Havilah Babcock was born in Franklin, Vermont on September 8, 1837. He attended school in Vermont and in Waukesha, Wisconsin before his family came to Neenah in 1849. There, at age twelve, he and his brothers worked for their father, a building contractor hired to construct the Neenah segment of the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway.
In 1857, while still in their teens, Babcock and his friend Alfred Kimberly started their own dry goods business. The two young men also established the unusual business culture of equal ownership and shared management. In 1869 they made use of Babcock’s construction background to build the Reliance Mill, the city’s largest flourmill.
In 1872, Kimberly and Babcock organized a joint stock paper company with four other investors. A month later the investors changed to include C. B. Clark and F. C. Shattuck and the company renamed Kimberly, Clark & Co. In 1874, by a memorandum of agreement, the equal ownership was formally established between the four partners: Kimberly, Babcock, Clark and Shattuck. In doing so they consciously avoided the dissension that plagued other businesses and experienced an unparalleled rate of growth and expansion.
Beginning with the construction of the Globe Paper Mill in 1872, the company purchased the original Neenah Paper Mill in 1874; organized the Atlas Paper Company in 1878; constructed the Vulcan Paper Mill in 1881; the Tioga Paper Mill in 1883; the Badger Paper mills in 1884; the new Neenah Paper Mill in 1885; organized the Telulah Paper Company in 1887; and constructed the Kimberly mill in 1889. Through this rapid expansion of capacity, Kimberly, Clark & Co. established the Fox River Valley as one of the leading centers of paper production in the United States of America.
In 1880, the company was incorporated as Kimberly & Clark Co. with Kimberly as President and his closest associate Babcock, as Vice President, working together for the next twenty years. Babcock would also take a highly visible leadership role in the organization of the Shattuck & BabcockPaper Co. in 1890, which would become the largest producer of fine writing papers in the U.S.
In 1889, F.J. Sensenbrenner (1998 Hall of Fame Inductee) had joined Kimberly & Clark Co. as an accountant. As Clark died in 1890, Shattuck in 1891 and Kimberly withdrew from work in 1905; Babcock served as a pivotal link in the transition of leadership to F. J. Sensenbrenner. In 1928 when Kimberly died and Sensenbrenner became President, the name of the company was changed for the fourth time to Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
Havilah Babcock died on April 21, 1905. He was survived by his wife and five children.