Basket Manufacturers of South Jersey


Thrust upon the world stage by the Industrial Revolution, a special breed of South Jersey men began manufacturing a new type of basket for the farmers of the Garden State. Prior to their ingenious designs, barrels and woven baskets carried produce and fish to market. These men produced baskets made of veneer staves (wood slats about 1/8" thick and 2-3" wide). Charles Roork (1834-1907) of Greenwich, NJ, made the first veneer baskets in New Jersey by sawing logs into the lengths he needed for his baskets, then cutting them to proper thickness with a slicing machine. The demand for his type of baskets attracted more manufacturers, until, at one point there were over six basket factories, just in the lower half of the state, with several more factories just across its borders.


As competition increased, these men found that they could do better by merging their companies. Together, they could afford to buy or charter barges to transport large quantities of logs by water. They could ship larger quantities of baskets cheaper. They merged several times until a larger corporation finally bought them out, lock, stock, and barrel, just for their timberland, and closed their factories. These Companies and the men who founded them represent an important piece of New Jersey’s history.


My grandfather, John H. Bailey, was one of these basket manufacturers so I know more about his company and have more pictures of him and his plants than I do any of the others. I have researched the others to the extent of my abilities and present my findings here. However, if anyone can add any information, insights, old photos, etc. please contact me.


J. H. Bailey & Sons

JH Bailey & Sons

J. H. Bailey & Sons

Jack, Raymond, Carl, John, Ogden, & Paul

 

John Herr Bailey, one of the founders of what would become Jersey Package Company, was born on July 8, 1876, in a log cabin in Baileytown, New Jersey. He grew up in Baileytown and worked as a farm hand. His first job was on the Neil Campbell place. Later, he worked with his father on the family farm.


Young John enjoyed going to school in Haleyville. The school master, D. W. Davis inspired him to pursue a teaching career and allowed John to teach classes in the school. Mr. Davis told John that to become a teacher, he’d have to go to college. When he turned 21, John enrolled in Alfred College in New York. He studied hard and took odd jobs to pay his way. (His father’s meager farm income didn’t allow him to help his son financially.) After his first semester, he grew restless with the rigors of college and soon changed his mind about becoming a teacher. John returned to Baileytown.


On December 10, 1898, he married 17 year old Elizabeth Lake Trout, one of the brightest and prettiest girls in South Jersey with a good family background and a strong back. The following year, “Lizzie” presented John with a strapping baby boy they named Ogden Lore Bailey. Then in 1902, the couple had another boy, Paul Boyd Bailey.


John worked on various farms around Baileytown to support his growing family, but brought home pitifully small amounts of money. He soon found that there wasn’t any money in farming. He considered going into railroading, which is where the money was then. But, sometime before committing himself to a life of adventure riding the rails, John realized that all those farms in Baileytown could use a local source for containers to ship their produce to market. John’s entrepreneur spirit came to life; a spirit that would drive him to become one of South Jersey’s most respected businessmen.

 

The couple had a sawmill in the yard behind their house with a wood fired boiler running the big blade. About 1907, they started making crates and selling them to the local farmers. The business supported his family much better than farming. Next, they opened a small general store in front of their house, selling staples such as canned goods, flour, and sugar to the locals. They took orders for their crates over the same counter they weighed flour on.


These were tough South Jersey folks that were accustomed to hardship. Legends tell how Lizzie would place her latest baby in the sawdust pile and help John fire the boiler. Then there was the time when John was cutting logs and sliced into his knee cap. He would have bled to death right there but one of his workers stuffed a plug of chewing tobacco into the wound to stem the bleeding. John survived to continue building his business, but he limped for the rest of his life.


One day, John and his good friend, Dorey Fisher, sat chatting about the business and Dorey insisted that the real money was in baskets. That idea clicked in John’s head and “Bailey Baskets” was born. However, baskets required more space for manufacturing and drying. In 1911, John built a house in Mauricetown, NJ, with a larger factory behind it and moved the family and their business to Mauricetown. John cut and finished all of the wood for the house and factory and provided all of the money for the new venture. Mauricetown’s waterfront location on the Maurice River was ideal for shipping logs in to the factory and finished products out to the market. He began his lifelong pursuit of the latest and best machines for making baskets, and that included a lathe for large logs. Always keeping in mind the needs of the people around him, he noticed a need for a local heating fuel supplier. So in 1917, John began delivering firewood and coal.


While other Mauricetown kids were playing games after school, John’s boys worked in the plant. John only paid them once a year - on the 4th of July - then he took the whole family to Atlantic City where they could spend their pay on rides, candy cotton, and hot dogs. His boys had a proud moment when John had a sign painted on the front of the plant reading, “J. H. Bailey & Sons!” They had paid with their childhood for every letter. At its peak, the Mauricetown plant employed, thirty-five to forty workers and operated successfully for twenty five years.


In 1922, John expanded his growing business by opening a plant in Millville. He found a suitable spot with a railroad siding, and access to the Maurice River. Here, with more machines and the increase in demand, he really started producing baskets. J. H. Bailey & Sons was a family working together and turning out baskets that were all tops in quality and workmanship as well as low in price.


M. J. Dilks & Company

Some time between 1895 and 1900, Michael J. Dilks, of Dividing Creek, began making baskets from rotary veneer. He had the first lathe in the state capable of cutting veneer from large logs and was the first in the state of New Jersey to manufacture rotary veneer baskets. Michael hired his brother, William (Bill) to help him start up his basket factory. Once M. J Dilks was running smoothly, William went home to Cedarville. Michael had two recently married daughters, Hannah Belle, and Almyra Johnson. After William left him, Michael formed a partnership with his two sons-in-law and expanded his company.


W. W. Dilks & Son

In 1900, William W. Dilks set up his own basket factory in Cedarville, NJ. He bought a lathe made by the Coe Company of Painesville, OH (who still make lathes) and began making baskets. In 1907, George Blizzard came to work for him. Bill’s factory had five basket makers, all making baskets by hand producing more than 1000 baskets a day. George was Bill’s Jack-of-all-trades. He fired the boiler, ran a bench saw and the big log saw, and enjoyed it all. George even cut logs in the woods and hauled them to the mill. They had two teams of horses hauling two loads of logs of sweet gum and poplar to the mill a day. Soon those types of trees began to run out. George Blizzard had heard that there was considerable stands of sweet gum and poplar at Delmont.


One cold day in January, 1909, the five basket makers were huddled around the big wood stove in the shop to keep warm. The wind blew straight through all the cracks in the building. Bill came in to the shop and pulled a nail keg up as close as he could get to the stove and sat down. They began talking about running out of timber and George told him about Delmont. Dilks thought about it for a moment and said, “George, let’s go to Delmont and look around, see for ourselves just what is there.” George said, “when?” He said, “right now.” The two men got off their nail kegs, pulled their coats up tight and walked out the door into the frigid wind. They arrived in Delmont about dusk and were welcomed to stay for the night at the home of George Lee who took in boarders.


George Blizzard and Bill Dilks stayed in Delmont for two days and three nights at the rate of four dollars a week for board and lodging. The Lees offered them horses to explore the area and introduced them to local landowners. There was enough timber there to run a factory for years. On their way back to Cedarville, George asked Bill if he’d like to form a partnership and move the Mill from Cedarville to Delmont. Bill didn’t hesitate, “yes, if you will take the end of the business that I don’t like - build a small office, keep the books, do the selling and collecting, make up payrolls, etc.” George agreed to the conditions and told him that he’d like to buy half interest in the business. Bill thought it over for three days and came up with a price that George considered fair. However, he had to mortgage his home to come up with the money.


The partners built a factory in Delmont and moved the boiler and its engine, together with all the machinery from Cedarville. They started making baskets there in May 1909. They increased their payroll to eight basket makers and sold their baskets as fast as they could make them. At their rate of consumption, they used up the surrounding timber in two years. In March 1911, they realized that they had to go south for a supply of logs.


George and Bill boarded a train for North Carolina, not knowing where they were headed but knowing that the timber they needed grew in the lowlands. On the way, they crossed a swamp that looked good to both of them. They got off the train at the nearest town, George, NC. As they stood on the platform, a local went into the baggage car, got a mail bag, and threw it over his shoulder. They asked him where they could find lodging and meals in town. He looked them over and said, “yes, I reckon you can go home with me.” They introduced themselves to his family of three boys and one girl, and told them what their mission was. Their host, Walter J. Brown, told them that he would help them. He was the Post Master of George, NC, with the post office in a corner of his general store. He also had a commission to write deeds. The two men would find a tract of timber; Walter would buy it for them, write the deed, and have it recorded.


Mr. Brown shipped the first carload of gum logs that ever came to the State of New Jersey. He shipped it to Heislerville and George and Bill had it hauled to Delmont. They worked it up into bushel hamper baskets, counted the baskets, and found it was profitable to use North Carolina logs to make baskets. But, they needed to make them in Vineland, close to the railroad.


George Lee, the local Delmont man that helped them get started, made them an offer for their Delmont factory so they sold it to him and his son-in-law for cash. They built a new plant in Vineland with all new machinery. The Vineland plant began operation on July 22, 1911.


When they started building the Vineland plant, George Blizzard moved his family to Vineland, but Bill Dilks did not. Apparently Bill began having problems with his wife, Alice, who didn’t share his enthusiasm for manufacturing baskets in Vineland. Alice, refused to move from their home in Cedarville. Bill sold his half of the business to a Bridgeton dentist, Dr. Welch, and went back to his Cedarville saw mill that was still operating. He bought some basket machines and continued operating his mill as W. W. Dilks & Company. George Blizzard named his company The Vineland Basket Company.


In 1914, William left his wife in Cedarville (perhaps a trial separation?), formed a partnership with Walter J. Brown in George, NC and set up a basket factory there. He boarded with the Browns and they began making hampers and five-eights bushel cross brace baskets there. George Blizzard, who regularly made trips to North Carolina to buy logs, visited William in August 1914 and found him sick in bed with malaria. William said, “George. If I live to get out of here, I’m going back to Jersey.” Shortly after his recovery, William sold his interest in the firm to Joe Brown, W. J. Brown’s cousin, and moved back to be with Alice, who now lived in Pittman, New Jersey. Bill bought some land in nearby Swedesboro, built a plant and started in the basket business. His son, Howard, joined him and they operated under the name of W. W. Dilks & Son.When the Vineland Produce Auction considered providing packages for their produce, W. W. Dilks and Son made a proposal. "In 1934, the auction discussed the matter of handling packages with Mr. William Dilk & Sons Inc., basket manufacturers. No capital was needed to purchase baskets. A discount of 6% was given the auction with an additional 2% for cash." The competition for basket makers in South Jersey was getting serious. Only companies that could supply the most, the best, and the cheapest would succeed.


The Vineland Basket Company

George H. Blizzard, one of the founders of what would become the Jersey Package Company, was born July 21, 1872, on a small farm just south of Cedarville. He worked variously at oystering, and making tin cans at a packing house, until in the fall of 1907 when he went to work for William W. Dilks and got hooked on baskets.


Working for William Dilks was a real pleasure for George Blizzard. They formed a partnership that became very successful culminating on July 22, 1911, when they began operating The Vineland Basket Company in Vineland, NJ. Bill’s wife’s refusal to move from their home in Cedarville, NJ, ended the partnership. On February 12, 1912, Bill sold his half interest in the plant to George’s cousin, Harry L. Welch, a Bridgeton dentist. Under the new partnership, The Vineland Basket Company thrived and employed about thirty five workers.


The Vineland Basket Company was the first to begin to automate their factory. In 1916, the Saranac Machine Company of Benton Harbor Michigan made the first machine to make bushel hampers. They contacted George and Harry with a proposal that they would ship and set up the machine in their Vineland Plant at no cost. If the boys liked it, they could buy it. If they didn’t, the company would take it back, again at no cost. They tried it out, made some changes, ironed out the bugs, and bought the world’s first basket making machine. Up until this time, they made all of their baskets by hand. A basket maker had to drive 78 nails to make one hamper and make 1 cent for his effort. After about a year, an experienced basket maker could make two-hundred baskets in a ten hour day, taking home $2. The plant employed twenty basket makers. With this machine, an experienced operator could make from 1200-1400 baskets a day, and the baskets were better than those made by hand. Saranac had made a good bet. Vineland soon bought more machines, and by the time World War I started, all of the South Jersey basket companies were using the machines.


Hamper & Basket Company

While William Dilks was down in George, NC, he hired some South Jersey basket makers to help get their plant going. One of them was Herbert Smalley, an experienced basket maker. When Bill sold out and came back to Jersey, Herb came back too. He wanted to get into the basket business himself, so he made a proposal to his friend, William Souders, who owned a canning factory building on Clark Street in Bridgeton that could easily be converted to a basket factory. The two men formed a partnership, bought the necessary machinery, hired some operators, and began making baskets under the name of Hamper & Basket Company.


In 1915, Smalley and Souders moved from their first location to a new plant they had built on Bank Street in Bridgeton. The Hamper and Basket Company would be one of the three companies to merge into the Jersey Package Company


South Jersey Veneer Package Association


By 1921, six basket companies were manufacturing in South Jersey:

1. Bridgeton- Hamper & Basket Company

2. Mauricetown - J. H. Bailey & Sons

3. Vineland - The Vineland Basket Company

4. Dividing Creek - M. J. Dilks & Company

5. Swedesboro - W. W. Dilks & Son

6. Franklinville - a small factory run by a Louis Finger and his brother (prob. Henry). (The Finger Basket Co., Franklinville is listed in a 1970 USDA Forest Service report on the veneer industry.)


Competition was keen among the group, despite the increase in demand for baskets. However, it was a friendly competition. The competitors organized a group, The South Jersey Veneer Package Association (SJVPA), to discuss the business in a cooperative and friendly way. They met in the different members offices once a month, unless someone called an emergency meeting to discuss a problem that had arisen. They elected George Blizzard President of the Association.


As time went on, members began calling emergency meetings about competition from Planter’s Manufacturing Company, Portsmouth, Virginia, and from Riverside Manufacturing Company, Murfreesboro, NC. Both were beginning to expand their territories into South Jersey. Further the Brown Boys in George, NC, were competing with them in buying timber. By 1928, the members of the SJVPA began to talk about merging their companies into one large manufacturing company.


Jersey Package Company (1930)


Separately, none of the members of the SJVPA could use enough logs to buy or charter a barge to transport their logs by water, instead of the more expensive railroads. All six members seriously considered merging, but after many meetings and discussions of pros and cons, one by one they dropped out until the merger included only three: Hamper & Basket Co, J.H. Bailey & Sons, and the Vineland Basket Company.


Harry Welch was ready to retire, so George Blizzard bought his shares of Vineland Basket Co. on November 1, 1929, and the merger took place on January 1, 1930. They named their new company The Jersey Package Company and elected George Blizzard as President. John H. Bailey’s sons moved into managerial positions in the three plants: Carl in Bridgeton, Raymond in Millville, and Ogden in Vineland. Paul handled sales for the corporation. John’s fifth son, Jack, was still in school.

 

This large company had a distinct advantage over smaller companies in that they could buy raw materials in larger quantities and for less money. Barges loaded to capacity with logs regularly sailed up the Maurice River. Trucks loaded with baskets charged out of the factory gates daily. Business was booming for the Jersey Package Company.


The Company’s success spelled trouble for the smaller manufacturers, in particular the Planter’s Manufacturing Company and Riverside Manufacturing who had moved into the New Jersey territory from outside. Jersey Package could supply customers with truck loads of baskets, while the two outside competitors had to sell railroad car lots. Planter’s bought a warehouse in Hammonton, NJ, and Riverside built one in Moorestown, making truck deliveries from their local warehouses.


By this time, companies all over the United States were making baskets. These manufacturers organized a National Veneer Package Association. In 1935, the Association held its convention in Memphis, TN. The eastern group of members rode to Memphis in a special railroad car. It was from that car that the next merger emerged.


American Package Company (1936)


On the way back from the Memphis Convention, Mr. Willis Hargroves, President of Planter’s Manufacturing Company asked George Blizzard how his five year old merger was making out. George told him that they were all pleased; it was working out very well. Hargroves then said, “Did you ever think of another one?” George said, “I have, but didn’t know you had.” That was the beginning of the merging of Planter’s Manufacturing Company, The Riverside Manufacturing Company, and the Jersey Package Company into the American Package Company.


The new company became official on January 1, 1936. The Board of Directors consisted of nine men, three from each of the merging companies. The Board elected George Blizzard as its first president. George accepted with the caveat that he would resign after two years in favor of a younger man. That man was Mr. E. P. Brown of George, NC, a boy eight years old when George Blizzard and William Dilks asked his father where they could find lodging for the night in George and he said that they could go home with him.


All of the merged companies kept their original names and became subsidiaries of American Package Company. During the years that it operated, American Package organized the following subsidiary companies, in the order named: Weldon Basket Co., Weldon, NC; The Ahoskie Basket Co., Ahoskie, NC; The Riverside Manufacturing Company of New Jersey, Moorestown, NJ; The Hammonton Package Sales co., Hammonton, NJ; The Berlin Veneer Works, Berlin, Maryland; The Winchester Basket Co., Winchester, VA; The Gator Package Sales Co., FL; The Craven Veneer Co., Bridgeton, NC; The Milwaukee Basket Co., Milwaukee, NC.


Georgia Pacific (1970)


In 1970 the mega-corporation, Georgia Pacific, manufacturer of all things made from wood, including paper and plywood , purchased the American Package Company. They bought the Company only for its timberland holdings in the south. They immediately laid off all of the company’s employees and closed all of the plants.


At their peak these men were among the most respected, most powerful in New Jersey. They employed hundreds of people in each factory. And now it has ended, not with a roar but with a whimper.


References:

1. Dear Ethel, Historical Writings About the Blizzard Family and the Basket Business, George Blizzard, Published by the Jersey Package Co.; 1962..

2. Report on Jersey Package Co. Barbara Ann Sheppard; Business School Final Paper.

3. Faint Memories all that Remain of Basket Empire; Brian Uzdavinis; Atlantic City Press; December 29, 2002.