Nearly from its beginning, Batavia was an industrial
city. Farm implement and windmill factories provided employment
for many. The first products manufactured in Batavia (flour, ice,
lumber, paper, stone) found markets in Chicago.
Batavia's significant industries are identified with
the following Categories. Click any category for the history and
involvement of companies from Batavia.
Ice harvesting was a necessary industry in the years before refrigeration.
Nearly every hamlet had its water source which, when frozen in the
winter, provided ice for summer use. Ice was harvested in two sizes,
one for the large ice boxes of meat markets, dairies, and saloons
and smaller ones for home use.
In Batavia, there were ice companies with storage houses on both
sides of the water, mostly along the pond where there was little
The first step in harvesting ice was to clear the snow. Then a
man with a horse-drawn marker marked the field both ways about twenty-four
inches apart. The marker was followed by a horse drawn plow with
a flat blade with coarse teeth on the bottom. Following the marks
made by the marker, the plow cut grooves in the ice to nearly its
full depth. If the field was small, a man with a hand saw cut the
Thickness of a block of ice might run anywhere from 8 to 28 inches,
depending on the temperature. Ice from 10 to 12 inches thick was
considered just right. Rarely was ice harvested less than eight
After the ice cakes were nearly separated by the plow or saw, men
with long-handled chisels pried the cakes loose. Other men guided
the chunks to the elevator where they were raised to the proper
level so that they could slide down to their proper place in the
increasing stockpile stored in the icehouse.
The blocks were stored one against the other with shavings packed
between the ice pile and the inside wall of the icehouse. The harvest
continued until the house was filled or the weather turned too warm.
Ice harvesting in Batavia ended in the late 1920s to early '30s
with the advent of refrigeration.
Top of Page
ARMAMENTS - Batavia
Metal Products Company
Batavia aided greatly in the production of war materials during
World War II. Foundries had big orders,
but the largest producer of armaments was the Batavia
Metal Products Company. It began in 1941 when brothers
Henry and Murray Garsson received a contract to produce 300,000
mortar shells for the military. In 1942, they acquired the U.
S. Wind Engine and Pump Company and later the Challenge
Company buildings in which to produce the shells. Within three
years, they formed the Batavia Metal Products Company and employed
Following the war, the company attempted to change from war to
commercial manufacturing. However, things fell apart in 1946 when
the War Department began looking at their books. The department
questioned the sort of profits the company paid out during the war.
It objected to the high salaries of the Garssons. They found that
the brothers had not invested a cent of their own money into companies
they now owned.
The brothers and some of their political associates were brought
to trial in Washington in May 1947. Three months later a jury found
them guilty of conspiracy to defraud the government and of war-bribery.
The brothers were sentenced to federal prison for a period of eight
months to two years.
In May 1948, Batavia Metal Products was declared insolvent. The
old buildings were sold. Three years later, the United States government
bought the property. In 1959, the old U. S. factory was sold to
Batavia Enterprises, Inc. In 1961, the new owners razed the buildings
to make way for the a shopping center.
Top of Page
The Campana Company began business in 1927. The imposing building
at the northwest corner of Fabyan Parkway and Rt. 31 was built to
house the Corporation in 1937. In it was manufactured the popular
product, Italian Balm, a hand lotion and a number of other feminine
products. During World War II, when Italy was an enemy of the United
States, Ernest Oswalt, the company's founder, changed the name of
his balm to Campana Balm after the Canadian doctor from whom he
had purchased the formula.
The unique Campana Building, designed by architects Frank D. Chase
and William James Smith, is an all-steel frame building with glass
blocks and bricks used extensively in the design. Inside the lobby
are Deco bathing ladies that can be seen through the second-level
windows. The Campana Tower is a landmark in the valley and encases
a 45,000 gallon water tank used for water circulation for air conditioning
and fire sprinklers.
In June 1962, Campana Corporation became a member of the Purex
Corporation of California, a subsidiary of Allied Laboratories.
In 1960, Allied merged with Dow Chemical Company. The company's
products continued to be made in Batavia until operations were eventually
moved to other facilities out of state.
Ernest Oswalt was one of the first entrepreneurs to see the value
of media advertising. He used newspapers, magazines, billboards,
and radio to get his message out. Oswalt hired Florence Ward, a
fiction writer who lived in Batavia, to write radio scripts for
the company's famous "First Nighter" radio program. Italian Balm
was introduced nationally through this show. The program was a fixture
on radio in American homes for twenty-two years.
Top of Page
The enterprising VanNortwicks
added paper making to their other ventures. In the last quarter
of the 19th Century, it was a major industry in Batavia.
John VanNortwick bought a structure of cut stone covering
30,760 square feet that had been built in 1851 on Water Street between
First and Main by the Fox River Manufacturing Co. to construct box
The company made very little rolling stock. Because
of their location, it was necessary for them to haul finished cars
pulled by horses half a mile uphill to the Chicago,
Burlington and Quincy Railroad tracks. The idea was so impractical
that the plant was closed.
Howland and Company bought the property and started
a paper mill which they in turn sold to the Chicago Fiber and Paper
Company. In less than a year, the company was bankrupt. In 1870,
the Van Nortwicks bought it and turned it into a viable industry.
The mills were equipped with the latest machinery.
In addition to the waterpower from the Fox River, it had a complete
steam engine plant so that the mills could be operated by steam
alone when necessary.
For many years the company furnished all the paper
used by the Chicago Tribune.
Eventually, it turned to the production of manila
paper and acquired the Western Paper Bag Company. This concern turned
out 2,000,000 bags of every kind daily. Some sources say that the
flat-bottomed bag was developed in this factory.
The company closed in the late 1890s. The buildings
occupied by the paper mill are now owned by Batavia Enterprises
and occupied by various businesses. In the former bag factory are
the bowling alley, a tavern, and a wellness center.
Top of Page
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory was dedicated
on May 15, 1974. This is one of the most significant events in the
history of Batavia. It placed Batavia on the worldwide map. Many
scientific discoveries in the field of particle physics have been
made at the lab and which have brought people from all parts of
the world to Batavia to study and do research.