In 1847, Elihu Beach Estes started a company that sourced and resold a special black sand found in the upper Lake Champlaigne region of NY, not far from his hardware store in Port Kent, across the lake from Burlington, NH, his birth place. He found that the black sand made a very good "blotting sand", sand that would soak up extra ink in hand written documents. It is the stuff you see people blowing of signed documents in old movies.

EB Estes packaged the sand in barrels, and would deliver the product to major cities such as NY, Philadelphia, and Boston. The benefit to him in delivering the product himself is that it enabled him to then buy wares for his store, and let the sand pay for the trip. The black sand brought about 2 new products. One was black sign painters' smalt, which is the material used in the old fashioned signs with gold letters. The other product was a wood shaker to dispense the blotting sand. That product was then broadened to include specialty wood boxes, which were used to package pharmaceuticals in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

Elihu's son Webster entered the business in the 1870's. He saw the potential in both the smalt and wood box business. He developed both dramatically. By the 1890's, EB Estes & sons was the preeminent pillbox supplier in the world, with offices in New York City as well as throughout Europe, and even Australia. During this time, the smalt business, though smaller, did develop as well, with a host of colors and effects adding to the basic black product line. With this impressive line, Estes' won Gold medals at the 1876 Centennial Fair in Philadelphia.

Clifford W. Estes entered the business around 1912. At that time, EB Estes & sons had factories up and down the East Coast of the US, as well as in Europe. He moved to Gorham, NH in 1918 to run an Estes' factory there at the foot of Mt Washington. In 1924 he moved back to NY to the company's headquarters. Although he and his brother Beacham (named for Sir Joseph Beacham, a customer, Estes' board member, and trusted and dear friend of Webster) were involved in the business, they were not prepared for the triple shock they received at the end of the 20's. The obvious one was the beginning of the great depression. But before that, their father died suddenly and unexpectedly. Finally, the whole world of packaging began to shift from wood boxes to glass containers.

What followed were the selling off of the wood factories, and retreating to the much smaller, and less profitable colored sign smalt business. It was at this time the business name was changed to the Clifford W. Estes Co. The company struggled, as did most of America, through the depression. A shrewd real estate deal, along with some favorable financing, gave the company the where with all to survive the dark days of the depression. George Minasian, Clifford's brother in law, and the father of future company president Dave Minasian provided the financing and engineered the real estate deal. Little did he know that he was helping to preserve the company that would become his son's life work.

By 1950, Clifford's youngest son, Frank worked in the business, while the other sons Elihue and Clifford Jr. worked part time. In the early 50's, Frank could see the trend in sign painters' smalt going down. Having a young family to raise and feed, he searched for a new use for the colored granules. A friend of Frank's suggested he try the aquarium business. It was a novel idea at the time to consider colored aggregate in aquariums. However, it was the right product at the right time and place. During the 1950's, the management team of Frank, Clifford Jr., and Dave Minasian was formed. Frank ran production. Cliff ran the finances, and Dave ran the sales & marketing. At that time, all three functions would often include coloring the gravel, unloading gravel, delivering orders, or doing almost anything else it might take. Each of them would often bring their work home at night in the form of paint and pigments that were run that day. By 1970 the company was the undisputed leader in aquarium gravel, a position it has held to this day.

In the 1970's, Estes' began expanding its products and its geographic presence. Product lines that were developed in the 70's included Architectural Aggregate, Art Sand, Coated Natural Gravel, and Hydrophobic Sand--Sand that doesn't get wet. Estes' also opened its first remote manufacturing facility, in Staley, North Carolina. Finally, the 70's saw the entry of the fifth generation of Estes into the business with Steve joining the company in 1978.

The 1980's brought further expansion geographically with the acquisition of a factory in West Virginia and the creation of a factory dedicated to sand production in Ottawa Illinois. The 1980's also saw the entry of Doug Estes into the company in 1985.

In the last 10 years or so, there have been many transitions. First Cliff and Frank Estes retired in 1991. Then in 1995 a fire destroyed the coloring area of Estes' NJ facility. That event prompted the consolidation of gravel operations in North Carolina. It also prompted the sale of the New Jersey building, which provided the financing for acquiring Wilmar Products, Estes' #1 competitor in gravel. Since then, Estes' has been working at integrating Wilmar into the North Carolina factory, as well as on continuing efforts in product, process, and formulation improvements.

It has taken us over 150 years to become the absolute leader in the coloring and coating of sand and gravel!
©2002 Clifford W. Estes Company. Site Design ©2002 Vesper Stamper.