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Though Barberton quickly grew to become a bustling town, hopes for a stable industrial base were somewhat delayed by economic woes. The handful of companies that had relocated to the village after its founding fell short of the town’s potential to become an important industrial center. Amidst the Panic of 1893, O.C. Barber made plans for the relocation of his successful Akron match company to the newly established village. In 1894, the plant came to Barberton and proved an important part of the city’s early success, helping to ensure Barberton’s industrial future and becoming one of the city’s largest employers.
Early in his career, Barber showed an aptitude for sales and an understanding of the business world that would serve him well in both his personal and professional life. As a young man, Barber quit school to work fulltime at the family match business. After several successful years in sales he became partner and led the company to new means of mechanization and greater production. When Barber took control of the company after his father’s retirement, he continued to pursue new advancements in technology and eventually became the driving force behind the incorporation of 28 formerly competing match companies consolidated to form the Diamond Match Company.
When Barber relocated his business to Barberton, the plant included over 30 match-making machines and used 50,000 feet of lumber each day. In 1905, a new larger factory was built that doubled production capacity and employed more people in Barberton than any other company. Although advancements had been made in the field, match making remained a hazardous business. Prolonged exposure to dangerous levels of phosphorus often led to the development of phosphorus necrosis. “Phossy jaw,” as it was known, caused painful facial ulcers and in extreme cases the rotting away of the jaw bone. Diamond Match eventually incorporated a new material into their manufacturing process that eliminated the need for poisonous phosphorus. In 1911, the company released patent rights for the method, helping to bring about an end to phosphorus necrosis in the match industry.
In 1909, Barber retired as president of Diamond Match, though he remained honorary chairman of the board for years to come. Two years after his death, the match factory was the site of one of the worst explosions in Barberton history. In June 1922, a series of three blasts broke every window in the plant and blew the roof off a nearby Babcock & Wilcox building. Though the first explosion caused minimal damage, it served as a warning for workers to evacuate the building. At least 8 people were injured, one of whom was a local fireman who later died of his injuries. The explosion served as a reminder of the dangers associated with the match-making industry.
The plant reportedly reached peak production during World War II, though numbers declined in the years to follow. After 66 years in Barberton, the plant closed in 1959. In operation under the Diamond Gardner Corporation at the time of its closing, the plant’s owners stated that the factory and foundry had been generating losses for several years. At the time, the company employed over 300 workers.