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Madera matches lit the sky

For The Madera Tribune

In 1903, C.M. Petty let go of his vision of operating a match factory after it burned to the ground. However, he didn’t give up on business in Madera. Always the entrepreneur, he opened this grocery store, and he and his son, Willis, operated it for years. Petty is shown here inside his Yosemite Avenue store in 1938.


The month of May held a high and a low for Madera’s self-esteem. A visit by President Theodore Roosevelt represented the zenith of community pride, but then came the nadir. Just eleven days after Roosevelt’s departure, Madera‘s Pacific Coast Match Factory went up in flames. At 1:30 in the afternoon of May 29, 1903, C.M. Petty’s dream went up in smoke. In just half an hour it had turned into nothing but a mass of smoldering ruins.The Pacific Coast Match factory had been riding the crest of the spirit of optimism which pervaded the business community as Madera progressed into the 20th century. Agriculture was on the rebound after the economic disaster of the 1890’s. The old flume of the defunct Madera Flume and Trading Company had been rebuilt by a new enterprise--the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company — and fresh lumber was shooting down the huge water slide from the mountains to the town’s new mill site. It was a great time for business, and that’s why C. M. Petty was so excited. 

The Pennsylvania transplant had been in Madera for two or three years when back in May 1901, he announced that Madera was going to have a new factory. This latest local enterprise would be dubbed the Pacific Coast Match Company, and it would be the only producer of parlor matches west of the Mississippi River. According to Petty, it couldn’t miss. He fully expected to break the nationwide monopoly held by the Diamond Match Company, and it would all start right in Madera.

Petty was joined initially by James E. Smith, W. A. Moore, and John Richardson. After forming their corporation, the men sold shares at $1 each and quickly raised $7,000 of the $15,000 they would need to build their plant and install the machinery. Wood for the matches would come from the pine blocks, which were sold for fuel by the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Petty estimated that when the Madera match factory reached its full capacity, it would produce 72,000 boxes per day. He was quick to point out that this would total 720,000 matches!


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