A visionary. A brilliant businessman. A philanthropist. A caring family man who loved Kentucky.
All of these descriptions apply to Paul G. Blazer — a man who, quite literally, helped build Ashland into the community it is today.
Now, more than a half century after his passing, Blazer is the subject of a highly anticipated new documentary. It is called Paul G. Blazer, The Man Behind the Legend, and it will air for the first time at the Paramount Arts Center on Oct. 10. It is a fundraiser for the Paramount and the Highlands Museum & Discovery Center, where an exhibit honoring Blazer just opened.
"As part of doing Postcards from Ashland there were two industrial events that happened in the 20s that made Ashland double in population from 1920 to 1930," Carter said.
One was the coming of Armco. The second was the founding of Ashland Oil in 1924."
Blazer was the man who took the Ashland Oil refinery along the Big Sandy River and turned it from a money loser into a mega-operation that helped catapult Ashland Oil into the top 50 of Fortune 500 companies.
The documentary is the latest work by Carter, creator of Postcards from Ashland and Ashland's Field of Dreams. Carter grew up in Flatwoods and went on to start an international advertising agency so he got to witness the contributions of Blazer and he took special pride in the documentary because he observed first hand how important Blazer was to the growth of Ashland. The documentary was made possible through significant help from Blazer's family.
Blazer was born in Illinois. As a boy in the early part of the 20th Century magazines were the primary media outlet for the vast majority of Americans.
"As a middle school student Paul Blazer started selling magazine subscriptions," Carter said. He was so successful at selling magazine subscriptions that while he was still in high school he had a full time secretary managing his business."
Blazer graduated from high school at 16. At 19 he took a job in the magazine business that earned him $10,000 - the equivalent of $260,000 in today's money. He went to the University of Chicago. He continued to work in magazines and one of his clients was in an oil company.
"He got a job with them and became their sales manager overnight," Carter said. "The Swiss Oil Company...They hired him on the premise that you come to work with us we will find a small refinery we want to diversify into that, we will buy it and you can run it."
That refinery, the Leach refinery, was on Big Sandy. The purchase brought Blazer to Ashland and he turned the refinery around. In the first year it became profitable.
"He educated himself, being there 18 hours a day, talking to the guys doing the jobs," Carter said. "He became a student of refining, turned it around, and it wasn't too many years later they were on their way. They started expanding."
The level of expansion was beyond anyone's comprehension. Headquartered at the Community Trust Bank building Blazer led the company through amazing growth. Blazer became a wealthy man who committed to giving back to Ashland and Eastern Kentucky.
"He did so many things quietly, saying 'Do not use my name,'" Carter said. "His grandfather was the same way."
Blazer was the man who helped make Kentucky Education Television (KET) possible through the construction of 13 transmitting towers throughout the state.
"Paul basically said I've got a real estate acquisition department to buy land for service stations," Carter said. "So very quietly Paul said don't attach my name to this and they went out and bought the land for those transmitters and deeded them to KET. He didn't use company money for it. He used Paul Blazer money for it."
"His history is an advocate of education," Carter said. "His grandmother and grandfather in the 1850s were conductors on the Underground Railroad on the river town of New Boston. They helped hundreds of slaves in escaping slavery.He heard from his grandparents and his dad stories about the need for equal rights. He was an advocate for equal rights from the beginning and he quietly made student scholarship funds available for all black colleges in Kentucky and Ohio. Education was one of his missions."
Of course Paul Blazer High School dons Blazer's name.
"He is so much more than a name on a sign at the high school," Carter said. "The things he started, they've given back in so many ways. The Marathon plant there now would not be there...without Paul Blazer. He is a huge part of Ashland history."
There will be a special showing for middle school and Blazer High School students on Oct. 10. Anyone interested in attending the premier can purchase tickets through the Paramount or through the museum.