FINNISH HERITAGE MUSEUM of Fairport Harbor,Ohio USA  
"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
Diamond Alkali page

FHM'S TRIBUTE TO THE DIAMOND ALKALI COMPANY

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DIAMOND ALKALI IS  OCTOBER'S FEATURED DISPLAY AT FHM

   Two of the Finnish Heritage Museum’s latest displays have concerned local industries. 
Presently FHM is commemorating the former Diamond Alkali Corporation, which had its roots in the Painesville-Fairport area in 1910.  It started as a glass industry subsidiary supplying soda ash, which is a major component.  Growing vigorously, the company developed into a local industrial giant employing thousands until a combination of problems closed its doors in 1976.  That closing resounded throughout Fairport as well as all of Northeast Ohio, with a roundhouse punch to the tax base.  Even Harding High’s school newspaper summed it up with the headline:  “Diamond’s Glitter Gone!”  Renamed, Diamond’s corporate headquarters stayed in Cleveland as Maxus Energy Dorporation until 1979 when it moved to Dallas, Texas. By 1987 it had split ties with Maxus Energy Corporation an was once again Diamond Shamrock. 

FHM has on display Jack Saari’s three lunch pails, which tell of the many faithful years of service he and many other workers dedicated to the Diamond.  Many served 40+ years of their lives, being recognized with a gift of a gold watch.  A large table model depicting the layout of the entire complex is featured in the main gallery.  It is historically important since that entire site has been razed. Other artifacts, including copies of the company monthly newsletter, the “Alkalines” are on display.

T.R. Evans, one of its founders, originally chose Painesville as the site for the chemical industry.  Three important items: salt found 2000 feet below Lake Erie, the ample water supply of the lake, and the local railroad and water transportation which facilitated the transporting of coal from West Virginia, and the limestone from Michigan enabled the manufacture of three products for health, safety, and comfort.  These basic alkalis: soda ash, caustic soda, and bicarbonate of soda were integral ingredients in many consumer items.  New products were added and by 1960, over 1400 chemical commodities were in the Diamond line.  

Nearly every Fairport male was employed at the Diamond, providing the income for most families.  Women were also employed in office and custodial roles.  Many college age students were summer employees, enabling young men to earn college funds. During the depression years of 1929-1939 the industry kept working a shorter workweek, providing an opportunity for families to survive the great debacle of that time.During World War II, the Diamond made magnesium oxide for the incendiary bombs.  A fire retardant, chloromax, was developed at this time also.

Donald Cleary, a former supervisor at the Diamond, made a presentation of the history of this bread and butter industry of Fairport at the monthly meeting, complete with a digital slide show. He told Diamond’s story and explained that the area is being developed into a recreational site that will have a golf course and hotel accommodations.

September’s display featured the local fishing industry on Lake Erie.  In conjunction with The Lake County Visitor’s Bureau’s Lake Erie “PerchFest” both drew many visitors to the Fairport area.  Among those guests were Harding High School alumnae of 1958 who were celebrating their 50th year anniversary.  They gathered at Harding High School and at the local Community Day celebration in Veterans Park.  Many who had traveled great distances had much to discuss after 50 years.  Many of the Finn classmates kept the conversations flowing at the FHM coffee shop as former classmates greeted one another.

 

Text © by Elaine Lillback, Photos © By Lasse O. Hiltunen.

 

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