The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 4, Page 15.


The Story of the Formation Of Chicago Mica Company And Part Played Locally

The Chicago Mica Company was organized under the state laws of Illinois in 1899 with a capital stock of $200,000. Of this stock, all common, $134,800.00 was paid in and $65,200.00 was treasury stock. The incorporators and officers were: Milton A. Snider, president; Robert K. Preston, treasurer; E. H. Heilstedt, secretary. The principal stockholder was Charles B. Adamson of the Baeder-Adamson company in Philadelphia -- a very wealthy and established firm still doing business in that city.

Milton and E. P. Snider were Canadians. Milton was more of a promoter, and E. P. had acquired mica properties in North Carolina. They both prevailed upon Mr. Adamson to invest and back them in the manufacturing of mica insulation.

They started a small plant in Chicago, and the following year Milton Snider came to Valparaiso seeking a location for their plant. The only available place was the present site which for nearly fifty years had been occupied by various plants, including a woolen mill, the Delaney Clock Company, the Cosmo Buttermilk Soap Company, and the Barry Carriage and Wagon Works. An interesting item concerning the Barry Carriage and Wagon Works, which at that time was competing with the now great Studebaker Corporation, was the fact that Barry made up a lot of bob-sleds on winter when there was very little snow. Scarcity of capital and inability to sell this product contributed to their failure.

Many of the older generation remember Joe Decker, who conducted a pool room and cigar store. Joe is entitled to the credit for bringing the Chicago Mica Company to Valparaiso. Snider wanted $5,000 for moving equipment and setting up machinery in the local plant, and Decker conceived the idea of selling "I helped" buttons at $1.00 to raise the necessary funds. Charles Parker, Sr., president of the Parker Paint company, was a good friend of the Sniders, and also helped in getting the Chicago Mica company to locate here the next year.

The Sniders secured as superintendent August Tinnerholm of Schenectady, New York, who had previously been with the General Electric Company.

Mica insulation had formerly been made in the east, by only three concerns outside of Westinghouse Electric and General Electric.

When the Mica company moved to Valparaiso, E. P. Snider, brother of Milton Snider, brought the Adamite Abrasive company, manufacturers of miller's machinery, and occupied the old Powers-Higley plant in Chautauqua Park, later to become the site of the Lewis E. Myers company.

The Adamite Abrasive company, in about 1905, moved their plant to Tonowanda, New York, and were absorbed by the present Carborundum Company of America. About the same time M. A. Snider, president, and Robert K. Preston, treasurer, resigned, and Frank W. Boyer of Philadelphia became president and E. H. Heilstedt secretary-treasurer. From about 1903 to 1907 a volume of business increased from approximately $30,000 in 1899 to approximately $400,000 per year. Then the depression of 1907 hit. When the skies had cleared again, Mr. Adamson had relinquished his holdings to the Girard National Bank, Philadelphia, and A. W. Pickford, vice-president of the Chicago Mica, Mr. Boyer resigning.

Alternating current motors for industry were in a large part replacing direct current motors at this time, and with this change mica, used principally in direct current motors, had a very far-reaching effect on the volume of mica insulation used.

During the Boyer regime Frank Burk was traveling salesman, and resigned to become general manager of the Central Steel and Wire company of Chicago. E. H. Heilstedt resigned and moved to Gary in 1909, to become employment agent of the Gary plant of the Illinois Steel company and John F. Griffin became secretary-treasurer as well as general sales manager.

A reorganization took place two years later, whereby the entire of the Adamson, Boyer and Heilstedt stock was purchased by A. W. Pickford, Philadelphia, L. L. Fleig, Chicago, and John F. Griffin, Valparaiso.

A new field presented itself for the use of mica insulation in 1910, when the automobile industries were perfecting the electric starting and lighting system. Up until this period the company manufactured insulation paints and varnishes as well as oiled clothes and oiled papers, which department was closed down because of eastern competition and obsolete methods, it being more profitable to job these items along with fibre, cotton tape, etc. This jobbing end of the business being very profitable at the time enabled the company to purchase new and improved machinery to meet western competition.

All mica plate, etc., was made by hand up to this time, and over a hundred girls were required to make it. In addition, over seventy-five girls and women split mica at home in their spare time, and it was of benefit to some cripples who could not go back and forth to work. It was not an uncommon thing to walk into many homes of large families and see assembled around the dining room table six to eight people from thirteen to sixty years old, splitting mica and adding a total income of as much as twenty-two dollars a weeks for this evening work.

The large percentage of mica films or splitting come from India, where the Hindus received from ten to twenty cents per day wages. All this work is done by hand. Many years ago an English form decided to install modern machinery in the mines, and built a modern plant for employes. The Hindus struck and did not return in work until the machinery was taken out of the mine, when they resumed their work by hand. They claimed that the machine was possessed of evil spirits.

About 1912 John Griffin, on a selling trip to Akron, Ohio, called on the Imperial Electric company, motor manufacturers, and while talking to L. T. Frederick, production manager, learned that he had been with the Westinghouse Electric company of Pittsburgh, who had been making their mica plate by machine. A deal was made immediately for Frederick to come to Valparaiso and build a similar machine, and to become superintendent of the plant, replacing Mr. Bixby, who had come from the east a few years before.

Business had improved by now very materially, and in due time the interests of L. L. Fleig were purchased by J. L. Meagher and L. T. Frederick, leaving the Pickford and Griffin interests intact.

In order to make a better selling organization in the field, J. L. Meagher decided to sell his interest to the Cleveland representative, A. R. McNally. The present plant superintendent, L. L. Howard, was secured by the Mica company for their sales force in Cleveland under Mr. McNally.

Bakelite was now coming to the front rapidly, and to meet the demand another corporation was formed, called the Fibroc Insulation company; capital $5,000.00; stockholders A. W. Pickford, L. T. Frederick, Joseph Winslow, and John F. Griffin. The business started in a modest way, using part of the Mica plant. In two years it was necessary to built a new plant for Fibroc, and to increase the capital stock to $100,000.00, all common, and $150,000 preferred stock. This preferred stock was subscribed to mostly by local people and always paid semi-annually a dividend of 8% annually. Later it was bought up by the Continental Diamond Fibre company and paid for at $105.00 a share.

During the late war, mica splitting from Canada were had to secure, so Mr. Griffin went to Black Lake, Quebec and established a splitting factory. The two affiliated concerns by 1928 were doing a total business of approximately $1,500,000, and Mr. Griffin sold his interests in both concerns to V. R. Despard, then of the McGill Manufacturing company. Shortly after this, Despard, Frederick and Pickford sold their interests to the Continental Diamond Fibre company, the present owners.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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