Dave Petersen History Columnist. Basket Making, an important local product Another business and product of the past that was manufactured locally was the humble basket. We take our paper and plastic bags for granted these days when we go to the store, often bagging and boxing our own groceries. In years past though basket making was big business in Mason County. In 1905 the Ludington Basket works located on South Washington Avenue near the Fourth Ward Bridge employed about 150 people which in any time would make it a major manufacturing enterprise. Quoted here from an 1895 promotional for Ludington is more about the Basket Works. "This institution under the able management of Mr. W. A. Wheatley, now occupies a large and commodious plant and has grown to be one of the most flourishing and successful enterprises in the city. The special advantages for success in this particular type of manufacturing, which the location possesses, by reason of its being surrounded by an immense and never failing supply of fruit of the highest grade to be found in the Northwest, have enabled the pluck, energy and foresight of the managers of this concern to surmount all the obstacles interposed by the panic and general depressed business conditions and make it a flattering success. And although the conditions of location have been most favorable, the thorough knowledge of what the trade wanted, the kind of packages best suited to the kind of fruits raised here, and the determined policy of the institution to fill its orders with promptness and dispatch, have all conspired to push them to the front among all manufacturers in that line along this shore. Their make of peach baskets is said to be very durable and most satisfactory to their customers; their strawberry boxes go on the market without the least indication of hurry and negligence in their make-up, while their other packages, crates, etc., bear a reputation not surpassed by any factory in existence. The Company now employs about 150 hands." Another basket company founded by Hiram Herrick also was well known in Mason County, some of their baskets are most likely still in the back rooms and pantries of local homes having been hauled home in the days when there were several grocery stores in the City and maybe you remember Saputo's Fruit Market on South James St. Quoted here from the Pere Marquette Township Sesquicentennial History Book "Pere Marquette Remembers" 2006 is part of the section on the Basket Factory. "The Basket Factory" was located on the south side of US 10 on property now occupied by Standard Lumber Company, Green Ridge Realty, Adventure Island, and the Days Inn. Officially, the company name was the Hiram F. Herrick Fruit and Vegetable Factory. The basket factory was owned by Hiram and Gladys Herrick. They purchased the 80 acre farm and opened the business in May of 1925. Gladys made cottage cheese, grew green onions and paid for the farm in three years. The farm had a cow barn facing US 10. Hiram started making strawberry boxes and potato crates in his house. As the business grew, he moved the cows out of the barn and moved the business out of the house. Over the years, the Herricks added more machines and more buildings. Equipment included a veneer lathe, two shingle saws, sawmill, planers and dyes. In the 1930s, there were approximately 38 basket factories in Michigan. Before cardboard, plastic and paper bags took over the packaging industry, fruits and vegetables were packed in sturdy, wooden baskets made of veneer strips peeled from Michigan logs. The Herrick basket factory produced bushel and half bushel baskets, pint raspberry and quart strawberry baskets, 4 quart oval peach baskets, 12 quart oval tomato baskets, plus the various sized crates to hold the baskets. Timber for the operation was harvested from the Herrick's lands - approximately 800 acres located in all but two of Mason County's townships. As logs were harvested, they replanted the land. Trees used in the operation included elm, maple, poplar, basswood and other species. Cottonwood was also hauled in from the Bay City area. Some types of wood had to be kept wet to allow for better cutting and some types needed to be steamed. To begin the process, logs were put through the veneer lathe, which could cut the veneer from 1/16" to 3/8" thick and up to six feet long. The veneer was cut into staves on a chopper table, and then nailed into a web consisting of 16 staves. Workers could then form them in a basket machine and staple with four hoops to hold the shape of a bushel basket. The baskets were spread out like building blocks to dry. The Basket Factory could produce 80 to 100 dozen bushel baskets in a day. In the 1950s a bushel basket would sell for $.25 to $.30 each. " If you have any stories or photographs you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at anytime. 757-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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