Beckett Papers History

Address:
Two Gateway Boulevard
East Granby, Connecticut 06026
U.S.A.

Telephone: (860) 844-2400
Fax: (860) 844-2552

Wholly Owned Division of Hammermill Paper Co.
Incorporated: 1887 as The Beckett Paper Company
Employees:500 (1994)
Sales:$70 million (1994 est.)
SICs: 2621 Paper Mills

Company Perspectives:

Sound principles of honesty and industriousness, and consideration for others, will always remain the true and only formula for success in the long term. These principles are our legacy from those who have gone before us, and we must try to insure that those to come will inherit them. The Beckett Paper Company today is strong and sound because it is imbued with these principles. May it ever be so.--William Beckett (1909-1990)

Company History:

With sales of less than $100 million, Beckett Papers is a rather small, yet distinctive, segment of the Fine Papers Division of Hammermill Paper Co., itself a subsidiary of $20 billion International Paper Co. Nevertheless, Beckett enjoys a long and distinguished heritage in the paper industry, stretching back 50 years earlier, in fact, than that of International Paper. Established in 1848, Beckett was controlled and managed by descendants of founder William Beckett until 1959, when it became a subsidiary of Hammermill Paper Co. Hammermill was in turn acquired by International Paper in 1984.

A well-established brand presence in the fine papers, stationery, and uncoated recycled stock segments enabled Beckett to retain its own identity and logo through the mid-1990s. But while its goods continued to be milled at the company's birthplace in Hamilton County, Ohio, its headquarters was moved to East Granby, New Jersey, along with the rest of International Papers' Fine Papers Group.

Mid-19th-Century Foundations

Beckett Papers was founded and eventually named for William Beckett. Born in 1821 and educated at southern Ohio's Miami University, Beckett, along with a couple of partners, bought into an abandoned paper mill in the town of Hamilton in 1848. At first, the mill churned out newsprint made of rags for sale to newspaper publishers in nearby Cincinnati. Though the mill struggled to stay in the black during its first two years, efficiencies achieved through the addition of a second paper making machine led to a decade-long period of profitability. The Civil War helped to lengthen this prosperous period, as newspaper sales skyrocketed, fueled by public hunger for news from the battlefields. These high times subsided during the late 19th century, when panics and recessions hurt the company's results.

Partners came and went over the course of the company's first four decades in operation, and the business endured several name changes before its incorporation as The Beckett Paper Company in 1887. By this time Thomas Beckett, son of the founder, had joined the company. The second-generation leader brought new production methods to the company, including modern paper making machines that used wood pulp. Though his changes were vehemently resisted by some managers, modernizations kept the company's costs competitive and eventually brought it out of the red. Thomas launched the Buckeye Cover brand of colored paper in 1894, a stock that soon gained a reputation for high quality. The buckeye, Ohio's state tree, would serve as Beckett's corporate logo for some 100 years, until the launch of a new logo in mid-1998.

Difficulties in Early 20th Century

The early years of the 20th century proved difficult for the company, due to economic fluctuations and natural disasters. The Panic of 1907 ushered in a multi-year economic depression. Just as the nation and the mill were emerging from that crisis, cities along the Great Miami River, including Dayton and Hamilton, were struck by the Great Flood of 1913. Though the Beckett mill was lost, it was rebuilt within six months--just in time for another recession.

World War I brought high demand and a period of profitability for the company, which carried it through the 1910s, such that the mill was even expanded in 1918. Before his death in 1928, Thomas Beckett shared his good fortune via the creation of an employee stock option plan, likely one of the first in the paper industry. He was succeeded as president by his eldest son, Minor, who had earned a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the family business in 1921. Tragedy forced a second transfer of power before the end of 1928, however. That year, Minor Beckett died unexpectedly. His mother, Thomas's wife Mary, assumed the presidency, an honorary post she held until 1947. Minor's cousin, Guy Beckett, son of Thomas's brother William, was also brought into the business at this time.

The mill operated under the general management of vice-president W. Verne Williams for two years. When Williams resigned in 1930, Guy Beckett advanced to the lead administrative post. Like the vast majority of businesses, Beckett encountered severe difficulties during the Great Depression. Though the company lost a customer constituting about 20 percent of sales during this period, it replaced that business and more with the production of Beckett Offset lithography paper. Upgrades of the physical plant brought efficiencies and productivity enhancements that were put to good use as the nation emerged from the financial crisis.

Beckett also diversified into greeting card and announcement stock during the 1930s. By the end of the decade, the company had expanded its branded lines to include text, offset, opaque, and cover stocks. The company supported these products with innovative marketing tools, including the Beckett Color Guide and the Beckett Color Finder. Perhaps most powerful was The Buckeye Book of Advertising and Printing, a reference compiled by Beckett advertising director Carl Richard Greer. According to a 1978 company history, this tome was "widely distributed throughout the graphic arts industry [and] it was considered a definitive textbook on the subject."

Postwar Era

Guy Beckett succeeded his aunt as president of Beckett Paper in 1947 and continued to hold that office through 1958. The company increased its production capacity by half in the immediate postwar era to accommodate a number of new product developments. Although Beckett was a relatively small player in the national paper making industry (it ranked 36th in the mid-1960s), it laid claim to a number of industry firsts, among them the 1954 launch of Beckett Hi-White, the first fluorescent white printing paper. Beckett also made several advances in the area of packaging and shipping, introducing corrugated and polyethylene-lined cartons as well as polyethylene wrap on skids. Improvements in products, production methods, and distribution helped increase Beckett's sales by some 160 percent during the postwar era.

Guy's cousin William advanced to the presidency in 1958. Born in 1909 of Thomas and Mary Beckett and named for the founder of the family business, William Beckett attended Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the family business in 1933. One of his first actions as president was to effect a merger with the Hammermill Paper Company through an equity exchange in 1959. The marriage provided Beckett with the financial backing necessary to launch a major capacity increase as well as more than a dozen new colored papers.

The printing industry's transition from letterpress or typographic printing to offset lithography in the late 1950s and early 1960s brought with it increased demand for Beckett's high-quality papers. As it had in the 1930s, trade advertising played an important role in the company's success during this period. Beckett targeted artists and designers, tailoring new papers with new finishes, textures, and colors to their demanding needs. From 1951 to 1966, sales nearly tripled.

Upon William Beckett's 1974 retirement, David L. Belew became the first non-family member to lead Beckett Paper. A former advertising agency executive, Belew had joined the company in 1960 and advanced through the advertising department. By the time Belew took the helm, Beckett was producing more than a dozen exclusive grades of paper in 120 different colors, including 13 whites. The company continued to introduce new lines during the 1970s and 1980s, including Cambric brand linen printing and writing papers as well as the Ridge and Enhance! lines. These papers were often used for embossed personal and business stationery.

Acquisition by International Paper in 1986

In 1986, Hammermill came under a hostile takeover attempt by a group of investors led by Paul Bilzerian. International Paper Co. entered the fray as a white knight, paying $1.1 billion to acquire the Pennsylvania-based company and its subsidiaries, including Beckett Paper. In fact, Alison Leigh Cowan of Business Week asserted that Beckett's high-quality, high-priced, and high-margin papers were among the key factors in the sale. The agreement came with several strings attached, among them the requirement that Hammermill endure as a separate business. This provision, in turn, helped sustain Beckett as a business entity.

David Belew advanced to the chairmanship of Beckett Paper in 1990 and was succeeded as president and general manager by John L. Throckmorton, Jr. In the years since becoming a part of the massive International Paper group, Beckett has become more of a brand than an operating entity. In 1997, it was subsumed into IP's Fine Papers Division, and Beckett's headquarters were moved to East Granby, Connecticut. By that time, Beckett encompassed seven grades of writing, text, and cover papers, including a variety of finishes from linen to "ultrasmooth" and matching envelopes in a broad range of colors. Having had a waste reclamation program in place since the 1970s, Beckett incorporated recycled fiber into all its products beginning in 1991, and all but the brightest whites in its lines were recycled by 1998.

With a heritage of more than 150 years of paper making behind its products, Beckett Papers has carved out a relatively small, yet profitable and vital niche in its corporate family as well as the paper industry. Backed by a new logo and a strong reputation, Beckett appeared poised to endure and celebrate its bicentennial.

Further Reading:

  • The Beckett Paper Company, 1843-1978: 125 Years of Fine Paper Making, Hamilton, Ohio: Beckett Paper Co., 1973.
  • Cowan, Alison Leigh, "International Paper Pays a Fancy Price for a Fancy Papermaker," Business Week, September 1, 1986, p. 69.
  • Greer, Carl Richard, What a Buckeye Cover Man Saw in Europe and at Home, Hamilton, Ohio: Beckett Paper Co., 1923.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 23. St. James Press, 1998.