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Posts Tagged ‘barrels in history’

Stainless Steel: A Brief History

July 23rd, 2015 by Natalie Mueller

Filed under: Industry News

By definition, stainless steel is a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5% chromium content by mass. It is stainless steel’s chromium content that differentiates it from carbon steel and provides the corrosion, rust and stain-resistant properties we have grown accustomed to for storing and shipping various materials. In the proper quantities, chromium forms a film of chromium oxide, protecting the surface and internal structure of the steel from corrosion.

The magical corrosion resistance of chromium can be traced back to 1821 when French metallurgist, Pierre Berthier, noted iron-chromium alloys resistance to some acids and suggested the alloys should be used in the construction of cutlery. Unfortunately for 19th century people and their cutlery, it was too difficult to produce the level of carbon to chromium found in today’s stainless steel. These early alloys were exciting and new, but a bit on the brittle side until the late 1890s when German chemist, Hans Goldschmidt, made his discovery. Goldschmidt developed a process for producing carbon-free chromium.

Goldschmidt’s development set several researchers down the path to alloys that, by today’s standards, would qualify as stainless steel. Year after year, more researchers and scientists developed more different high-chromium alloys and reported new properties and benefits to this ‘stain-less steel.’ It was patented, industrialized and, by the time the Great Depression hit, was being manufactured, utilized and sold en mass in the United States.

Early researchers were right to get excited by this new steel. It’s high resistance to oxidization, acids, weak bases, organics, rust and stains paired with it’s low conductivity and easy sanitation has made it an ideal material for numerous applications including, but not limited to, the containment, transport and storage of food and beverages, hazardous materials and more. At Skolnik Industries, stainless steel barrels aren’t just corrosive resistant and antibacterial, they are also made thicker and stronger than industry standards. And, because stainless steel isn’t porous or absorbent, a Skolnik stainless steel barrel may be used multiple times after proper cleaning.

I doubt Berthier knew what he had stumbled upon two centuries ago, but on behalf of Skolnik and all of our partners, we’re very grateful for the developments his curiosity set in motion.

The Fall of Early Barrel Cooperatives in Minnesota [Part 3 of 3]

March 5th, 2015 by Natalie Mueller

Filed under: Cool Stuff

The mechanization of the barrel-making industry

The mechanization of the barrel-making industry

Despite their success, cooper cooperatives still had to manage the market and all of its instabilities. Bidding was competitive, big ‘boss’ coopers were constantly lowering prices to undercut cooperatives and cutting wages driving coopers to strike, and Rockefeller had introduced barrel-making machinery.

While cooperatives excluded machinery from their operations for as long as possible, boss coopers adopted the mechanized barrel-makers, increased production and eventually created an oversupply of barrels.

At this point, nearly all of Minneapolis’ coopers had enrolled in the Knights of Labor. This union of cooperative coopers and big shop coopers lead to a few triumphs over long-standing disagreements and a new strategy to improve wages. They negotiated a new price per barrel with millers, but still had to negotiate their inter-cooper relationships. Big shops were the cooperative’s competition, but the coopers working for big shops were union brothers. Striking coopers needed cooperatives to refrain from taking their big shop’s contracts during a strike, or else their strike would fail. Also, cooperators needed those strikes to succeed and drive up prices at big shops forcing millers to pay more for barrels no matter who was making them.

It was a constant tightrope and many shops, cooperative and otherwise, were rumored to break their price agreement with the millers in order to win more business. Between these tensions, the mechanization of the trade and growing exports of wheat, the market was a rollercoaster.

Eventually, after a detrimental price decline and massive strike, The Knights of Labor and the barrel makers of Minneapolis (coops and big shops) formed a pool of barrel factories called the Coopers Association to divide the work evenly among shops, limit employment, and regulate barrel price and wages. But the association had many critics. Many millers saw it as a monopoly and a few dissenting cooperatives saw it as an opportunity to crush the competition. Curtis and Bachelder’s own The North Star not only didn’t join, but undermined the association by stealing contracts for their own profit.

Distrust and resentment rose among the ranks of coopers. Ultimately, the Cooper Association could not maintain control over the barrel market and tensions between the Knights and the North Star were often mediated but never resolved. Between these strains and some cooperators destructive independence, the Minneapolis barrel industry highlighted the weaknesses of a cooperative philosophy. Their agreed-upon rules fell by the wayside, the number of activists in the Knights of Labor diminished and the labor movement was weakened.

It was a long, slow road to the end of cooperative barrel shops in Minneapolis. Market pressures convinced cooperators to reduce membership, buy out shareholders and hire nonmembers to run machines in their place. They undermined the craft. Curtis, once one of the most prominent and vigorous labor activists and a champion of cooperative experiments, abandoned the cooperative cause to become a patrol driver in the police department. Bachelder remained a member of the North Star and saw it prosper, but his firm’s success was largely to blame for the disintegration of cooperation among barrel makers.

Yet for a few years in the 1880s, the vision of cooperation thrived and the cooperative coopers of Minneapolis dominated an industry and served as a champion of craft workers.


If you missed the beginning of our series on Minnesota barrel cooperatives, you can read part one here and part two here.

Rising Success of Early Minnesota Barrel Cooperatives [Part 2 of 3]

February 5th, 2015 by Natalie Mueller

Filed under: Cool Stuff

Our pioneers in barrel cooperatives, Chauncy W. Curtis and Francis L. Bachelder, were both drawn to the concept of cooperative production to support their families. Cooperatives offered a level of stability that couldn’t be matched by regular factory employment. After previous failures, they needed this cooperative to work—for their families, their field and the future of the cooperative ideal.

Their new shop, the Cooperative Barrel Manufacturing Company, was modest, but threatening enough to attract hostility from the competition. Larger shops attempted to push millers away from using the cooperative, but the millers didn’t see the small worker-owned business as a threat to capitalist order or their success as an individual mill.

Charles A. Pillsbury

Charles A. Pillsbury, champion of the cooperative cause

As many liberal reformers praised the virtues of cooperatives, one of Minneapolis’ leading new millers, Charles A. Pillsbury, entrusted the Cooperative Barrel Manufacturing Company with the supply of an entire mill. The cooperative flourished, outgrowing its original location and membership, surviving the economic depression of the 1870s, and making the dream of cooperative work a functioning reality.

From 1877 to 1886, ten new cooperative barrel factories opened, one, The North Star Barrel Manufacturing Company, was spearheaded by the already successful Bachelder and later joined by Curtis. By 1886, cooperatives dominated the city’s barrel industry, they proved to reformers that cooperative industries were a viable alternative to the competitive capitalist system.

All cooperatives weren’t anti-competition, some emphasized the greater good of their community while others focused on the success of their firm as an individual. Regardless of their ideas of success, all Minneapolis cooperators seemed to agree on one thing: democracy.

Rules that governed daily operations and behavior were democratically voted on and aimed to ensure equity and fairness across the board. Cooperators could not rent out their space or profit from the labor of others, the power of the foreman was severely limited and inspectors had to present a thorough case and convince two-thirds of membership if he felt a cooper should be fired for inferior workmanship.

The barrel cooperatives had created a booming business, a democracy and an entire community built around their shops and homes. They had parades and festivals, they opened cooperative merchant stores, and optimism ran high among laborers everywhere.


If you missed part one of the Minnesota barrel cooperative story, read it here.