Barber Match Company

From Ohio History Central

By the late nineteenth century, the Barber Match Company, located in Barberton, Ohio, had become the largest manufacturer of matches in the United States of America.

In 1847, George Barber began a match company inside of his barn. In 1857, Ohio Columbus Barber, George Barber's son, left school and spent the next five years traveling across Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, selling his fathers matches. In 1862, O.C. Barber assumed control of the entire business and, in 1864, formed the Barber Match Company.

The Barber Match Company grew quickly, becoming the largest match producer in the United States. In 1881, it united together with several other match producers to create the Diamond Match Company. The business was headquartered in Akron, Ohio. The Diamond Match Company took its name from the shape of the match's head that the company produced. Barber served as the company's first vice-president and became president in 1888. While serving as president, Barber moved the Diamond Match Company's manufacturing operations from Akron, Ohio, to Barberton, Ohio, a community built in the early 1890s exclusively to house some of Barber's manufacturing companies. By the early 1900s, the Diamond Match Company produced eighty-five percent of the matches in the United States. It had plants in the United States, Europe, and South America.

While Barber had helped Akron and Barberton to grow into important industrial centers, many people, especially his workers, did not have a favorable view of him or of his company. The Diamond Match Company was known to pay its workers pitiful wages. Grown men only earned $1.21 per day; women earned seventy-seven cents; and children earned sixty-six cents. All employees worked eleven-hour days. Workers also commonly became ill from phosphorous necrosis, a disease caused by the inhalation of phosphorous, one of the primary ingredients in matches. The disease caused workers' jaw cartilage to deteriorate, leaving them with difficulty in eating and speaking. It also left them hopelessly disfigured. In 1910, the Diamond Match Company succeeded in producing phosphorous-free matches. Barber patented the process in the United States, but he shared it with other competitors to improve working conditions for all match producers.

Barber remained as president of the Diamond Match Company until 1909, when he retired from overseeing the company's day-to-day operations and became the chairman of the board of directors. Over the years, Diamond Match Company diversified its products. By the mid 1980s, the company was producing matches, cotton swabs, ice cream sticks, and toothpicks. It also was engaged in the lumber industry in the American Northwest. In 1986, the company's sales topped forty million dollars. That same year Diamond Brands acquired Diamond Match Company. By the early 2000s, Alltrista Consumer Products Company controlled Diamond Brands, which remained the leading match producer in the United States, manufacturing approximately twelve billion matches every year.

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