1961 – California Cedar Products Company Board of Directors inspecting the first tandem sawing system in Stockton Slat Factory

The following text excerpt and images from my recent book  “The Story of CalCedar: 100 Years of Pencil Supply History” highlight the important role of research in the company’s development. This selection has a particular emphasis on the leadership provided by my grandfather Charles Berolzheimer in building a collaborative research organization and in the development of the company’s Thin Kerf Sawing technology in the late 1950s and early 60s which dramatically increased yield of pencil slats from cedar lumber.

As Research Director from 1955 to his death in 1995, Charles pioneered solutions that helped shape manufacturing processes for the next forty years. However, no discussion of R & D at California Cedar is complete without mentioning Bill Wilcox, a local mechanical engineer and machinist who, in collaboration with Charles, became the driving force in developing the Company’s pre & 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 acquiring this property upon Wilcox’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 given space to grow. His library contained “one of the finest collections in the world on the subject of wood technology” consisting of an estimated 50,000 volumes which included 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’s slat manufacturing factory was capable of making ten slats for every [3” square] block, but some cedar 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, 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.