Title Reviewed:
An Economic History of the Indiana Oolitic Limestone Industry

Author Reviewed:
Joseph A. Batchelor

Max P. Allen


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 389-393

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

An Economic History of the Indiana Oolitic Limestone Industry. By Joseph A. Batchelor. Indiana Business Studies, No. 27. (Bloomington: The School of Business, Indiana University, 1944, pp. xii, 382. $3.50.)

Professor Batchelor's study "is the product of the cooperation of two century-old neighbors-Indiana University and the Indiana limestone industry." It presents an over-all delineation of the interaction of the diversity of problems that have marked the life of the latter. Hence it is primarily an economic treatise, rather than either a biography of an industry or a history. It is written in narrative style, however, and from a historical viewpoint. Professor Batchelor divides his account into five chronological periods, each of which is subdivided into a topical treatment of the major problems.

Many of the distinguishing qualities of American industry are revealed in miniature by a study of Indiana oolitic limestone, found principally in Lawrence and Monroe counties. "Illustrations are afforded of such features as financial manipulations, railway rebates, the impact of technological innovations," and a wide variety of labor problems and developments. The author likewise points out that this Hoosier industry has been characterized by instability, overcapacity, price wars, sporadic efforts to establish prices, and occasional attempts to differentiate a product which is "more homogeneous than... most raw materials." He presents sufficient data to reach the conclusion that oolitic limestone has those qualities of "workability, durability, strength, and pleasing appearance" which are considered prerequisites of a satisfactory building material.

The pioneer period of the industry lasted from 1827 to about 1870. Although oolitic limestone was used in the construction of the United States Customs House and courthouse at Louisville, started in 1853, local markets featured this period. Professor Batchelor suggests four causes for this situation: wood and brick were much cheaper than stone; railroad facilities were inadequate; Niagara limestone, found among other places at St. Paul, Indiana, Joliet, Illinois, and Dayton, Ohio, enjoyed the advantage of place utility over oolitic limestone and a popularity which resulted from priority of discovery; and, last of all, "the building cycle was in a declining phase from the early 1850's until approximately 1865."

During the period from 1871 to 1896 the fledgling quarry industry came of age, and cut stone mills were introduced. A variety of influences affected the demand for building stone, of which technology was a particularly significant one. It was the time of H. H. Richardson and the Romanesque revival movement in architecture. Then, in the eighties, came the first of the Chicago "skyscrapers," so constructed that "the walls became mere envelopes enclosing the space within," with structural steel and reinforced concrete bearing the weight of the building. Mechanical innovations available to contractors included steam hoisting engines, power excavating shovels, electric hoists, steel derricks, and pneumatic riveters (1898). Quarrymen were offered larger facilities by the Monon, the Evansville and Richmond, the Baltimore and Ohio, and other railways. They profited particularly by the' substitution of machinery for hand methods as a result of the introduction of several types of channeling machines, power drills, steam derricks, and gang saws. The Chicago and Boston fires of 1871 and 1872, respectively, led to a demand for less inflammable building materials, a situation which facilitated the selling of limestone for the construction of such public buildings as the Lawrence and Marion County courthouses, the Chicago City Hall, and the Illinois and Indiana state houses.

The book abounds in statistics. The number of quarries increased from 16 in 1870 to 48 in 1895, while the cubic feet of sales grew from 350,000 in 1877 to 5,500,000 in 1896. The number of employees almost doubled, there being 871 in 1880 and 1,476 in 1896. In 1899 the value of the sales of Indiana oolitic limestone was $1,400,854, constituting 27.8% of the total sales in the United States. During the next two decades there were only three years that the proportionate value of Indiana oolitic limestone declined, the general tendency being to increase, reaching a mark of 79.2% in 1917 with a value more than twice as great as in 1899.

Sales fluctuations in the period from 1897 to 1918 resulted from the amount of promotional activities carried on by individuals, by Indiana Congressmen, and by such organizations as the Indiana Limestone Quarrymen's Association and the Bedford Stone Club. Attention to the psychology of selling brought results; for example, grades formerly known as "coarse" and "mixed" sold much better when renamed "rustic" and "variegated."

Railway developments during these years had two principal influences. Rivalry between carriers (several of which were financially interested in stone companies) led to considerable expansion, particularly when rebates could be obtained. The practice of charging the same rates for dressed and rough stone encouraged many companies to operate both cut stone mills and quarries. The number of the latter actually decreased during this period from forty-three to thirty-five, while the number of cut stone mills increased from ten to thirty-six. Hence, Professor Batchelor describes it as a period of integration of quarries and cut stone mills. One of the unfortunate results of this integration was the decrease in the effectiveness of the promotional activities of cut stone firms outside Indiana.

Trends which had been in progress prior to World War I continued into the postwar period, which was characterized by price control from 1918 to 1925, by mergers from 1926 to 1929, and by the development of an overcapacity which became almost disastrous. The total value of various kinds of limestone sold by Indiana producers dropped from approximately eighteen million dollars in 1928 to less than five million in 1933.

The period from 1934 until 1941 was one of frustration for many companies. The outbreak of World War II put an end, at least temporarily, to efforts of the industry to stage a comeback. Little information is given, unfortunately, regarding the remarkable story of the conversion of the cut stone mills for war production. This deficiency is being taken care of by a supplementary study now in progress.

In his final chapter the author notes that the decline of the limestone industry resulted largely from "changing trends in building that favored substitute products, cheaper materials, or subsidized local materials" and from price wars which arose because of excess capacity. He points out that in order to escape the doldrums of the 1930's it will be necessary to reduce costs by technological changes, to popularize stone for residential use, and to educate "architects, contractors, and homeowners in the cheapest but most serviceable means of using stone." He concludes that the degree to which such an enlarged market will prove profitable "will depend upon the development of improved marketing methods, intelligent labor-management relations, and fairer and more equitable competition among the operators."

Space limitations prevent even the briefest of summaries of the author's excellent discussion of such topics as business organization, price policies, profits, and labor problems during the various periods. The book has a multiplicity of graphs and tables, but the absence of pictures will detract from its usefulness for laymen, particularly if they reside outside the stone district. It is well annotated, with the footnotes located for the convenience of the reader. Some ten pages are assigned to bibliography, the arrangement of which, however, seems rather unorthodox. By and large the imperfections are minor. Professor Batchelor has done an outstanding piece of work.

Max P. Allen

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.