Batavia Historical Society ...  
Depot Museum
Lower Display Area

Early Photos
of Batavia Businesses

Machine Shop

Newton Wagon Co.

U. S. Wind Engine
& Pump Company

evening at the Fountain

Windmill models
available in the
Depot Museum
gift shop

Campana Company
Sorry Folks,
Campana Balm is no longer produced. We believe this product was discontinued in the early 1960's


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 current.

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 ice.

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 inches thick.

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.

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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 800 men.

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.

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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.

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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 cars.

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.

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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.


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