Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: July 1993 Volume 31 Number 3, Pages 87–102

The Story of The Benjamin C. Betner Company and its Origins and Successors

Herb Fry

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The Benjamin C. Betner Company, and its successors by merger, purchase, and corporate restructure, have been in the business of manufacturing paper bags in Tredyffrin township for over 65 years. Established at the eastern end of Devon, near the 19th-century village of Spread Eagle, in 1927, its longevity as a successful business enterprise is a tribute to the energy, ability and intellect of its founder, Benjamin Carlton Betner.

The story of how the paper bag industry came to be located in Devon is not unlike many similar accounts which describe the growth of industry in America. It is the story of a man of vision who perceived the potential market inherent in society's changing taste for packaging. He had the "know how" derived from many years in the business, an access to needed capital, and a sense of what could be accomplished. With these elements in place, success was almost guaranteed.

The development of industry in the United States following the Civil War was in large measure directed to the development of transportation, mining, and heavy manufacturing. Such development more or less by-passed Tredyffrin and Easttown townships. There was, of course, the all-powerful Pennsylvania Railroad, which provided employment for many a villager of Berwyn and, later, Paoli. It was the precursor of things to come, but its massive terminals, yards and shops were located elsewhere, in places like Philadelphia or Altoona.

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By the early 20th century invention and innovation led to new products and new industries, and agriculture began its decline. Although as late as 1940 some in Tredyffrin and Easttown were still engaged in agriculture, they were the exception rather than the rule. A maturing transportation network slowed the flow of population to the cities and made people more mobile, and thus factories appeared in the "hinterlands", far from the old population centers.

Along with this industrial growth which was shaping the nation, another process was at work in what has been described as America's "melting pot". As the nineteenth century drew to a close there was a marked change in the source of immigrants to this country. For nearly 150 years most immigrants had come from the United Kingdom and from northern Europe. The "new" immigrants were from southern and eastern Europe. In a single generation, from 1890 to 1920, almost 16 million persons emigrated to these shores; roughly 24 percent of them were from Italy.

A consequence of this immigration can be seen in the ethnic profile of our local area today. In the first decade of this century the Philadelphia & Western Railway Company established its line from Upper Darby to Strafford. Many of the laborers who built the line were of Italian origin. Some of these men and their families took up residence in Wayne and Devon. (Our Lady of the Assumption Church, in Strafford, was established by the Italian community in the area in 1908, the year following the completion of the trolley line construction.) The immigrant newcomers to this area found work in the construction trades, or as gardeners at the many estates nearby. They also formed a ready reservoir of semi-skilled or unskilled labor, ready for factory employment.

The factory in its classic sense had first come to the area in 1907 with the formation of the American Bronze Company in Berwyn. This business grew to employ 750 workers in five plants during World War II, but passed out of existence in Berwyn in 1959 after a costly strike and changes in the technology of aircraft engine manufacture with the introduction of jet-powered aircraft. The Bronze Building in the east end of Berwyn is a reminder today of the industry which was once housed there and which served the armed forces in two world wars and the time in between.

A manufacturing plant which grew to rival the Bronze Company in size commenced operation in Tredyffrin Township in 1927. Termed "light industry", it was the paper bag business of Benjamin C. Betner, a resident of Ithan in nearby Radnor Township. On September 26, 1926 he purchased the Clayton A. Lobb Planing Mill, located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Grove Avenue with Lancaster Avenue in Devon (across from where what is now Old Lancaster Road turns north under the railroad bridge) as the site for his new venture. (At that time only a path existed on the south side of the railroad between Grove Avenue and Valley Forge Road farther to the west as the roadbed for the new Lincoln Highway was not put through until later in 1927.) Local residents remember a large mound of sawdust was piled up on the property, a by-product of the planing mill's operation; it was a favorite playground for neighborhood children. The plant's location was well situated to attract a work force from the Italian-American population of the surrounding area.

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Betner was not a newcomer to the paper bag business. He had been in partnership with Thomas M. Royal for almost 20 years in a similar enterprise in Philadelphia and later Bryn Mawr, and was approaching 50 years of age.

Benjamin C. Betner had been born in Rochester, New York on August 4, 1878. He was educated in the schools of that city and later learned the printing trade. What has been learned of his early business career must be inferred from entries in Philadelphia city directories and land records. Apparently he came to Germantown shortly after 1900; there he became acquainted with Royal, who was in the paper business. In the History of Old Germantown published by Horace F. McCann in 1907 it is noted that the Royal family had resided in Germantown for many years, and Thomas Royal himself has written that he was born on Shoemakers Lane [now Penn Street] in Germantown in 1867.

Thus Thomas MacKellar Royal was eleven years older than Betner. In a brief history which he wrote for his employees in 1934 he tells how, in his early years, he gained experience while working for wages as a compositor, pressman, and paper cutter. In 1895 he opened his own business in a cellar at 401 Arch Street. This was followed by a period of short leases and many moves. Along the line he added bags to his line of manila wrapping paper.

The Philadelphia city directory for 1904 shows Royal in partnership with Edgar M. Church, at 257 South Third Street at the corner of Locust. A year later Benjamin C. Betner appears as manager at a location at 131 South Water Street, which Royal later identified as an old church building on the east side of Water Street south of Chestnut. Two years later, in 1907, Royal took a ten-year lease on a former brass foundry -- the Union Brass Works -- at 523-527 Cherry Street, a location he described as a "right decent factory building", and it was at this location that Thomas M. Royal & Co. came into its own.

Royal's experience in the paper business and Betner's knowledge of printing provided the company with the capability to market a paper bag with a printed face. In those days such bags were printed on a flat sheet of paper, one by one, and then pasted and formed, individually, into bags by hand. About that time Betner received in the mail a bag that he decided had been made by machine. Learning that the machine was of German origin, he immediately sailed for that country to locate the manufacturer. In a short time he found where the machines were made, and quickly purchased several of them. Eventually Betner entered the firm of Thomas M. Royal & Co. as a partner. The partnership was destined to become pre-eminent in the manufacture of paper bags.

As Royal tells it, "after seven years we were pretty cramped [at the Cherry Street building], sold the lease and [in December of 1913] bought the Pennsylvania Auto [Motor Company] factory in Bryn Mawr and we all moved out there". The factory was on Maple Avenue in Bryn Mawr, near the railroad station; it had been built by the automobile company in 1906, but the company had failed and was in receivership.

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(The local area apparently held attractions for the incipient automobile industry: Louis S. Clark had recently moved the Autocar Company from Pittsburgh to Ardmore. This company was a success.)

The same month, December of 1913, Royal purchased for himself a country seat near Devon, the 178-acre "Cressbrook Farm", one of the ancestral homes of the Havard family. (It has been preserved, and is known today as the DuPortail House in Chesterbrook.) Whether Royal actually lived at the farm, or whether it was used only as a destination for summer excursions, is not known. It is known, however, that he enjoyed guns and shooting -- for a number of years he was president of the Philadelphia Gun Club -- and he may have enjoyed participating in the sport at Cressbrook Farm. The Philadelphia city directory for 1916 records Devon as his home address, but the directories for 1919 through 1923 show that he kept an apartment at the Aldine Hotel at 20th and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia. Royal apparently liked hotel apartment living, as he later moved into the Barclay overlooking Rittenhouse Square. Cressbrook Farm was sold in 1926 to Henry N. Woolman.

With the establishment of a plant in Bryn Mawr, Betner also took up residence in a new home, moving from Germantown to Beacom Avenue in Merion in 1916.

The business in Bryn Mawr succeeded from the beginning, due in no small part to the technical knowledge Benjamin Betner possessed and his ability to modify and improve the processes involved in the manufacture of bags. As competition in bag manufacturing intensified, however, the Bryn Mawr plant was proving to be inadequate to handle the firm's business needs efficiently. This led to a move in 1924 into a large three-story factory building, of re-enforced concrete and containing 110,000 square feet, located at Seventh Street and Grange Avenue [5800 North Seventh Street] in the Olney section of Philadelphia. (By coincidence or design, this new building had also been a former automobile factory. The Fox Motor Car Company, formed around 1918, had assembled cars there, but again financial difficulties led to receivership and sale of the building to Thomas Royal.) The new location provided much more productive space, and the Bryn Mawr plant was closed and leased to Allen C. Hale, who operated an automobile dealership for Ford cars there.

The period of the early 1920s saw a change in the relationship between Betner and Royal. Shortly before the move to Olney a new corporation was organized to hold the Bryn Mawr property. On January 9, 1923 Thomas M. Royal, Benjamin C. Betner, and Percy C. Madiera jr. applied for a Pennsylvania charter to form a corporation, rather than a partnership, to be known as Thomas M. Royal & Co., with the stated purpose of "manufacturing and treating paper for business and commercial use". Royal was shown as owning 75% of the stock, Betner, 24%, and Madiera, 1%, but the amount of capital paid to the treasurer, Betner, was only $500. The charter was approved by Governor Gifford Pinchot on January 31, 1923. One month later, on March 1, 1923, Thomas M. Royal and Lilian Dale (Hess) Royal, his wife, deeded to the corporation the factory real estate on Maple Avenue in Bryn Mawr, to which they held title as individuals.

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What motivated the change in ownership of the real estate in this manner is not known. One thing is certain, however; Thomas M. Royal & Co. continued to held title to the real estate in Bryn Mawr until after Royal's death. (In fact, some of the operations were later moved back to Bryn Mawr.) The property was eventually sold by the corporation in 1949.

About this time Thomas M. Royal and Benjamin C. Betner were approached by E. S. and A. Robinson, of Bristol, England about forming an alliance with that company. As early as 1860 the Robinsons had interests in a variety of paper-related businesses in England, and bag making had always played a very important part in their concern. When, in 1924, the Robinsons were desirous of acquiring an interest in an American business, their investigation led them to Royal and Betner -- and after that Royal and the Robinsons operated as partners.

Betner, on the other hand, was not convinced of the wisdom of such an arrangement. Although Thomas M. Royal & Co. was a leader in the industry, Betner decided to retire from the business and sold his interest to the Robinsons.

The exact date of the sale and Betner's retirement is somewhat in doubt, though the year 1925 has been cited. As early as 1922 he had sold his home in Merion and purchased a four-acre estate, known as "The Knoll", on Conestoga Road in Ithan. There he became a neighbor of Thomas Newhall, a partner in the banking houses of J. P. Morgan & Co. in New York City and Drexel & Co. of Philadelphia. Newhall had also previously been president of the Philadelphia & Western Railway Company from 1910 to 1922.

During the period of his semi-retirement Betner invested in local real estate. Most of the properties were residential.

In 1926, however, he purchased the old Lobb planing mill in Devon, where he soon established a new bag manufacturing business. Purchasing two bag machines and a printing press (some say from Thomas M. Royal & Co. -- the dissolution of the Royal-Betner partnership apparently was an amicable parting), he again, early in 1927, set about to produce paper bags.

One of those who assisted Betner in the start-up of his new enterprise was Rudolph M. Beckman Sr., a former associate from the Royal organization. Two years later, in 1929, Beckman's son, Rudolph Jr., also took a job with the Betner Company, after several seasons in organized baseball. (In the early 1920s he had also previously worked for a short time at the Olney plant.) He later left the Betner Company, but returned in 1934, eventually to become purchasing agent in 1953.

Betner also recruited Jacob C. Fisher, of Norristown, to be his vice president and treasurer, in charge of financial, purchasing and plant operations. Fisher, 12 years younger than Betner, was a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1910, and most recently had served for about ten years as an executive with Diamond State Fibre Co. in Bridgeport, Pa.

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Most likely, Betner had become acquainted with Fisher through lodge activities, as both were members of the Lulu Temple of the Mystic Shrine.

To handle the work in the shop, Betner brought in four men from Thomas M. Royal & Co. to operate the bag machines. They were Antonio Travaglini, Fred Wellman, Thomas Falcone, and Rinaldo "Jimmy" Rossi. Walter Klapper jr. was hired to run the printing department, and Emma Griffiths, another early employee, joined the company in April of 1927. On August 25, 1927 the Benjamin C. Betner Company was officially incorporated, with its offices at Lancaster and Grove avenues in Devon.

In spite of depressed business conditions, brought on by the "crash" of 1929 and the "Great Depression" of the early 1930s, the business grew steadily.

Early on, the new venture survived severe property losses from the disastrous explosion at the Pennsylvania Fireworks Display Company plant in April of 1930. At the Betner Company, located only about a quarter mile distant from the blast, over 1700 panes of glass were reported shattered and the steel window sashes only recently added to the building were all blown out. According to another report, 40 employees were injured, including the driver of a truck who was taking in a load of bags at the plant. He was knocked unconscious, and remained so for some hours afterwards.

Eventually there were sixteen bag machines installed and in operation at Devon, making principally coffee bags for Maxwell House and Eight O'clock coffees, and also flour bags.

A problem in the production of the coffee bags was the attachment, in the Tin Tie Department, of a steel tie at the top of each bag that could be folded to keep the bag closed once it had been opened. This was done by feeding each bag into a steel tie machine by hand. An engineer with the Betner Company named Higginbottom worked for some time on an improvement which would automatically feed the bags into the steel tie machine. Within two years this was accomplished, and production increased greatly. A roll of steel wire about 1/4" wide and a roll of plain paper about 1-3/4" wide was placed on the steel tie machine, and by using glue the steel was attached to the narrow strip of paper and also to the bag.

The Betner Company also made bags for coffee packers who bagged coffee for many individual stores and customers, the packer putting the store or customer's name on the bag after it was filled with coffee. These bags were called "open design bags", and the steel tie had to be put on after the bags were filled with coffee. This led the Betner Company to develop what was fittingly known as a "Benco" machine. The Benco machine was leased to the packer, who would buy rolls of steel ties on so-called Benco reels from the Betner Company. The Benco reels were equipped with the same 1/4" steel wire and 1-3/4" gummed paper , and each reel was shipped in an individual plastic bag to the coffee packer.

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Benjamin C. Betner was a respected "boss", held in high esteem by his employees. He stood about 5' 7" tall, and his 185-200 pounds gave him a stocky build. He smoked cigarettes in a long holder, an affectation perhaps acquired from his days with Thomas M. Royal. (A photo of Royal, published in 1934, shows him with just such a long cigarette holder.) He drove a Packard coupe, which he parked across Lancaster Avenue from the plant. (The crumbling remains of the shed he used can be seen to this day, along the north side of Lancaster Avenue west of the Purtle & Purtle real estate building, formerly a Pure Oil, and later a Gulf, gas station.) He was a 32nd degree Mason and a member of the Shrine, a member of the Rotary Club of Wayne, and took an active interest in Main Line civic affairs.

What prompted him to start over again in the paper bag business? He obviously felt the need to create and succeed in a business of his own, carrying his own name. He may also have felt it was important to provide a vocational outlet for his children, who were reaching the age of maturity. Betner had married Olyve Ballard in 1907 in Spencerport, just west of his native Rochester, New York, and brought her to live in their Germantown home where their three children were born: Benjamin C. Jr. in 1908, Olyve Elizabeth in 1910, and Thomas E. in 1914. Tragically, the young mother died in 1914 in Germantown.

After moving in 1916 to Beacom Avenue in Merion, which was closer to the plant in Bryn Mawr, he married Harriet Scott Roberts in 1918. He moved his family to Ithan in 1922, just before the dissolution of his association with Thomas Royal.

In the early 1930s the Benjamin C. Betner Company became something of a family operation.

Benjamin C. Betner Jr. joined his father in the new business on a full time basis following his graduation from Yale in 1932. (He had worked there on a part time basis earlier.) Born on July 2, 1908, he attended Haverford School and prepared at Hill School for Yale. During his senior year he played center on the varsity football team.

Two days before Thanksgiving Day of 1932 he married Miss Josephine Lee Auchincloss in what must have been one of the most stylish weddings of the year in New York society. Miss Auchincloss, the younger daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Auchincloss, was a great-granddaughter of Samuel Sloan, who for many years was president of the Lackawanna Railroad, and, on the maternal side, was a member of the Saltonstall family of Boston. She had been introduced to society at a dance given by her parents in November of 1930 at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City.

The following spring the newlyweds settled into a 41-acre estate known as Spring Lane Farm, in the horse country of Charlestown Township. (The new Mrs. Betner, before her marriage, had hunted with the Meadow Brook hounds.) In June, father Betner bought a second place in Charlestown of 19 acres, adjoining the first property. Later this became the residence of Richard Saltonstall Auchincloss, a brother of the younger Betner's new bride, and a friend and classmate at Yale in the class of 1932.

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He too joined the Betner Company, where he became sales manager. In June of 1937 the property where he lived was deeded to him.

Olyve Betner, the only daughter of Benjamin C. Betner Sr., married Howard Bishop Chadwick, of Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1931. He had graduated from Wesleyan University the year before and taught at Episcopal Academy in Merion before joining the Benjamin C. Betner Company in Devon in 1932. He was the division manager for coffee bag sales when he retired in 1963.

(Thomas, the younger son of Benjamin C. Betner Sr, did not enter his father's business. Instead, in 1947, his father purchased a place at King Street and Bridge Avenue in Malvern for him to use in starting his own business. Thomas E. Betner was president of the Plastomatic Corporation of Malvern, and was a pioneer in the development of the plastics industry. He was also president of Acme Plate and Mat Company of Malvern.)

What may have been the first and only "sit down" strike in the history of Tredyffrin Township occurred in mid-July of 1937. The Betner Company's growth had attracted the attention of a labor union, and a contract was signed with the United Bag Workers and Allied Trades, a C.I.O. affiliate, on March 25, 1937. Not too long thereafter, the discharge of an employee for "inefficiency" led to a sit down strike. On Tuesday, July 20, about 175 employees "sat down on their jobs" and presented a list of points of issue, the Main Line Daily Times reported. Unless their demands were accepted, the strikers told management, they were prepared to "sit down and smile it out" no matter how long it lasted. However, by the following Saturday the strikers voluntarily withdrew from the plant in the face of a U. S. District Court order and took up picketing outside.

The company closed the plant "indefinitely" four days later, on July 27, but issued a statement which was conciliatory in tone, calling for the strikers to return to work and present their grievances through procedures specified in their contract. There were two incidents on the picket line the next day when attempts were made to move shipments of paper bags from the plant, variously described in the press as a "melee", a "scuffling encounter", or "shoving and a few blows struck", but there was no violence of a major proportion. On the afternoon of August 3, the 15th day, the strike was settled, with Betner quoted as "delighted" that an agreement had been reached by which his employees would return to work.

Every company has employees who are recognized as noteworthy contributors to the success of the business. The name Raymond M. "Ray" Bell is held in high esteem for such a unique contribution to the Betner Company. He had a deep interest in new products and new methods, and his most important work was in product development. A graduate of West Philadelphia High School, he went on to Mercersburg Academy, and then to Lehigh University. After working for several years in the area, he joined the Benjamin C. Betner Company sales organization in June of 1932, reporting directly to Benjamin C. Betner Sr. At that time the company produced mostly coffee bags, with a few specialty bags on the list. In 1934 the Betner management named him superintendent of the Devon plant.

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As the company grew and added manufacturing facilities at Los Angeles, Paris, Texas, Appleton, Wisconsin, and Richmond, Virginia, he acted as general superintendent.

In connection with coated paper developments at Devon, Ray Bell was instrumental in the development of a thermo-seal machine, patented under his name in 1942. After the war he worked directly with a group in the development of the first paper filter bag for use in the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. Again, his name is on several of the patents. These experiments, which were started in 1948, had by 1951-52 led to a sizeable production of these bags by the company.

For a four-year period, starting in 1939, the Betner Company operated a second plant in Devon. The Walter L. Lobb interests, who owned the land diagonally across the Lincoln Highway from the Betner plant, between the highway and the Pennsylvania Railroad, where they operated their lumber yard, had sold slightly over four acres on the east end on Conestoga Road to the Quaker Trailer Company, Inc. A small factory building was erected there by Quaker, but the company soon fell into receivership. The Betner Company then bought the property, which it identified as its No. 2 Plant. There it installed two bag machines and a press to make flour bags. At the end of 1943, however, the location was sold to Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Co.

Benjamin C. Betner Jr. served in World War II. (He returned to a faded marriage which ended in divorce. In late 1946 he deeded Spring Lane Farm to Josephine Auchincloss Betner.)

A new plant superintendent took up his duties at the Devon plant in 1946. He was Hugh F. Bonney, a graduate of Miami University in Florida, who had become acquainted with Benjamin Betner Jr. when they were in the service during World War II. Bonney served as plant superintendent for over ten years.

On October 22, 1947 Thomas M. Royal, the old friend and business associate of Benjamin C. Betner Sr., died at his Philadelphia home in the Barclay. He was 80, and had retired two years earlier from the company he had founded and worked in for almost half a century and which carried his name. The year following Royal's death the Betner Company purchased the Royal plant in Beaumont, Texas and most of the assets in Bryn Mawr, which were moved to Devon. (The Bryn Mawr plant had been reopened by Royal in 1931.) The real estate in Bryn Mawr was then sold to the Theodore Presser Company, the present occupants, in January of 1949. (The Olney plant, which had been closed on August 4, 1950, was sold later that year to the Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co. In the newspaper account of the Olney plant closing, it was reported that 500 workers were employed there at that time. It was also stated that "the present owners were E. S. and A. Robinson, of Bristol, England".)

On February 1, 1951 Benjamin C. Betner Sr. died, at age 72, in Bryn Mawr Hospital after a long illness. He was laid to rest in the Washington Chapel churchyard at Valley Forge.

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The following week the many employees of the company held a memorial service in St. Martin's Chapel, next to the Betner home in Ithan, as a tribute to the man who for many years had been their friend and benefactor. The simple stone marking his resting place identifies but one of the many diverse activities which characterized his busy life: the indicia of his lodge, the Order of the Shrine.

Benjamin C. Betner Jr. assumed the presidency of the Betner Company, but to settle the estate the business was sold by the family on January 30, 1953. The Suburban and Wayne Times published the announcement, "The Benjamin C. Betner ... Company, of Devon, has become a subsidiary of the giant Continental Can [Company], Inc., which has 69 plants throughout the nation, it was announced this week by Benjamin C. Betner, Jr., president of the firm established by his father, the late Benjamin C. Betner." The report added, "The Betner Company has been merged with Continental Can through a transfer of stock in both corporations ..." The Betner Company was described in the newspaper as "one of the nation's largest producers of paper packaging products".

In a letter to the employees of the company Betner noted, "Under the proposed reorganization plan our company will operate as a division of the Continental Can Company, but under the same policies as in the past. ... By associating ourselves with ... Continental ...we shall be able to diversify our products and continue our expansion plans at a much more accelerated rate than we could do independently. We feel certain that this reorganization will offer every employee of the company a greater opportunity to improve his or her position and will assure a greater degree of security than we have enjoyed in the past. ... I will continue to serve as executive head of the plants and operations now comprising the Benjamin C. Betner Company and feel sure that our present management and [I] will have your confidence and cooperation as we have had in the past."

Benjamin C. Betner Jr. served as executive vice president of Continental Can Company, Inc. until his retirement in 1964.

It was basically business as usual at the Devon plant, but things would never be quite the same. Ray Bell was named division manager of manufacturing for the Shellmar-Betner Division (Continental Can had also acquired Shellmar Products in 1953) and moved to the division office in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Hugh Bonney was likewise transferred to Ohio, but returned to Devon as plant manager in 1955, a year before Bell, who returned in 1956.

During the 1950s the Devon plant enjoyed tremendous prosperity as the sole manufacturers of the disposable filter bags used to collect dust in Electrolux vacuum cleaners, under an exclusive patent. When the patent expired, however, the vacuum cleaner company began the manufacture of the bags itself.

A catastrophe was averted at Devon early on the morning of January 19, 1959 when a fire damaged machinery and a small part of the roof of the plant. The Berwyn and Radnor fire companies were on the scene for more than an hour, from 6:20 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., after the flames broke out.

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Fortunately, the plant's sprinkler system was set off by the heat and flooded much of the work area, preventing a major conflagration.

As the plant prospered it became evident that limitations at Devon would require a decision sooner or later about facilities. In addition to a lack of both warehousing and manufacturing space, there were no railroad connections, not enough truck docks, an inefficient three-level, low ceilinged building, and no room for expansion. Rented warehouse space was located nine miles away, at Frazer.

The driving force in planning a new plant project was Fred S. Hinkle, who had moved to the Devon plant as general manager of paper products for the Flexible Packaging Division. He recruited support for it at CCC's corporate headquarters, and obtained approval for the $2 million expenditure.

In 1962 there were about 250 employees at the Devon plant, with a plant payroll of approximately $1.4 million a year, and the location of the new facility in the local area was crucial to their continued employment, at a time before any large-scale rezoning of Tredyffrin Township land for industrial use had gained momentum. The company thought it had found a location in an industrial park proposed for the controversial "railroad corridor" in the eastern end of the township. But when residents protested against the rezoning of the tract, the company withdrew and looked for another site.

Shortly thereafter it entered into an agreement of sale for a part of the old Robert F. Matthews farm in the western end of the township, and in May of 1963 began grading operations. The land, a 31-acre tract, was situated in the westernmost part of the township, near the East Whiteland township line, just north of the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Trenton Cut-off on Matthews Road. It was part of the property assembled by Clarence Staats, of Malvern, off Cedar Hollow Road, which became known as Paoli Industrial Park.

A scheduled ground breaking ceremony in June of 1963 had to be canceled when it was learned that a complaint had been filed in county court as to the legality of the Tredyffrin Township ordinance which rezoned the tract "light industrial". The suit, filed by members of the Great Valley Association, had been pending since 1960, but was thought to have been abandoned. It proved to be a citizen's rear guard action, however, and was subsequently withdrawn. Settlement on the land purchase by Continental Can was held on October 10, 1963, and grading operations, which had been suspended when the court action was revived, were resumed the following week.

The new Paoli plant, a 169,000 square foot one-story brick and masonry building designed and constructed by Barclay White & Co. of Philadelphia, contained an office, manufacturing and warehousing facilities, and landscaped grounds and parking areas. It was the first industrial construction in the railroad corridor in western Tredyffrin Township. The move from Devon commenced October 26, 1964 and was finished in the summer of 1965 without interrupting any customer orders, even though all the equipment was cleaned and painted and new uniform electrical circuits were installed.

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The new plant was formally dedicated at ceremonies held on May 26, 1965, which were attended by Governor William W. Scranton; Fred S. Hinkle, the general manager of paper products; William W. Porter Jr., chairman of the township supervisors; Thomas C. Fogarty, chairman of the board of Continental Can Company, Inc.; and Anthony Civitello, manager of the Paoli plant. At a brief press conference following a tour of the plant, Governor Scranton termed the new facility "just superb".

(Hinkle was also a key player in another area project at that time -- fund raising for the construction of the Paoli Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1968.)

Once the move to the new plant was completed, Continental Can wasted little time in disposing of the old structure on the Devon Hill curve of Lancaster Avenue. The property was sold to Main Line Motors, Inc. on March 15, 1967. The old office along Lancaster Avenue, the easternmost building, and the front of the western addition were soon demolished to provide parking space for the automobile dealership.

At Paoli the new plant proved to be all it was hoped to be. It afforded a 25% increase in capacity over the Devon facility, with room for future expansion. By 1969 additional space was in fact needed, and a 43,000 square foot addition to the nearly four acres under roof was undertaken. The new space was finished in 1970, and the firm employed about 300 area people at that time.

Publication in "The Package Post", the employee newsletter of the Paoli plant, of a late-1967 pre-retirement interview with R. George Buchanan, the marketing director for miscellaneous foods, provides an interesting perspective on the advances in the industry over the almost 40 preceding years. Buchanan, a Princeton University graduate, began work in September of 1928 at the Thomas M. Royal & Co. plant in Olney, and later joined the Betner organization in Devon. He is quoted as noting that there had been "tremendous change[s] in equipment, methods, materials and products. Early printing used a 'slip sheet' wound along with the printed sheet to prevent blocking -- modern inks, presses and dryers made it possible to print into tight rolls at 500-600 feet a minute; [and that] many of today's [1967] films and adhesives were not yet developed and laminating was not a common process; bags were put on racks until the adhesive 'set' or dried; large rolls of paper and drums of adhesives and solvents were handled by hand; only two or three basic types of bags were made; probably more than 90% of our business was coffee bags, just the reverse of what it is today; and the intricate process printing we do today was not yet possible."

As the decade of the 1970s unfolded, Continental Can and its Paoli plant were caught up in allegations of price-fixing and related litigation with the U. S. government. During this period, in 1976, Continental Can changed its name, to reflect the diversification of its products (and perhaps to escape the stigma of the litigation) to The Continental Group, Inc.

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In addition, the company started selling off some of its plants, particularly those connected with the packaging industry. The New York Times reported, on January 30, 1979, the enormity of the problem after the Continental Group released it earnings report for the fourth quarter of 1978, noting. "The size of the provision [$60 million pre-tax] for the suit, which involves corrugated containers and flexible packaging products came as a surprise to Wall Street. The company had previously indicated that there would be no material adverse effect on its operations. Such settlements are subject to court approval and the company said it believed the provision was adequate to cover the suit costs." In addition, the general manager went to jail for six months.

By 1979 Continental had just four packaging materials plants left, one of them Paoli, in what was its former Flexible Packaging Division. On April 23 they were sold to the Ludlow Corporation, of Needham Heights, Massachusetts.

Ludlow was in the textile (rugs) and home furnishing business, with a big operation in New Delhi, India which it had just sold for $25 million, and was looking for a place to park the cash. At the same time, it was being pursued as a candidate for acquisition by Tyco Laboratories, Inc. of Exeter, New Hampshire, and in February of 1979 Tyco had offered $19 a share for any and all outstanding shares of Ludlow, amounting to about $66.7 million. To deflect Tyco, Ludlow purchased the Continental Can's paper bag and packaging businesses.

In the following year Ludlow hired James K. Peterson as president and chief operating officer, an event which would prove to be of great significance to the Paoli plant. Peterson, age 45, was brought into the Ludlow organization because of his experience in the packaging business. He had begun his career with the Reynolds Metals Company, where he rose to the position of director of marketing for the packaging division. In 1971 he had joined Continental Can Company, Inc., where he advanced to the position of vice president and general manager of international operations development. The New York Times quoted him as saying, "The company [Ludlow] has been through a spinning off of some businesses [such as the New Delhi operation] that were not consistent with its objectives", and adding that it now was "very well positioned for earnings growth in the future". "I've been in the packaging business for 24 years," he continued, "and I look forward to the opportunity to become president of a company with a thrust in flexible packaging as well as the paper business."

Tyco Laboratories, nonetheless, kept at their take-over plans for Ludlow. Notwithstanding law suits, diversionary acquisitions, and other defensive maneuvers by Ludlow, by July 31, 1981 they had gained control of 29% of Ludlow's shares outstanding. On August 25 Ludlow capitulated and agreed to Tyco's merger plan.

Paper bags did not fit in with Tyco's plans for Ludlow, and Peterson was thereupon dispatched to sell the Paoli plant. From his days with CCC, he was familiar with the operation.

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After exploring the economics of its operations with potential purchasers, he became convinced that the property was a desirable acquisition. He therefore formed a syndicate, left Ludlow, and purchased the plant himself. A new company, named Graphic Packaging Corporation, was incorporated, and on April 13, 1982 it took title to the Paoli plant. In 1986 a second plant with a similar product line, located in Franklin, Ohio, was acquired. Graphic Packaging continued to operate both plants until late 1988.

On November 3, 1988, Adolph Coors Company, the Colorado brewer, completed a deal to purchase the business. It already had two paperboard folding carton plants of its own, and the Paoli and Franklin operations fitted well with that business. It kept the name Graphic Packaging Corporation, to distinguish the operation from the brewery, and established its head-quarters outside Golden, Colorado, with its own president and Board of Directors operating the properties as a separate subsidiary.

The Paoli plant continued to be, and still is, a facility with 90% of its operations devoted to bag making. It is outfitted with huge state-of-the-art color rotogravure printing presses and equipment to apply film or extrusion coatings or lamination to paper. The product line is diversified, and includes bags for dog food and cat food, for agricultural chemicals, for photographic light-sensitive products, and cookie bags. It is a far cry from the original products, bags for only coffee and flour, produced by the Betner Company at Devon.

One final event worthy of note in the story of Graphic Packaging Corporation, the successor to the Benjamin C. Betner Company, occurred only recently when the Adolph Coors Company decided to spin off its non-beer companies to its shareholders by paying a dividend in the form of stock in a new company called ACX Technologies, Inc. The new company included the so-called technology businesses, including Graphic Packaging. In the Wall Street Journal on December 4, 1992 it was reported, "In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Coors said it was spinning off its ceramics, aluminum, packaging [and other technology-based developmental] businesses to make it easier for analysts and investors to evaluate the separate businesses of Coors ... and the 'technology' or nonbeer companies." "In addition," it was also reported in the Journal, "the company said it believes its technology companies will have greater access to capital after the spinoff than they have as part of the beer company. Many of the technology businesses are in the developmental stage, requiring significant infusions of capital ..." The distribution of shares in ACX Technologies, Inc. took place at the end of December to holders of Coors stock of record December 16, 1992.

At that time, Graphic Packaging Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of ACX Technologies, Inc. announced that it would move its corporate headquarters to a new larger facility, and in early 1993 moved to 955 Chesterbrook Boulevard in Chesterbrook. David H. Hofmann has been the president and chief executive officer of the firm since October of 1989.

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Thus the paper bag business that started in Devon in 1927 is still alive and well in Tredyffrin township. It now occupies a 220,000 square foot plant off Cedar Hollow Road and is part of a business, Graphic Packaging Corporation, which reported sales of nearly $200 million in 1991. The shares of its parent company, ACX Technologies, Inc., have been listed for trading on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation [NASDAQ] national market system.

Benjamin C. Betner would be pleased.



Adolph Coors Company, Information Statement furnished to holders of common stock re ACX Technologies, Inc. shares Dec. 9, 1992

Barnes, Florence W., "American Non-Gran Bronze Company", in the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. IX, No. 4 October 1957

Carnevalino, Ernest, Interview Nov. 10, 1992 [Mr. Carnevalino was a plant foreman at the Benjamin C. Betner Co. and later at Continental Can Co.]

Continental Can Co., "The Package Post" [employee publication, Plant 103, Paoli, Pa., Vol. 5, No. 3 December 1963 et seq.] from Mr. Carnevalino

Deed records in Chester County Court House, West Chester; Delaware County Court House, Media; Montgomery County Courth House, Norristown

Goshorn, Bob, "When the Fireworks Factory in Devon Blew Up", in the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. XVI, No. 3 Fall 1978

Keyser, Dr. Naaman H., et. al., History of Old Germantown. Germantown: Horace F. McCann, publishers 1907

Morison, Samuel Eliot and Commager, Henry Steele, The Growth of the American Republic, Vol. II, [4th Ed.] New York: Oxford University Press 1950

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Myers, James, Interview Nov. 24, 1992 [Mr. Myers is director of operations, Graphic Packaging Corporation, and formerly production control supervisor, Continental Can Co., and plant manager, Ludlow Corporation]

Newspaper clippings about Tredyffrin township business houses and Betner family from clipping file, Chester County Historical Society

Newspaper microfilm about- Royal and Betner families, Jacob C. Fisher, The Continental Group Co., and Ludlow Corporation in Free Library of Philadelphia, Data Base and Newspaper Center [esp. New York Times' 8/23/25, 5/7/32, 11/23/32, 10/23/47, 1/30/79, 2/10/79, 9/26/80, 8726781; Olney Times 8/4/50, 12/15/50; Philadelphia Inquirer 10/23/47, 2/2/51, 2/16/66; and Philadelphia City Directories 1901 through 1924]

Thomas M. Royal & Co., "In the Bag" [employee publication] Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1934 to Vol. 3, No. 4, November 1937 in files of the Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia

Suburban and Wayne Times, Obituary notice "Memorial Rites for B. C. Betner" 2/9/51; "Your Town and My Town" by Emma C. Patterson [story on Devon fireworks explosion] 3/14/52

Toll, Jean Barth and Schwager, Michael J. [eds.], Montgomery County: The Second Hundred Years Norristown: Montgomery County Federation of Historical Societies 1983

The writer acknowledges with thanks the contributions of Olyve Betner Chadwick, Ernest Carnevalino, and James Myers in this project and their kindness in reading the manuscript and offering valuable insight which enhanced the accuracy of the final product.


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