, QC, Industrial Engineering and I ran the entire 3rd shift operation for many of those years. Physical injuries to employees was quite common due to the amount of rapidly spinning belts, pulleys, gears, wooden conveyors and the heated drying ovens. My time at S&F formulated my manufacturing career going forward from the 60’s and 70’s. It was a very good place to work back then and in fact provided a better standard of living than was available back in Appalachia where so many of us were originally from. I have so many, many vivid memories of the place and I guess at one time or the other I was in every square foot of the Textile Division and formed many, many memorable relations with a lot of fellow Kentuckians and Cincinnatian’s as well.

  5. My father worked for s&f from1969 till the mid 80s yes low wages but good med insurance and once a year the union company picnic but them men and woman worked hard I had other family mebers working there also. I never did know about a kid in fire dad (John Fitch) worked a lot in the bleach house he must have not wanted the kids to know

    1. Don; I worked at S&F from 1968 to 1979 in the Textile Division. I was a machine operator, QA Inspector, Assistant Supervisor of the bleach department and third shift supervisor for the textile division. I was then part of the very first Industrial Engineering Dept and specific responsibilities for coordinating the development and bringing on line their very first labor reporting system. I received my Bachelor Degree in 1979 and subsequently left S&F and went to work for The Kroger Company in downtown Cincy.

    2. Hey Lee, does your dad remember the 1975 fire at Stearns & foster plant that killed my 12 year brother, KENNETH FERRELL? If so have him to email me at whirlwindproductions@mail .com

  6. Don, I worked in the Research Lab from 72-78 (and remember you) and definitely remember the file that killed the young man. Went to the scene later that morning and spoke in length with Tom about it a bit later. I left in 1978 to work full time in law enforcement.

  7. I worked at S&F for 17 years in various engineering positions. There were numerous small fires but were handled capably by the in house fire brigade. The Lockland Fire Chief worked at S&F as well. I was there in 1975 but am unaware of the death of a 12 year old in Blgd 51. What was a 12 yera old doing there?

    S&F was a great company to work for and all ended when the Mattress Division was sold in 1984. Sealy did nothing but take over the brand name.

    Don Duritsch

  8. I have been around Lockland for quite some time. My family owns property on Central ave which dead-ends into wyoming ave at the Stearns building. I moved Onto Central ave. about 2 years ago on a permant basis.

    I have NEVER had any health issues besides a cold or something like that TILL I moved here. For the last year I have been admitted to the hospital 3 times for approx. 3 dayes each due to SEVERE respiratory problems. It's just not me….. I know of ATLEAST 6 or 7 people just on this street alone that is now having severe breathing problems.

    There is RUMORS that the EPA has shut down the moving of ANY materials from this site due to ALOT of hazzardous materials being placed into the air from the piles on the lot and that they are starting a clean up of the site.

    I'm wanting to know of ANY type of health problems ANYBODY from this general area is having. SOMETHING just isn't right that so many people are getting sick. I can be contacted at CINCYATO@yahoo.com.

    Thank you,

    Curt

    1. 401k plans didnt exist back then. I doubt that Stearns had an ESOP plan, which would be something that May have existed before 401k.

  9. Does anyone know if S & F had a 401 k plan back in the early 70"s. I worked their from 1973-1978 before i went into the Service..I might have some money somewhere. ha can someone help me?

    glrobinson@cox.net or 602-228-1799

  10. Kenneth and one of his friends was to have a baseball practice game at 3:30 that evening but was cancel do to rain. Kenneth and his friend had been at the location several time before because the police report stated that the security guards had ran them off on several occations. The fire started in warehouse 51 which is an area for storage of bales of cotton. The boys had mad tunnels through the bales of cotton over a period of time. The day that the fire started, it was ruled as Kenneth and the other boy smoking in or around the high combustable materials. Kenneth's friend ran from the seen and was later on question about the fire. What really makes me made, the security guards new these boys were sneaking into this building weeks before the fire started. They where entering into the building through a hole on the side of the building about two square feet. This issue wasn't ever fixed or even addressed to the company officals not even once.

    1. So your uncle and his friend were illegally entering the building, digging tunnels through cotton bales and smoking around combustible material. Your uncle started a fire that resulted in his own death, and it is the company’s fault? OK sounds reasonable. You should definitely hate that company.

      1. First and foremost they were 12 year old kids. Secondly, they were put out of the place on several times for going into the building. The boys would not have gotten in if they would have fixed the large gaping hole on the side of the building, Too, why didn’t police contact their parents after the first two times getting caught? The company knew about the boys and the hole in the building in which they were entering in. The company never once ever contacted the family anytime to express their condolences. Kenneth use to live on the dead end street that ran in front of the main entrance.

  11. Thank you so much for the pictures. I grew up in Lockland and my Dad worked at

    Stearns for 37 years, so it meant alot to see them. When I was young I would always meet

    my dad after work and thought that building was like a huge fort. Now that I am older I realize

    how hard those men worked for the Small wages they recieved. The Company definitely took advantage

    of alot of the men that came to work their from Kentucky and Tennessee who devoted their lives to working at the Factory.

  12. Sorry for your loss…your pain of the loss of your much loved uncle is still raw and transparent even reading this today,so many years later. I am from Cincinnati, but haven't lived there for years. Did they ever find out how the fire started? You didn't say – why was your uncle even there to be trapped like that? Seems like a horrific way to go…smoke inhalation likely took him quickly and he didn't suffer. Again, I am so sorry…no doubt you've had to get used to a "new -normal" with the loss of him from your life. I'll bet he's with you frequently though in Spirit…and probably wanting you to know there is "nothing you could have done differently" that would have changed the outcome and his "appointment" with his Destiny. Seems none of us really knows when our life-script will end….we turn a "page" and find we have an "exit line".

  13. Stearns & Foster in Lockland, Ohio is one place I'm glad to see gone. Back in 1975, my Uncle age 12 and me, I was 7 when one evening my uncle Kenneth Ferrell never came home from baseball practice. About 5:00pm a fire alarm at Stearns & Foster Comp. alerted Lockland Fire Department that there was a fire in building 51. After the fire was exstingished, the cleanup crew were moving bales of cotton when they discovered a severely burnt body. The Cleanup crews contacted Lockland PD to the seen where the burt boby was taken to the hamilton county morgue. The Body was that of my 12 year old uncle, Kenneth Ferrell. To this day I've hated this damn place and alway hoped it would burn to the ground.

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