George Blizzard, 91, Firm's Head Learned Trade In 1907
By JOE GROSSMAN Press Staff Writer
Farmers from Long Island to the tip of Florida are gathering and shipping their produce in wooden baskets and crates made in Vineland by the Jersey Package Company.This huge enterprise, which has smaller factories in Bridgeton and Millville, is presided over by George H. Blizzard.
Now 91 years old and living at 1010 Landis Ave., Vineland, Blizzard has seen his business, which started with five men making 200 bushel hampers by hand in a 10-hour day, grow to its present automated stature. Today, some 200 employees at the Vineland factory can produce 200 dozen baskets in a single eight-hour day on ingenious machinery which has long since
completely eliminated the making of baskets by hand.At the Vineland plant, bent-bottom bushel baskets, half-bushel peach baskets, 3/4 and 5/8-bushel vegetable baskets and wire-bound crates are being produced.
George Blizzard was born on a small farm south of Cedarville, N. J., and has been a life-long resident of this area. In 1907, he entered the basket-making business as an employe of William W. Dilks of Cedarville, whose partner he later became."We had to drive 78 nails to make one hamper basket," Blizzard recalled, "and were paid $1.25 per hundred. It takes the experience gained over nearly a year for one to be able to make 200 baskets in 10 hours."
Timber for basketmaking - sweet gum and poplar - soon began to thin out in areas within horse team hauling distance, and in 1909 Dilks and Blizzard set off for Delmont to seek a new supply. That winter, Blizzard purchased a half interest in Dilks' company, and they built a small plant at Delmont, near the gum and poplar forests. Business was so good that the trees, which they thought would last for five years, were nearly all used up within two years.
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Re-locating their factory in Vineland, Dilks and Blizzard set out for North Carolina to investigate the possibility of purchasing lumber there and having it shipped by train to their New Jersey factory. They discovered during the ensuing year that it was highly profitable to make baskets in New Jersey from wood shipped to their plant from the south.
Dilks withdrew from the basketmaking firm in 1912 and was succeeded as Blizzard's partner by Dr. Harry L. Welch, a Bridgeton dentist who was also Blizzard's cousin. Their firm, called the Vineland Basket Co., employed 35 basketmakers.
Automation came to Blizzard's firm in 1916, when the Saranac Machine Co. offered to install new basketmaking machinery on a trial basis. After some changes were made, it was found that an experienced operator could make from 1,200 to 1,400 baskets on a single machine in a day, and, Blizzard noted, better baskets than could be made by hand.
In 1930, Blizzard bought out his cousin's interest and a merger with the Hamper and Basket Co. resulted in today's Jersey Package Co. A further expansion resulted from a 1935 merger with "ie Planter's Manufacturing Co. of Portsmouth, Va., and the Riverside Manufacturing Co. of Murfreesboro, N. C. Blizzard was elected the first president of the newly-amalgamated company, which was called the American Package corporation.
During its first 20 years of existence, the firm organized subsidiary companies in Weldon, Ahoskie, Bridgeton and Milwaukee, N. C.; Moorestown and Hammonton, N. J.; Berlin, Md.; Winchester, Va., and one in Florida.
Blizzard is a director of both the American Packing Corp. and its Jersey Package Co. subsidiary. Ogden Bailey, superintendent of the Vineland plant is also a director of both companies and is a vice president of the Jersey Package Co. The operation of the Vineland factory is typical of modern basket making methods.
This plant, located at Fourth and France Streets, covers an area one by two city blocks, with an additional half-block space for storage.
Poplar and gum wood - and Jersey and southern pine used for basket bottoms - are delivered to the plant's yard, where the decision is made as to the part of each log that is to be used for each portion of the baskets.
The logs are cut into the lengths their eventual use requires and then moved into steam bins, where they are kept for 24 hours. When they emerge, the bark is stripped and the log sections are placed in machines which, in a rotary action, strip and cut the veneer into required thicknesses and shapes for slats and hoops.
Bent-bottom bushel baskets are formed from 20 slats. Women drop the slats into a wheel- shaped pan, drive two nails into the center of the criss-crossed slats, and hand the resultant fan to a machine operator.
The fans are placed at the opening of a press which, in a single operation, pushes the still-warm, pliable fan into a mold, places the top, center and bottom hoops and staples the hoops to the slats.
Another machine affixes the wire handles to each basket. Slats for half-bushel and 5/8 bushel baskets come from the rotary cutting machines in the same manner as do the bushel basket slats. The machines which make the two former types of containers have "hinges" on which the slats are placed, and fas the machine's drum rotates, the hoops are automatically wound around the slats and stapled to them.
Half-bushel baskets are the familiar peach basket and the 5/8 bushel containers are generally used in the fields for gathering various fruits and vegetables. An increasingly popular type of container is the wire-bound crate. Its rectangular shape reduces wasted space aboard the trucks and railroad ears that move the produce off the farm, and the Jersey Package Company's machinery permits the production of these containers in a variety of sizes, as the customer desires them.
Wire-bound crates are, on the average, 24 inches long, six to 18 inches high, and 18 inches to two feet wide. Slats are placed on machines which differ from the types that fabricate bushel, half-bushel and 5/8-bushel baskets principally in that never-ending strands of wire from huge coils bind the slats together.
Lids for the round baskets are rectangular when they come off the machines which staple them together. A circular press rounds off the edges in the final step of their manufacture.
Bottoms for the half-bushel peach baskets are cut from eight-inch-thick boards of pine, some of which is grown in New Jersey but most of which is brought in from North Carolina and Delaware.
The 5/8-bushel basket bottoms are made from two slats of pine wood, and bottoms for the bushel and 3/4-bushel baskets are made from three corrugated slats.
When basket bodies, tops and bottoms have been assembled into the finished product, the baskets are placed in driers for approximately 3 1/2 hours. Then they are stored until placed on trucks for shipment tocustomers.
At each machine throughout the various processes of basket manufacture, operators reject pieces of wood that are discolored or seem otherwise unfit for use. Continuously-moving conveyor belts carry the waste lumber from each section to the boilers that provide steam for the is deposited outside the huge boilers that provide stem for the bark-stripping process and for the generators which supply the factory with 50 per cent of the electricity it uses.
Thus, nothing is wasted, and a use is found for everything but the leaves, as one plant official put it.
In contrast to the hand-made-basket days, when a basket-maker' received $1.25 per hundred containers completed, today's basket makers are paid an average wage of $1.55 per hour. Since the basket-making process now requires a sorter, a machine-operator, a stapler, a handle-affixer and a drier, it is no longer possible to determine wages according to the number of baskets manufactured, Bailey explained.
The Vineland plant operates on a five-day, 40-hour week. During the summer, the busiest basket-making season, it is sometimes necessary to expand the working day to nine hours to fill all the orders. In the slack season, hours may be shortened and entire lines closed down, he noted.
The Jersey Package Company's Bridgeton and Millville factories have about half the capacity of the Vineland plant. The Bridgeton operation is given completely to the making of crates, and the Millville plant is concerned mainly with making plywood.
The distance the basket-making industry has come since 1907, when George Blizzard was hand-making 200 baskets a day, can be seen from today's production output.
The two bent-bottom bushel basket machines in the Vineland factory produce 200 dozen containers each eight-hour day; four half-bushel peach basket machines each produce 1,200 baskets per day; five 5/8-bushel machines each also produce 1,200 basket daily, and the single wire-crate machine makes 5,000 containers each day.