Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Way It Was - First Wednesday

My article in The Way It Was this month:

Westinghouse Story
Mollie Lyon

We all know people affected by that mile long building along Sharpsville Avenue in Sharon. Right on the sidewalk looming over the car, it seemed to never end, as my dad drove us to my grandmother's. Over fifty acres of industrialization appeared other worldly to a small child. Westinghouse, for over sixty years, 1922-1985, dominated Shenango Valley's economy. My grandfather moved here from Pittsburgh, my first oral history of the plant on that site from my mother's recollections. He worked in the office. What brought him here? What is the real history? The story of Westinghouse coming to Sharon, Pennsylvania called me.
The first factory on this site established in 1867, as Atlantic Irons Works. This plant had several furnaces and six trains of roll. Natural gas fueled production of bar, plate, hoop, rod inn and nails. Ownership passed hands often with names that sprinkled our area yet today, becoming P. I. Kimberly and Company in 1881.
1904, John Stevenson bought out Driggs-Seabury Ordance Corporation of Philadelphia. He erected buildings in Sharon. All the machinery was moved from Philadelphia and installed in the present plant in 1905.
Driggs merged with Savage Arms in 1915, famous for Lewis machine guns in WWI. Before the war, the factory made Vulcan small trucks and the only car from the Shenango Valley, the Twombly. Even then, they searched for economy cars. It was a cross between a car and a cycle that cost about a hundred dollars less than a Model T. The potential of the car killed by Twombly's own personal problems leading to bankruptcy. But cyclecars also proved unreliable, unable to compete with the Model T.
In 1922, Westinghouse acquired the plant from Savage Corporation to settle a debt. Westinghouse also expanded with the new acquisition of KDKA. With the Sharon plant, they experimented with transformer production in 1923, that first year, hiring ten women to wind coils. By December 1923, six hundred seventy called Westinghouse their place of employment. I know my grandfather made the transition by then. My mother was born in Sharon that month.
The area provided employment for two thousand two hundred workers by 1924. The corporation continued to grow through the years. My grandfather remained employed through the Great Depression. At the height of WWII, ten thousand helped the war effort through this plant, alone. Rosie the Riveter campaign coined through Westinghouse. My mother followed her father to the plant, sitting over transformers. She left as soon as my dad came stateside the year of 1944 to the state of Georgia.
Along with the other industries in our area, employment at the Westinghouse put food on tables, cars in garages, clothes on backs and dreams in the next generation. Well paying jobs built the middle class a century ago. That plant on Sharpsville Avenue had many names, even before the settlement of the debt to Westinghouse. Then as a Sharon staple, possessed the formal names of Westinghouse Transformer Division, Westinghouse Transformer Department, and Sharon Transformer Division.  We in the Valley, simply called it, “The Westinghouse.”

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