Excerpted from The Chronicle, Vol. X no. 1, March 1957
by Laurence A. Johnson
The pictures used in this article are from Mr. W. H. Murphy’s catalogue, entitled “CATALOGUE containing cuts of the Special Barrel Machinery used in the Murphy Patent Paper Barrel, office: 65 South Salina Street, Syracuse, N. Y.”
This interesting glimpse into our industrial past happened last spring when Mr. Raymond LeCasse, a nephew of Mr. Murphy, presented a thirty page catalogue to Mr. Richard Wright, president of the Onondaga County Historical Association, Syracuse, N. Y. According to the catalogue Mr. Murphy not only advertised the barrels he manufactured but also advertised the machinery on which he held four patents.
Mr. Wright, after a Iittle researching found in the March 25, 1880 issue of the Syracuse Courier this item:
The Fayetteville Recorder says: “A stock company has been formed in Syracuse for the manufacture of paper barrels at High Bridge. The large building erected there for a similar purpose two years ago has been purchased, and operations will commence as soon as some improvements can be made on the structure and the necessary machinery placed therein. The capital stock of the company has been placed at $90,000 and the following well known names among the stockholders is an assurance that neither capital nor business talent will be lacking for the prosecution of the business: Hon. Charles D. Sedwick, S. A. Seager, A. A. Howlett and A. F. Holden. The establishment of this manufactory at High Bridge will be a valuable acquisition to the business interests of this vicinity.” A later article in the same paper of May 3, 1880, stated that the company had begun operations.
Both High Bridge and Fayetteville are about seven and eight miles east of Syracuse respectively.
“Mr. W. H. Murphy six years ago set about inventing this much desired package and the machinery necessary for its manufacture and finally has been crowned with success.” “We are now able to say to the public that we have overcome every obstacle in the way of Paper Barrels from straw pulp, in that it commends itself to merchants, millers, and shippers of all dry substances. This barrel has many advantages over the ordinary wooden barrel, being one third lighter, it costs less to manufacture and can be shipped knock-down shape (see cut) two thousand being a carload ( against three hundred being a carload of wooden barrels), they are easily set up, no skilled labor required to perform this part of the work. Again they are perfectly tight, thereby losing none of their contents in transit from one point to another, they are not subject to swell or shrink from the most extreme weather (as in the case with the wooden barrel), they are perfectly non-conductors of heat or cold. Flour kept in the Murphy Patent Paper Barrel will not become wormy in any length of time, as there is nothing to breed worms in Straw Paper, the germ of the worm being secreted in wood”. “This barrel saves a large percentage in cooperage compared with the wooden barrel. The Murphy Patent Paper Barrel has been thoroughly tested for flour, sugar, lard, etc, and in every instance has been pronounced the king of barrels. In short the Murphy Patent Paper Barrel has all the advantages of wood and will stand the test of its superiority over all other packages for any purpose it is intended for. The barrel is covered by four Letters Patent, to say nothing of the special machinery invented for its production which makes the enterprise started a monopoly.”
Just how successful and for how long the Murphy company was in business is not definitely known. Some say about two years, others that Mr. Murphy tried without any known success in selling barrel making machinery to others so that they too could enjoy the monopoly he mentions in his catalogue. The four named were respected business men of the community, Mr. Howlett being president of the Salt Springs National Bank at the time. That there was a large quantity of machinery is verified by Mr. Edwin Eastman of Syracuse, who helped remove this machinery when the building was taken over for the manufacture of meat blocks.
These barrels may be seen by visitors to the Anondaga County Historical Association Museum, 311 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, N. Y. This glimpse into the past, points up that even seventy-five years ago, some were thinking of a time when there might be a shortage of lumber.
The Fayetteville, N. Y. weekly paper “The Eagle Bulletin” volunteered to assist Mr. Wright and ran a story about the old barrel factory, in which they asked their readers if they knew if any of these strawboard barrels were still in existence. As the result of this article Mrs. Ollie Clemon of nearby Manlius donated two of these old strawboard barrels to the Ononadaga Historical Association Museum. Mrs. Clemon said that her father was an employee of the old Murphy company and the barrels had been in her family for seventy-five years. She had been using them like trunks, for storing blankets and bedding.
The Historical Association found these barrels in fine condition. They were made from strawboard, moulded into halves and joined together with matching staves and wooden hoops. They measured thirty one inches high and sixty-four and one half inches around the middle. Imprinted on the barrel heads are dates of two of the patents, March 25, 1876 and October 10, 1876.
From another source came two wire forms that were used for making the segments, and the donor of the catalogue. Mr. LaCasse, found in his attic and donated to the cause a small sample barrel complete with head. This little barrel was used as a salesman’s sample.
Three of the fourteen plates from this beautifully illustrated catalogue are shown in this article, the other plates are of machinery used in the manufacturing of the barrels. Some of the lengthy copy in the catalogue reads: “… It is with pleasure we present this catalogue to the public, as it contains (in part) the cuts of the machinery necessary for the manufacture of the Murphy Patent Paper Barrel, we desire to give a brief history of the paper barrel from its infancy to its maturity.”
“The first Paper Barrel made that we have any knowledge of was of cylindrical form, or a straight barrel, this type of barrel proved a failure for many reasons: First, its costs of production; second, weakness of lack of strength; again, the difficulty in handling … ” The catalogue continues: ” … The consumer of barrels often said if a Paper Barrel could be produced with a bilge at a low cost of manufacture, it would be just what they wanted.”
Editor’s note: I found two U.S. patents issued to W.H. Murphy for “barrel” – #175,138 (March 21, 1876) and #195,634 (Sept. 25, 1877). You can click on the patent number to download them.