End of the line in Cloquet’s toothpick and match factory

Cloquet’s factory where matchsticks and toothpicks are made is closing, putting 85 people out of work, the Duluth News Tribune reports. With it goes some significant manufacturing history in Minnesota.

It also highlights why Minnesota manufacturing jobs disappear. Factories often make things people don’t want or need anymore.

We often don’t think of where the once-everyday items come from. If you’ve ever encountered a wooden tongue depressor at the doctor or a wooden clothespin or chopsticks or sticks on ice cream bars, in addition to the toothpicks and match sticks, they probably came from the Diamond factory in Cloquet and the poplar trees of St. Louis County.

The company that owned the factory has been sold and the new owners decided it didn’t want the factory, not surprising since some of the equipment used there dates back to the 1940s, when the mill was modernized, the Pine Journal reported a few years ago.

It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. The saws at the plant were wide open and people were often injured. Small fires started because people stepped on matches on the floor.

At one time, 500 people, many of them Finnish immigrants, worked at the plant. The Pine Journal says when smoking bans took hold, orders dried up. That came on top of the invention of the disposable lighter and electric stoves.

Clothespins? Who uses a clothes line anymore?

There were only two wooden matchstick factories in the country by 1989. Cloquet’s plant once worked three shifts five days a week but by then it operated only a single shift.

The corn-dog stick business picked up around then because of the demand from school lunches.

But in 2006, the toothpick manufacturing business was sent to China, but it returned in 2011 when wages in China started to increase along with shipping costs.

But now it’s over.

The Duluth News Tribune says the plant should be completely shuttered within six months.