Westinghouse at 100: A Tribute in Timeline

Westinghouse left a very large footprint in Mansfield.  That is a literal statement and a figurative one: quite literally there is significant acreage in the city streetscape that has been flattened by tons of bricks and heavy machinery; and figuratively speaking, the footprint is measured by how big the shoes are that anyone else could possible fill.

In terms of concrete and brick, the plant began modestly enough in 1918 with five floors on four acres of Fifth Street; and in the next decades it grew to encompass 42 acres under 16 buildings.

In terms of human resources and income for families in Mansfield, the factory entered the community with 125 jobs in 1920, and topped out at 8,177 in 1955.  At one time in Mansfield’s history, fully one-third of the city’s wage-employed workforce all went to work at that one place.

There were families in Mansfield who were proud to have multiple generations of personnel following their parents’ footsteps into Westinghouse. 

A place like that looms large in a community’s sense of well-being, and casts a long shadow through its history.

Here is a look at some ways in which Westinghouse shaped our story.

1918:  When Westinghouse came to town, Mansfield was already established as an industrial powerhouse; the city had been manufacturing iron stoves for 30 years.  One of the city’s factories—the Baxter Stove Co.—built a new plant in 1910 next to the tracks on Fifth Street, but they went out of business in 1916: so their modern building was sitting empty when the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. was looking for a place to fabricate electric stoves.  It was a perfect fit from the beginning.

The announcement was made in February; the plant was in full operation by May; in June Westinghouse was fielding a baseball team in the Mansfield Industrial League; and by fall they had teams for football, basketball and bowling.

1923: Officially the plant on Fifth Street was called The Westinghouse Electric Products Co., one of 39 plants in the US; but within the corporation, Mansfield was the Appliance Division.  In the 1920s, products made in Mansfield included electric ranges, water heaters, safety switches, toaster stoves, “Cozy Glow Heaters”, electric irons, vacuums, roasters, fans, curling irons, and coffee makers.  In 1922 we started making radios, and “radiophones” (for communicating with aeroplanes.)

Mansfield Westinghouse employed 125 in 1918, 600 in 1919, and 1,200 by 1924 in four buildings.

1925:  One of the great benefits Mansfield enjoyed as a result of its relationship with Westinghouse, was the caliber of talent and creative minds the corporation brought to live in our town.  Foremost among them was Harold Arlin: the nation’s first radio sports broadcaster.  His initial role in Mansfield was as coach of the Westinghouse baseball team; but his community enthusiasm placed him at the front of nearly every civic drive during his lifetime.  Arlin Field is named to perpetuate his memory in our town.

1931:  The Thirties started with 1,879 employees at Westinghouse, and in 1931 they started making refrigerators and added 500 more to the payroll.  The year is remembered however, for a new character who came to life within the Mansfield works: Willie Vocalite.  The revolutionary robot, created from appliance parts, made a wildly popular appearance at the Century of Progress 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair; and then toured the US for the rest of the decade, an ambassador of Mansfield Westinghouse technology to all corners of the nation.

1934:  Westinghouse created a model home in Mansfield to showcase all of their domestic electrical appliances that the modern housewife couldn’t live without—most of which she hadn’t even realized she needed in 1934.  Fully automated so she needn’t stoop to do housework, the Home of Tomorrow was opened on Andover Road with three and a quarter miles of electrical wiring and 320 light bulbs.  Before it closed in 1936, more than 75,000 dreamers from all over the US walked through its doors.

1937:  In the early ‘Thirties, Mansfield works was established as the home of the Merchandising Division for the entire Westinghouse empire, which meant all of the cool advertising and promotional material—including robots—originated here.  In 1937, the plant built a huge warehouse on the other side of Fourth Street requiring the landmark bridge; and to celebrate the ribbon-cutting, the company hosted a massive open house family day that brought 10,000 visitors through the plant.

1939:  A Mansfield boy hosted the Westinghouse exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York: his name was Elektro, and he could walk, talk, count to ten, and smoke cigarettes faster than any human.  He is photographed here with his friend Sparko, in Mechanix Illustrated.

1939:  Westinghouse lit up its first iconic sign in 1939.  Advertised as “one of the largest neon signs in the world,” it was 200’ long and 40’ tall, and illuminated their trademark slogan of that decade: Every House Needs Westinghouse.  A dozen years later the sign was refitted to their new slogan: You Can Be Sure if it’s Westinghouse.

1943:  WWII had a tremendous impact on the Mansfield works.  After opening the 1940s with record production, 5,000 employees, addition of two more buildings, and construction of “the largest industrial bridge in the world” (conveyor belt); the plant was crippled by steel rationing and had to furlough workers to a reduction of 1,200; in order to refit the machinery for manufacturing war equipment.  These women who made refrigerators in 1942, are fabricating wing flaps for the US Army Air Force fighter plane Corsair in 1943.
1943:  Wartime employment stood at 4,000 when the US Government recognized Mansfield Westinghouse in 1943 with the prestigious “E Award” ceremony (E for Effort); and the plant witnessed a flyover of Corsair fighter planes, that passed overhead in commendation of record effort on the part of Mansfield employees.  These men assemble the tail cones for Corsairs.

1948:  Of all the local folks who made their mark in Hollywood, the least recognized are these guys from the 1945 Disney film The Dawn of Better Living. Sponsored by Westinghouse as a cautionary tale to prevent blowing circuits in your house, the happy little radio, the iron, the toaster, coffee maker and the refrigerator run around the wiring wreaking electrical havoc. The Merchandising Division of Westinghouse was located here in those days, and all these appliances were made in Mansfield and assigned summer jobs with Disney.

1956:  One of the legacies that Mansfield wore as a scar for generations, was the tradition of labor strikes that rocked the Flats.  In 1946 the United Electrical Workers Local 711 closed the plant for 115 days; making a name for the city as “a union town.”  The violent strike was in 1956, when Westinghouse was under picket line siege for 156 days.

1959:  During the years of uneasy relations between Westinghouse labor and management, the Labor Day parade was one of the biggest civic events of the year; involving dozens of planners, hundreds of builders, and thousands of marchers.  This is the Westinghouse float from 1959, which followed closely in line behind the float representing CIO Local 711.

1950s-60s:  In the postwar era, Mansfield Westinghouse cranked out its largest production in history: one year alone manufacturing 1,899, 357 appliances.  In the 1950s, Mansfield works turned out 13,500 appliances daily: 10 trainloads of 100 cars each.  They turned out an electric iron every 14 seconds; five day’s worth of irons laid end to end would reach four miles.  Employment ranged from 7,900 to 8,177.

1960:  When production of refrigerators was moved to Columbus in the 1950s, Mansfield became the primary center for the manufacture of laundry appliances.  The Westinghouse Laundromat can still be found stashed in barns of Richland County, and its companion dryer, invented in 1954, was famous for its tiny xylophone rendition of How Dry I Am.

Here is a Mansfield-made Westinghouse appliance you might find in Mansfield homes from the ’30s to the ’60s that is seldom seen today: the mangle.  Try it sometime to iron your shirts and you’ll understand why you don’t see them anymore.

1975: During a decade of dangerously sagging economy, Westinghouse sold the Mansfield works to White Consolidated Industries of Cleveland.  The strain of hard times wreaked havoc in Mansfield with a White Westinghouse strike in 1976.  Even though the shutdown lasted only three months, the bitterness it sparked lasted long afterwards: between workers who stood next to each other in the production line refusing to speak to one another for the next 14 years.

1990:  Known as Mansfield Products Company, the plant was slowly whittled down to encompass only the Laundry Division of White-Westinghouse.  When it closed in 1990, there were 643 employees.

2012:  After standing empty for a couple decades, a great deal of the Westinghouse structure was removed from the Flats in 2012, leaving a concrete footprint and a few buildings: one of which is this original 1918 factory.

Westinghouse, as a source of Mansfield pride, has largely moved into the past; but the effects of its having been here are not gone at all, and will remain until a generation is born who no longer hears the tales of what it meant to our city; how it built the homes of our community; how it touched homes all across America.

This image of the Westinghouse power plant in 1920 holds special significance to 21st century Mansfield: signifying the dynamic power inherent in a fresh start, both then and now. 

One of the flywheels of this massive mechanism stands today, on East Fourth Street, near the factory grounds.  Rescued from the rubble, displayed and dedicated by Rex’s Landscaping; the 6-ton cog is maintained as “a tribute to generations of local people who worked at Westinghouse.”

It is an imperishable steel cog which clearly signifies the circle of life, by which the past is slowly re-incorporated into a new, and a next, source of community pride.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s