A Century of Innovation
Technology and management of natural resources
Cal Cedar Founder, Charles Berolzheimer ca. 1950
Creativity, Research and Development
Opportunities for innovation in product manufacturing fall into four areas: sourcing, processes, management, and technology. At California Cedar Products, Jordan Rust was essentially responsible for innovation and efficiencies involving the first three, while innovation in technology was left to the Research Department. As Research Director from 1955 to his death in 1995, Charles pioneered solutions that also helped shape manufacturing processes for the next 40 years. However, no discussion of R & D at California Cedar Products is complete without mentioning Bill Wilcox, a local mechanical engineer and machinist who, in collaboration with Charles, became a driving force in developing the Company’s pre and post-war technological solutions. Wilcox worked with Charles to produce specialized equipment for the factory, and even produced dedicated pencil-making equipment for pencil manufacturers. His role and his shop were so important that, early on, the Company’s Research Department was moved from the factory in Boggs Tract across town to the Wilcox Manufacturing Company. Eventually, as the Research Department grew in scope and stature, California Cedar Products would go on to purchase Wilcox’s facilities upon Bill’s passing. In Charles, the Research Department had a Director who was passionate and committed to research, learning, and teaching. His strong drive for discovery helped create an environment in which curiosity and creativity were recognized and given space to grow. A biography of Charles from 2010 states that his library contained “one of the finest collections in the world on the subject of wood technology” consisting of an estimated 50,000 volumes. His family and friends also frequently remarked on his boundless enthusiasm for research and learning. The record of technological innovations that came from the Research Department are proof of his energy and ability to turn observations into tangible products and efficiencies for the pencil slat industry.
Among the many innovations that emerged from the Research Department during its early years, the most important was a new method for sawing cedar blocks into slats. By the mid-1950’s, machinery at California Cedar Products’ slat manufacturing factory was capable of making ten slats for every block, but some cedar that was left unused in the process was turned into sawdust by the thick saw blades. At that time, the use of thick blades ensured that they didn’t dull quickly throughout the regular volume of work. Thinner blades dulled faster and were less stable, but it was believed they might gain the Company an additional slat or two per block. On one of his trips to France, Charles encountered a woodworking workshop that relied on thin blades. This serendipitous sighting sparked the impetus to create a better blade for cutting slats.
The history of innovation at Cal Cedar begins much earlier, even before the establishment of the Research Department. Innovation was part of the Berolzheimer family DNA and examples of founder, Charles’ father’s patents can be seen below: