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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Match Maker William Ballard Shone Bright In County

Dallas Bogan on 6 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

One of Red Lion's and Warren County's most distinguished and prosperous citizens was the match manufacturer, William H. Ballard. He was not always in this capacity, for when he first moved to the area, in 1840, he was considered a poor man.
He moved with his wife, Melissa (Brown) Ballard, and two sons, George, aged two, and Lewis, aged four months, to the area of Red Lion with just the bare necessities. Of the family's possessions included one bed, a few household goods and $1.25 in cash. The money was soon spent for medicine to cure his wife of the ague. His first work performed in the area was cutting corn at 50 cents per day.
William Ballard was born in Pomfret, Ct., July 1, 1817, the son of Jesse and Thankful (Warren) Ballard. (She was a native of Vermont, but as a youngster was taken by her parents to live at Georgetown, Madison Co., N.Y. She was an offspring of the famed Warrens of Bunker Hill fame.) When but three years old William moved with his parents to DeRuyter, Madison Co., N.Y.
The Ballard's first home in Red Lion was a log cabin next to the Methodist graveyard. It had a single room with an enclosed loft. Their table was a hinged board clinging to the wall where the adults sat, while the children sat on boxes in front of the fireplace. Later a kitchen was added which adequately suited the household.
Ballard was appointed postmaster in 1846, a post he held for forty years. As a result of this new position, he purchased a small reserve of groceries and other merchandise. Mrs. Ballard, assuming her duties as wife of the new postmaster, worked in the post office as well as tending to her family chores.
Equipped with nothing but a knife and a small amount of combustible compound, which he brought with him from the East, Ballard began making matches by hand in Red Lion immediately after residency. These were the first matches manufactured west of the Alleghenies.
He traveled by foot at first peddling his hand-made matches. In the spring of 1845, he went in debt and bought an old horse and wagon for $18. This additional purchase allowed him to extend his sales beyond the immediate area. When the note came due he was fortunately able to pay it off.
He later bought an old building adjacent to his home that he refurbished into a match factory.
White pine trees were abundant and were, because of the softness of the wood, used for match manufacturing purposes. Sometimes other woods were used, none of which were considered expensive. On one occasion Ballard walked four miles to the Shaker's mill and purchased a large pine slab, which he shouldered, back to Red Lion. This substantially furnished enough wood for his factory for a spell.
Ballard's procedure for making matches was that slabs of wood were hauled to the factory, cut into pieces two inches square, and put into the drying room for several months.
After the drying process, a piece of continual paper was pasted to one of the flat sides and the wood was cut into strips the thickness of the match. The block was then turned and cut the other way, thus forming the sticks in the blocks.
The next step was dipping the blocks into melted brimstone. This process was done by hand, allowed to dry, and then dipped into what was called "Snap Liquid," in which Ballard was the inventor.
(His son, George, was experimenting one day with an unexplored technique for making Snap Matches when the liquid exploded, burning his hands considerably. The physical results were tragic, but he succeeded in making the first Snap Match.)
Ballard invented an apparatus that would split the blocks into matchsticks, adding improvements as needed.
Afterwards he installed an engine and boiler. His belief was that such inventions would serve all mankind and, unfortunately, patent applications were not requested. Shortly thereafter, other manufacturers of matches began to copy his machinery and process.
A label, with the picture of a Red Lion pasted on each box, was the company seal. It was supposed that the emblems, which were printed in Ballard's shop, were copied from the sign on the Red Lion Inn.
Mostly locals were employed in the factory, but occasionally advertisements were placed in the Middletown and Cincinnati newspapers for help. Young ladies did most of the dipping, pasting of labels, etc. Some of their names in 1870 were Mary Mosgrove, Rachel McCurdy, and a German girl they called Germany Mollie.
In one single year, in 1853, 2,328 grosses of matches were manufactured and sold by the company.
As a result of the Civil War the government placed a tax of $1.44 per gross on matches, thus making them too expensive for the market and temporarily forcing Ballard to cease his operation.
With the war ending in 1865, he again began production, which lasted until about 1880.
A farm bell was purchased in 1860 and shortly thereafter a bell tower was built. Mrs. Ballard rang the bell morning, noon and evening, signaling work and quitting times. She was so efficient with her timing that neighbors near and far would set their clocks by the sound of the bell.
They completely remodeled their factory in 1869 and settled in.
Rufus Taylor was one of the men employed in the factory, and was also an operator of one of the peddler's wagon. He was mustered out of the war in September 1864 and moved to Red Lion. He resided with the Ballard's for a spell until he married Mary Gustin. The Taylor family moved to Franklin and he was later employed as a nurse at the Soldier's Home in Dayton.
William Post worked at the factory and received $10.00 per month, plus board and laundry. He later worked for T.S. McClure and then lived at the Soldier's Home.
Other employees were Lewis McCurdy, John Blake, Frank Hodgen, John Banta, John Ward, Phillip Gustin, Jacob Fry, Gilbert Lewis and S. Creager.
The 1860's and '70's were good ones, except for the Civil War period. Wagons of matches were transported to all parts of the Miami Valley and beyond. Xenia, Springfield, Dayton, Hamilton, Middletown, Eaton, Richmond, In.; Ft. Ancient, Morrow, Lebanon and Franklin were all towns that were frequented by the match wagons.
Matches were not the only products that were distributed on the wagons. Ink powders, soluble blue washing fluid, stove blacking (called Black Prince and manufactured by Thomas and Schenck of Franklin), and other miscellaneous products were sold.
Items such as rags, paper, glass, wool and iron were bought and separated in the sorting room. The rags were sent to the Middletown market, the iron to either Middletown or Miamisburg, the other items often being transported to Cincinnati. The wagons sometimes returned with lumber and other match making supplies.
Ballard and S.S. Young, of Eaton, were working in the real estate and rental business in Cincinnati in 1864 and early 1865. Ballard almost always returned home to Red Lion on the weekends.
While in the Queen City he would often transact business for the locals. He made one trip with J.F. Tilton who was taking a load of potatoes to the market. David Kellenberger frequently made the trip with Ballard, returning home with a load of lumber, a barrel of brimstone and one of phosphorus for the match factory.
A small monthly newspaper was for several years printed and published by Ballard. Reasoning for this publication was his advertising of the many saleable items on his wagon. In the April 1874 issue, he argues against the stamp tax on matches; he tells of his Notary Public expertise; and relates the news of the day.
He also publicizes his clock repair skills, a service he provided for the locals. Ballard traveled to the home of Joseph Decker, repaired his clock and, it being Sunday, he would take no pay. The next day Decker presented him with a two-pound cake of maple sugar as compensation.
After the closing of the Red Lion Inn the Ballards provided a stopover for the area frequenters. Rooms and meals were provided to these individuals who were mostly huckster-type dealers.
On March 11, 1868, a man delivering Warren County maps spent the night, paying 50 cents for his dinner and feed for his horse.
A woman peddler was selling hair-restorer. One peddler paid $1.00 in cash and fifty cents in tinware for his lodging. A man buying hogs paid 50 cents for his dinner and feed for his horse.
An old man, walking from Ross County to his home in Oxford, spent the night. He said he was traveling for the purpose of voting against Vallandigham.
After the match manufacturing days were over, the building was divided into living quarters, primarily rental apartments. Ballard himself lived in one of the four rooms from 1885 until his death in 1892.
Ballard was self-taught in the ways of education. He studied law under the guidance of J. Milton Williams of Lebanon. His practice included that of clients who had claims in settling their estates, drawing up wills and deeds, and many who consulted him in regard to their rights. He served as Notary Public and Justice of the Peace in Red Lion for many years. His fee for drawing up a will was $1.00, and for a deed, $1.25.
And so chronicles the story of another Warren Countian, one who arrived in this county as a mere occupant, and wound up as one of its finest citizens.

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This page created 6 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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