From Ohio History Central
Ohio Columbus Barber founded the Barber Match Company, an important Ohio business during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries.
Barber was born on April 20, 1841, in Middlebury, Ohio. In 1847, Barber's father began a match company inside of his barn. In 1857, O.C. Barber left school and spent the next five years traveling across Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, selling his father's matches. In 1862, Barber assumed control of the entire business and, in 1864, formed the Barber Match Company.
The Barber Match Company grew quickly. In 1881, it united together with several other match producers to create the Diamond Match Company. O.C. Barber served as the company's first vice-president and became president in 1888. While serving as president, Barber moved the Diamond Match Company's manufacturing operations from Akron, Ohio, to Barberton, Ohio, a community built in the early 1890s exclusively to house some of Barber's manufacturing companies. By the early 1900s, the Diamond Match Company produced eighty-five percent of the matches in the United States. It had plants in the United States, Europe, and South America.
While Barber had helped Akron and Barberton to grow into important industrial centers, many people, especially his workers, did not have a favorable view of the industrialist. Barber, like many other industrialists during this period, was known to pay his workers pitiful wages. Grown men only earned $1.21 per day; women earned seventy-seven cents; and children earned sixty-six cents. All employees worked eleven-hour days. Workers also commonly became ill from phosphorous necrosis, a disease caused by the inhalation of phosphorous, one of the primary ingredients in matches. The disease caused workers' jaw cartilage to deteriorate, leaving them with difficulty in eating and speaking. It also left them hopelessly disfigured. In the first decade of the 1900s, the Diamond Match Company succeeded in producing phosphorous-free matches. Barber patented the process in the United States in 1910, but in 1911, he shared it with other competitors to improve working conditions for all match producers.
Barber remained as president of the Diamond Match Company until 1909, when he retired from overseeing the company's day-to-day operations and became the chairman of the board of directors. He spent the last several years of his life assisting his community. Barber provided money to build and equip the Akron City Hospital in 1904. He also helped establish the Akron Chamber of Commerce in 1906. He died on February 4, 1920, leaving his sizable quantity of real estate to Western Reserve College. Unfortunately, the Barber estate was heavily in debt, and the property was sold to pay off some of the creditors.