Charles Clark was born in Theresa, New York, on August 24, 1844, to Luther and Theda Tamblin Clark. When he was nine years old, his father died. Two years later, Charley, as he was known to family and friends, moved to Neenah, Wisconsin, with his widowed mother.
On the day of his arrival, the 11-year-old, desperately in need of work, applied for a job at Robert Hold’s lath and furniture factory. He was told there were no openings, but as he looked around at all the men and boys at work, he argued that there must be something he could do. Mr. Hold, impressed with Charley’s spunk, asked his foreman to find a spot for the boy. Luckily, a workman had just quit, so Mr. Hold told the boy that he could start work bending chairs the next morning. Charley asked if he could start immediately and Mr. Hold agreed. His wage was $7.00 a month.
Mr. Clark’s self-confidence pushed him to the top in every situation he encountered. In August 1862, the 18-year-old enlisted as a private in the 21st Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He fought in a series of Civil War clashes, beginning with the Battle of Chaplin Hills in October 1862. He marched from Atlanta to the sea with the army of William Tecumseh Sherman. He quickly rose through the ranks to first lieutenant and finally captain. After Captain Clark was mustered out on June 17, 1865, he returned to Neenah and partnered with H. P. Leavens in a hardware store.
In 1867, Mr. Clark married Caroline Hubbard of Neenah, and the couple eventually had three children — one son and two daughters.
In 1872, the 28-year-old veteran recruited John Alfred Kimberly to join him in building a paper mill, subsequently known as the Globe Mill. This led to the creation of a partnership known as Kimberly, Clark and Company. Because they needed more capital, Mr. Clark sought out two additional partners, Havilah Babcock and Frank C. Shattuck. Mr. Clark’s equity in the venture was $10,000; Mr. Kimberly’s $7,000; Mr. Babcock’s $7,000; and Mr. Shattuck’s $6,000.
The founders agreed on a basic operating policy that encompassed the following principles: manufacture the best possible product; serve customers well and deal fairly to gain their confidence and good will; deal fairly with employees; expand capacity as demand for product justifies; and finance expansion out of earnings.
In 1889, after eight years in business, the company was incorporated with capital stock of $400,000 — all of it from earnings.
Mr. Clark, along with John Alfred Kimberly, kept his fingers on every aspect of the growing business. Mr. Clark was considered a born leader and a tireless builder and manager. He directed mill operations and related activities. Mr. Kimberly oversaw sales and finances.
Kimberly, Clark and Company’s early strategy combined entrepreneurial marketing and management with aggressive expansion. In 1874, after two years in business, the company purchased the Red Mill, which was later demolished and rebuilt as the Neenah Mill. In 1876, the company expanded the Globe Mill with the purchase of the company’s first Fourdrinier machine, which produced finished paper in a continuous roll.
In 1878, the company built Atlas Paper Company, a brick pulp and paper facility in Appleton, twice the size of the other two mills. Atlas specialized in fancy manila wrapping paper and eventually produced printing paper, bond paper, photo album paper, and colored papers. Although it lacked university trained scientists and a laboratory, Atlas achieved a reputation for innovative products, including toilet paper and related processes. It was the first mill in the state to produce paper made largely from ground or mechanical wood pulp.
Over the years, more mills were added at a rapid pace. A new mill was built in the wilderness east of Appleton, and since there were no facilities for the company employees who would be relocating, the company carved out a social and business community that could accommodate them. Farm land and water power rights were acquired along the Fox River; cinder roads and plank sidewalks were laid out; a hotel and 60 houses were built; and additional lots were sold for housing. The result was the village of Kimberly, where the company built a state-of-the-art, three-machine print mill; a 25-ton groundwood pulp mill; a 3-ton sulfite pulp mill; and a 10-ton straw wrapping paper mill.
Mr. Clark was a member of the Neenah City Council and also served as mayor of the city. He was elected to the Wisconsin General Assembly in 1884. In 1886, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until 1890. Soon after retiring from Congress, Mr. Clark became ill. In September 1891, while visiting his childhood home in Theresa, New York, Mr. Clark died. He was 47 years old.