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Last tweaked Feb 7, 2023
The Container Corporation of America’s (CCA) plant in Circleville produced fiberboard used in the manufacture of packaging products from 1884 until its closure in 1998. Until 1958, the mill used pulped straw to produce its paper – mills of this type were known as “strawboard mills” within the industry. Strawboard mills were relatively common in wheat-growing areas of the country from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, providing a market for excess straw that was difficult to dispose of on farms.
Circleville’s mill was known locally as “The Strawboard” from the 1920s through the 1950s, despite several company name changes during that period. It occupied a thirty-acre site on the southwest side of Circleville bordered by Mill Street on the north, Ohio Street on the south, and the N&W railroad on the east. The west border was originally the Scioto River, but that border moved eastward as sections of the company’s straw yard were purchased (under objection) by the C&O railroad in the late 1920s and the US 23 bypass in the mid-1950s.
The mill was owned by several different companies over the years. It was built by Portage Strawboard Company, then later owned and operated by the American Strawboard Company, the Mid-West Box Company, and finally the Container Corporation of America (CCA).
Despite the many ownership and physical plant changes over the years, several of the original buildings remained in use until the end (albeit covered by a more modern-looking veneer). These surviving buildings included at least one of the paper machine rooms and the warehouse on the north end.
This page will focus on the plant’s history and operation prior to 1958 – the year that straw was replaced by wood for paper production.
The mill was built in 1884 by the Portage Strawboard Company of Akron, with that company merging with the American Strawboard Company of New York in 1889. In 1920, the Mid-West Box Company bought a controlling interest in American Stawboard, and the two companies consolidated in 1921-1922. Mid-West Box Company came under the control of the Container Corporation of America (CCA) in 1926, with the Circleville mill operating under its new parent’s name starting in 1930.
More mergers occurred in the years after the focus of this page. The “Container Corporation of America” name vanished about 1986 and the last merger in 1998 brought about the closure of the Circleville mill. The plant was finally leveled in 2007. For more information about these later ownership changes, and information about the artistic legacy left by CCA, see Wikipedia’s Container Corporation of America page.
The following sections will describe some of the mill’s changes and capacities during each owner’s time period.
In 1882, O.C. Barber of Akron, whose formal name was Ohio Columbus Barber, formed The Portage Strawboard Company. The company built the first “works” (mill) that same year in New Portage (later Barberton), Ohio, followed by the construction of the Circleville works in 1884. Circleville’s mill was the larger of the two, with a capacity of 50 tons of paper per day.
Throughout the plant’s history the basic layout of the structures and grounds remained unchanged. The following describes that layout, starting on the right side of the photo above.
On the far right (south) side of the image are a group of straw “ricks” used for storing straw until needed. The ricks were constructed of straw bales stacked on their edges, forming an interlocked structure 40-50 feet high.
The low building to the left (north) of the ricks, under the large stain in the photo, is the straw unloading shed. Here loose straw was loaded onto a conveyor that transported it to the straw loft.
The next building to the north contained the rotary and beater rooms. These two rooms contained the machinery that turned the straw into pulp. Loose straw was loaded into the rotaries where it was “cooked” under pressure with steam, lime and sometimes caustic soda (lye). The output of the rotaries was washed and refined in subsequent steps.
The left center building (with the smoke stack) is the powerhouse, which produced the steam needed for the rotary cookers, reciprocating engines to power the machines, and to heat the plant.
Left of the powerhouse is the machine room, which contains the strawboard-making machines. There were two machine rooms alongside one another (the second one is out of view in the photo), with each containing two machines. Early documentation therefore referred to the plant as a “four machine mill”.
Last, the gabled structure on the far left (north) was the warehouse, where the finished rolls of strawboard were stored until shipped.
See the details listed in the American Strawboard section below.
In 1889, Portage Strawboard merged with The American Strawboard Company of Chicago
. The merged company was run by O.C. Barber and operated under the American Strawboard name (this resulted in a name change for the Circleville plant). This new company was a consolidation of several strawboard mills, and controlled plants in several eastern and mid-western states.
After Barber’s death in 1920, his family reportedly had no interest in continuing to run the company. This lead to the cessation of plant operations for about a year until a buyer was found. One source stated that General Electric was rumored to have an interest in the plant and may have purchased it “for a low price” from the Barber estate
There were no reported improvements to the Circleville plant during American Strawboard’s ownership, possibly leading to difficulty selling the property. Eventually, the company and plant were sold to the Mid-West Box Company of Chicago.
There were no significant changes during American Strawboard’s ownership. According to the Circleville Herald, the plant had “the same digesters, the same dryers, that were in use [in 1884]”. See the plant description in the Portage Strawboard section (above) for more on the physical layout.
Plant Details – 1906
- Four-machine paper mill
- 11 rotary steam cookers (aka rotaries)
- 1600 horsepower boiler capacity
The plant was built with two machine rooms, and each room contained two strawboard machines. These machines formed the straw pulp into finished strawboard via a felting, rolling, drying and cutting process.
“Steam cookers” refers to the rotary cookers in which the straw was cooked under pressure as the first step of production.
- 100 tons of straw used as feedstock. Most of the straw was purchased locally at this point in time, with four boxcar loads (about forty tons) imported.
- Acid (amount and type unknown)
- One car of lime. Lime was used during the cooking process
- Four carloads of coal.
- 65 tons of finished product (strawboard) daily.
Strawboard was used for building purposes, for making strawboard boxes and cartridges, and for many other purposes. The company owns it’s own tracks and occupies 30 acres, 10 of which are occupied by the buildings alone. (Refine / clarify this paragraph)
Mid-West Box Company
Mid-West Box Company of Chicago bought a controlling interest in American Strawboard in 1920. This consolidation also included wood-pulp paperboard plants and box-making plants. Circleville’s mill remained focused on producing strawboard for use in other plants.
The photo at the top of this section well-illustrates the layout of the mill as it likely looked during Mid-West Box Company’s short ownership. The photo was taken in 1935, nine years after the company came under the control of the Container Corporation, but it had not, undergone any significant changes based on contemporary accounts in the Circleville Herald.
The office and warehouse are closest to the right (north) side of the photo, along Mill Street. Extending to the left are the two machine rooms, where strawboard was rolled. Next is the powerhouse that contained the boilers, turbines and reciprocating steam engines that provided heat and power for the rest of the building. The rotary and beater rooms, used to create the pulp used to create strawboard, are in the building behind the water tower.
The eight-year-old C&O railroad fill is visible crossing the top right corner of the photo. Between the railroad and the mill building is the mostly-empty straw yard. At the top-center are a couple of straw ricks, behind which is a long straw unloading dock used when receiving baled straw delivered by rail.
- Twenty-two 1200-lb rotaries
- Eight Jordan engines
- Paper machines – one 66inch and three 86-inch cylinders
Daily Output: 65 tons of steam-dried Strawboard, both plain and for corrugating, up to 80″ wide. (+10 vs. 1906).
Container Corporation of America
Some words about Container here.
- 11 rotary cookers
- Six beaters
- Four Babcock and Wilcox boilers, 350hp each, totaling 1600 horsepower (no change from 1906)
- Four machine paper driers (steam)
- Electric-powered machinery to move cooked pulp (previously manual)
- 1.5 million gallons of water daily
- 14 ten ton carloads baled straw received daily
- 125 tons of straw (1/3 provided by the county) daily. 50,000 tons consumed per year.
- Four cars of unslaked lime (Calcium Oxide)
- 85 tons of finished product daily (+10 vs. 1922)
- Products: 8, 9, 12 point (weight) paper, cut from 4 to 80 inches wide
Twelve hours to cook straw (probably cooking plus beating since other sources say around 7 hours for cooking)
Other: 20,000 tons of straw in yard in 1927 & 1928 (doesn’t state whether this is an average or other).
A strawboard mill produces paper products using straw (as opposed to wood) as the raw material to create the pulp used to make a coarse paper called strawboard. During the early to mid 1900’s, strawboard was used for a variety of purposes, such as plain and corrugated board used for building purposes, box production, egg-crate separators and fillers, for the pads that protected fruit and other produce shipped in boxes and barrels, and wrapping paper. It could be used for finer papers, but this doesn’t appear to have been common in the U.S.
The strawboard industry was well established in wheat growing areas of the country by 1900. At that time, wheat was harvested with binders and threshed, and every wheat farm had its straw stack. Straw could be baled from these stacks year-round, providing a reliable and local (inexpensive to ship) supply for the strawboard plants. As farming practices changed – notably when the combine harvester came into general use – most of the straw stacks vanished, which in turn began starving the mills of their raw materials. The mills, including Circleville’s, were then forced to look farther afield for straw, ranging from New York to Colorado and Minnesota to Louisiana to secure enough straw for year-round operation. This eventually drove costs to the point that straw was no longer an economically viable raw material for paper production.
The use of straw as a basic raw material was abandoned by Container Corporation’s Circleville plant due to insufficient transport and supplies, and replaced by pulpwood.
Citations (work in progress)
 Fifty Years and Over of Akron and Summit County (1892), Google Books, page 495
 Centennial History of Summit County, Ohio and Representative Citizens – 1908, Google Books, page 388
 Circleville Herald, Manufacture of Cornstalk Paper Ahead, April 17th, 1929
 History of Pickaway County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens – 1906
 Lockwood’s Directory of the Paper and Stationary Trade – 1922
 Circleville Herald – 1927 (refine this citation)
 Circleville Herald (April 1929 – refine this)
The Remainder of this page consists of un-formatted notes. This will be improved over time.
Name Timeline (from Circleville Herald article noted below):
- 1920 – Midwest Box Co bought controlling interest
- (Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities, Volume 2)
- 1921 – May. Mid-West and American Strawboard Companies Consolidated
- (Announcement in The Shears, March 1921, Volume XXIX, Number 340)
- 1930 – Container Corporation of America purchases Mid-West Box
Plant Details Timeline
1906 – History of Pickaway County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens (See Google bookshelf) – Done
1922 – Lockwood’s Directory of the Paper and Stationary Trade (See Google bookshelf) – Done
1927 – Herald – Done
1929 (April) – Done
5/1/1930 – Circleville Herald
Mid-west Box renamed Container Corporation of America
Not much news in middle-late thirties, excepting plant shutdowns and reopens, shift lengths, sewage plant construction and cost sharing (1937/38) and baseball.
1936-1937 – New building for the rotary room completed in 1936-37. Couldn’t find an article covering this in The Herald.
Old straw and rotary building torn down. New one was completed “last year”
4/13/1939 – Circleville Herald
Context – Coal shortage due to mining labor difficulties. Robert Ekins, manager of the Container Corporation plant, said that his plant has a supply of coal on hand sufficient to take care of operations through May 1. He said difficulty was experienced obtaining more coal.
Daily Input: The plant uses 80-85 tons of coal daily.
Daily Output: The plant has been running full time since last July with production at about 90 tons of paper daily.
Mechanical: 1000hp, 600psi boiler being installed – in operation by November. Four existing units kept for backup. Can burn OH and WV coals efficiently, expecting 20% reduction in coal usage.
Other – Stack height increasing from 110 to 160 for better draft.
Other – 800 tons of straw in a rick, valued at $8/ton purchased and ricked. 26,000 tons on grounds (most in ten years).
Output – In 1943, averaged 90 tons of strawboard per day over 351 working days
1944 – Nine Point News – CCA Employee Magazine. Article by plant manager.
Mechanical: Fourteen rotaries (14’ dia), one breaker beater, six finishing beaters, two jordans, four finishing jordans.
Underfeed 600psi automatic boiler operating at 200psi, one old boiler heating when plant is shut down. Lime Soda Ash Hot Process water softener.
1100kW 480V condensing turbo generator for current. Two direct drive turbines for jordans and vacuum pump. One 150kW 480V Ball/Burke reciprocating engine/generator used during cold weather.
Daily Input: 103 tons straw, 37 tons waste paper. 80 tons WV coal, 10.5 tons lime (calculated), 1176 pounds lye.
Daily Output: 90 tons of finished paper (1943 average)
- Consumed 36.3K tons of straw, 13.2K tons of waste paper in 1943 (required due to lack of straw), output 31.5K tons of paper.
- Normally store 10-15K tons of straw in straw yard.
- Used only wheat straw before the war, added barley, rice and and oat straw during. 60-65% of straw is converted to paper fibers
- Materials used to dissolve the straw: lime, caustic soda (lye), soda ash
- Approximate ratios for one seven hour cook: 7000 pounds wheat straw, 500 pounds lime, 28 pounds caustic soda, 2000 gallons water. Poorer qualities of straw, or partially deteriorated need less or no lye.
- Five of six finishing beaters used for straw, last for waste paper
- 200 ton coal bunker, ash silo – filled via suction line, disposed via rail or truck.
- Exhaust from jordan turbines (45psi) and Ball-Burke engine (40psi) used for paper driers (45psi) and rotary cookers (40psi).
- Condensate reused.
- Future upgrade to 600psi turbo-generator will displace mechanical turbines and Ball/Burke engine and have enough 50 pound exhaust steam for all process work.
1958 The use of straw as a basic raw material abandoned due to insufficient transport and supplies, and replaced by pulpwood. (Herald, 10/17/62 – 80,000 tons used annually). 135 people employed.
1988 – CCA Open House Document
170 tons of coal used daily. Wood chips provide 52% of what is needed for paper, the remainder coming from recycled corrugate
Sodium carbonate and water used to break down chips. The liquor is recycled via evaporators followed by “Burning” in the reactor, which produces a powder.
Modeling Notes (Exterior)
Straw Ricks: Dimensions
9/5/1925 – Straw Ricks, $10K loss. Likely due to smoking
10/4/1930 – 15 ricks, $125,000 loss. Flames seen for miles.
8/1935 – Machines 1 and 2 damaged, out of service two weeks. Forty feet of roof collapsed.
10/12/1940 – Flames Damage Big Straw Rick at Container Corporation
Likely spontaneous combustion. Each rick has 800 tons, 26,000 tons on grounds (most in ten years)
9/15/1939 – Summary: Fire in one straw rick. Damage slight. Cause unknown, may have been a locomotive spark or spontaneous combustion.
Useful fact: Ricks contain between 700 and 800 tons of straw.
1/10/1942 – Fire due to overheated bearing igniting grease. No damage assessment
05/02/1964 – Firefighter starts 26th year of service: “The Strawboard was always good for a fire when things got too quiet”
—Descriptions of processes and other commentary:—
After 7.5 hours of cooking, the pulp is emptied into the slow beaters and then pumped upstairs to other beaters where it is whirled around by faster revolving machinery and then carried into the machine rooms where it is dumped into a vat and gathered up by a revolving woolen blanket which deposits the pulp on a blanket cylinder and it is carried through a number of these until it is finally dried and it emerges at the end of the steam rollers a finished product.
Chemical department tests each car of lime for it’s calcium content and causticity, coal for it’s BTU. Finished board is tensile strength tested and liquor is analyzed. Weight and moisture content of paper is tested. All rolls ticketed with information on machine, caliper, number, weight of roll, length of roll in square measure, name of machine finisher and tender. Article lists all local and national management.
Entire product from Circleville plant sent to box plants in Chicago, Philadelphia, Natick MA, Bridgeport CT, Anderson IN, Cincinnati, Fairmont WV, Kokomo IN and Cleveland.