Made in America – data plates – obituaries to US manufacturing jobs

This post has no technical information in it, People who don’t like perspectives, other than their own, shouldn’t read it. If you like it, please consider forwarding this to your friends.

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Builders,

Today, I took one hour to walk through my hangar, and that of my neighbor Paul Salter, and photographed data plates on machines we own. Both Paul and I were taught by our fathers to take great pride in the craftsmanship,  engineering, and manufacturing of our fellow Americans, and this is reflected in the fact that almost everything in each of our hangars was made in the United States of America.

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The age of tools shown reflects that American products were machines built to work and last. This was long before people who knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing, convinced consumers that imported disposable appliances were somehow better products, better for our country, and better for the environment. These lies simultaneously allowed corporations with no loyalty to this country to get rich exporting jobs, and they also permanently crippled hundreds of cities and towns in our country with pervasive underemployment and a withered tax base. This doesn’t even touch on the damage done by astronomic trade deficits.

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Millions of good, stable manufacturing jobs that allowed a parent to  pay a mortgage and send their kids to a fair priced college where systematically disposed of with trade deals and tax polices, while elaborate propaganda blamed workers, unions and product liability, which were small factors compared with the greed. The income and benefits of a manufacturing job was hardly replaced with both mother and father working service sector jobs without benefits, while the children have little supervision.

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Twenty five years after most of these once great companies are gone, the cities that housed them face chronic problems from a labor force that who’s only understanding of the American dream is listening to now distant memories of their parents and grandparents. Into these cities we send police officers, now tasked with the impossible job being cop, domestic councilor, teacher, addiction therapist and role model, all at once, and we act outraged when this can not be accomplished without some tragic errors.

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In the early years, it was the blue collar workers who dreams were dashed, and largely the mobile white collar workers were insulated by moving to the suburbs and the gated communities, but eventually they learned that almost any job can be ‘outsourced.’  Eventually even the people who eluded any damage found out that their kids, graduating from college with a mountain of debt, had to move back home, because they couldn’t pay their expenses and debts, far less start their own lives in an economy that no longer had a manufacturing sector.

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For decades, Americans understood the phrase “Buy American, the job you save might be your own.” All the accomplishments of America, winning WWII, the great middle class, the space program, advancements in medicine, better race relations, all were made possible by a manufacturing based economy. While there are plenty of theories of who was to blame, it is a much better question to ask “Who could have stopped this?” The only answer I have is Americans could have stopped this by simply putting the good of their fellow countrymen ahead of their greed and their belief that “imported” was some kind of a coveted title. Our country wasn’t built by greedy people employing labor in other countries, but it could end that way.

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-ww.

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Data plate from 1954 Briggs and Stratton 1.6 HP engine, Made in Milwaukee. Engine still works perfectly. City was recently the location of riots. People who have good jobs rarely are involved in riots. Notice the tiny print on the very bottom that again says “Made In USA”

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Grace’s Champion propeller driven generator from the 1940s, made in Los Angeles, works perfectly. L.A., once a giant manufacturing town, with a large middle class, now known for it social stress.  Note:”Made in USA”

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My super heavy duty box and pan brake from the 1950s, made in Rockford IL, home of EAA fly-inn’s during the 1960s. Works perfectly. Note it says “Made in USA” on both sides.

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Data plate on Grace’s Goodyear outboard, probably made in the 1940s. At the time, Goodyear was the worlds largest tire company. They no longer are, and the latest Goodyear airships are made in Germany.  Unemployment in Akron was 11.9% in 2010, but it is much lower today: the trick? The people who have given up looking for work are no longer counted.

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My 1947 Sun distributor test machine, 69 years old, works perfectly, I use it every week in the shop. Perhaps you have heard of some of the recent  problems in the city where it was made. I have heard all kinds of things blamed for these issues, but so far, no one has suggested that too many good jobs could be blamed.

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My 1950s 2HP, 2 stroke, Panther lawn mower. Runs, but 16″ cut is a little small to mow an acre of Florida grass. Millions of Clinton small engines were made in Iowa. Their plant was the worlds largest, far bigger than Briggs and Stratton. Today, the average income in Maquoketa IA is the same number as the poverty line in the state.

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Data plate on my 1960s bead blasting cabinet. The company was a huge manufacturer, and it still exists, but reported to Forbes that it moved to UT specifically to find the lowest labor and benefits costs. They are in Chapter 11 since the start of this year.

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A 1960s Briggs 2HP with crank up starter that originally belonged to Grace’s grandfather, used on his Reel lawnmower. Still runs great. Most Briggs engines are only “assembled” in the US, not made here any longer. Flat head engines like this model, were outlawed for sale in California, due to emissions, at the same time the state legalized smoking pot, and countless media stories were run calling the selling of Marijuana a “Good employer”.

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My 1960s Lempco 40 ton press. In WWI and WWII, Lempco was a critical defense contractor. They invented the “Hypermatic” stamping press, which operated at 7,200 stampings per minute. (Yes, that is faster than a GE mini-gun fires, but the hypermatic press can work that way for eight hours at a time.) In 2012 Lempco was sold cheaply to a Japanese firm.

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This is the B&B motor that controls the rotating turntable I use for welding items like intake manifold flanges. The company still exists and is going strong after 75 years, and still located in NY. The motor illustrates that the five boroughs of NYC, particularly Brooklyn and Staten Island were huge manufacturing centers, supporting very large middle classes. Today, half the people in NYC struggle to stay above the poverty line in service jobs, often functioning as servants to the ultra wealthy there. Read: Thought for the Day: “My Dreams”

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My Clinton flat head engine from the early 1950s. The factory started in WWII making parts for M2 Brownings.  Clinton went from being the tenth largest employer in the state of Iowa in the 1950s, to non-existent with the ‘assistance’ of some very creative bankers and financiers from New York.

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The Data plate inside Grace’s 1965 Corvair Greenbriar van. In the 1960s, GM was the largest corporation in the world, and arguably the #1 American employer. Today it is Walmart. Ask yourself which job had better pay and benefits, and pride.

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Paul’s 1965 Bridgeport 8 x 48 vertical mill. The term “Bridgeport” was synonymous with the finest. 51 years after it was made, it still works smoothly and  accurately. The machines were made from 1938 until 2004 when Bridgeport was purchased by global took company Hardinge. They have brought the Bridgeport line back, but it is said they are no longer made from US castings.

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Paul’s Logan screw lathe. Looks dirty, but that is because it works. 90,000 of these machines were made in Chicago between 1940 and 1971, when the plant was closed and moved to lower labor cost by the new owner Houdaille. The new owners tried something new in 1979 called a “Leveraged Buy out”, offering to make themselves a 20 fold increase in their investments. It didn’t work, and the whole business went down, taking the remaining jobs.

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Data Plate on Paul’s Allis Chalmers fork lift transmission. The one on the fork lift itself is no longer legible. Muncie was once home to Dayton Corporation, Delco Remy, General Motors, New Venture Gear, Indiana Steel and Wire, and Westinghouse. Today it has a tiny fraction of its manufacturing jobs left, the cities webpage says they are being ‘replaced’ by service economy jobs in retail and health care.

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Paul’s Delta tool grinder. The Data plate is a work of art. Note how the whole sentence is written out: “Made in the United States of America.”

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The Data Plate on Alan’s 1964 Chevrolet Suburban. It is on the lift at Paul’s hangar. He is mostly through the restoration to daily driver. The truck was bought brand new by Alan’s grandparents, and used to tow their Airstream trailer. It has the original 283 V-8 and Powerglide transmission.

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Paul has a huge DeVilbiss air compressor, probably from the 1940’s It was made in Toledo OH. In 1999 the company as bought and moved, and resold 5 times in the next several years. Compressors sold today with the same name have nothing to do with the original quality units, they are just re-labeled models sourced from various suppliers.

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The Delta motor on Paul’s saw. The title says Rockwell, which means it is likely from the 1960s. The thing I like best bout this is the fact it has the wiring diagram to reverse it’s rotation or change the input voltage is right on the data plate. Today, Delta tools are just junk made in China.

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Data plate on the governor of my Detroit 3-53T diesel. It shows that it was from a single cylinder 71 series generator motor, but this just shows the great interchangeability of the Detroit Diesel series engines that it also works on a three cylinder engine. Designed in 1938 by the most brilliant automotive engineer who ever lived, Charles Kettering.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_F._Kettering) sorry European fans, Robert Bosch is the wrong answer. Detroit Diesels were enormously popular, and saw service in trucks, ships, tanks, landing craft, trains, PBR’s and construction equipment. They were a separate division of GM, and a very large employer in Detroit. Because they are a 2 stroke, they were specifically outlawed in California, although they are still used in US military vehicles. GM sold Detroit to the German firm MTU.
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The Data plate on the Continental C-85 engine in Graces 1946 Taylorcraft. You can not see it well here, but between the wings is a picture of the United States Capitol , along with the motto of Continental Motors which was “As Powerful As the Nation.”  This makes me angry to type, because of course the government of mainland China, yes the commies, actually owns Continental. (Communist Chinese government at Oshkosh) This data plate above all others tells the ugliest story about greed and lack of any sense of allegiance to our country or its people. I am aware that very few people in aviation care about this, it is “Just Business” to them, but it matters to me.

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For further reading: Why “Made in America” matters to me.

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ww-

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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

24 Responses to Made in America – data plates – obituaries to US manufacturing jobs

  1. Gary Ray says:

    I have often asked myself, “How do you structure the economy so quality career employment is preserved and encouraged.” I believe self esteem comes from actually doing something that is hard to do and actually getting it done. For Humans to be mentally healthy, we must learn, create and build things. Things that were only dreams yesterday.
    We no longer need as many employees to produce food, clothing, and shelter but we should have advanced into other areas of creative production.
    We should be more careful with our concepts of what it means to live a good life and be a good person. We need to keep building ourselves. Spirituality should not come from Politicians, Madison Avenue or Hollywood.
    I honestly do not know what can be done for the people that have no aspirations. Those that do not take it upon themselves to learn. There are now so many born into dysfunctional families and school systems, and thus settling for a permanent status as a someone that is incapable of even the most rudimentary requirements for life. Without being able to enter a state of ‘Becoming more than they were yesterday’, there is no hope. They will always be ripe for victimization by the unscrupulous con artists. They have no epistemological basis to sort out fact from fiction.
    And still, I see in the statistics that one out of five will over come even these gruesome conditions.
    Maybe there is hope for them.

    This is going to take a lot of fixing after the last 50 years of deliberate attack on our culture.
    To begin:
    Build quality families. Build quality institutions. Build quality infrastructure. Build Spirituality.
    Build self-esteem, self-awareness, self-sufficiency and self-determination the old fashion way by hard work. Nothing is free. Teach your kids that once they start something, finish it.
    And, lastly, stop voting for the very people that are hell bent on destroying all of the above.
    In the mean time, disobey. Don’t go along to get along. Always do only the things that you can be proud of. And finally, Don’t quit. Everybody is dealt a different hand to play. You owe it to yourself to make the most of it.

    Thank God for the parents that I had.

    • Gary,

      I read your note, both at the start of this day, and at the end of it. I like the way it reminds that all progress is first internal and personal. Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance is one of my favorite books, and when you boil it down, it is Persig using 1,000 pages to repeatedly apply his 170 IQ to his fundamental question “What is Quality?” Hard to define, but he intrinsically understood that in the correct response to the inclination to conformity and mediocracy was the pursuit of quality.

      Your comment on not going along brought up the memory of Ken Terry, there is a picture of him on my “risk management reference page” . He went all the way with this, gave up every pretense of ‘nice’ in favor of honest. It was a harsh way to live, but preferred to shiver cold and alone than have a comfy blanket of bullshit. He was a hard guy to like, but an easy person to respect. After seeing him in action in an important argument about how to care for someone in danger, I came to the conclusion that his willingness to have no friends if required actually made his advice particularly good. -ww.

  2. Sonny Webster says:

    Maybe few in aviation care about Chinese ownership and the broader “sucking sound” of an economy that has been outsourced to “low cost countries”, but even fewer in the general population care, most disturbing. Kettering was the greatest thus the use of his name when my alma mater was changed from GMI to Kettering University.

  3. Photograph Craftsman Tools

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Robert Price says:

    As a young person I fell into the abyss of cheaper stuff. always wanted good stuff but had to settle for cheap. Now at the older and wiser age of 62 I can see the hole that America has fallen into and it depresses me so much. Yes I am guilty of playing a role in this downfall and I’m not proud of myself.

    • Robert,

      I think it is about percentages, not purity. If we can all buy 5 or 10% less imported stuff every year, it will make a difference, and this is vastly better than throwing in the towel because today it is impossible to buy US made items in some categories. Look on the positive side: your plane and engine will be made here. -ww.

  5. Lawyers…scum of the earth….make it impossible to earn a fair dollar, because they have their hands into everyone’s pie…regulation, lawsuits, weasel words, contracts,… put a lawyer in a company then see what happens…

    • There were many unethical forces at work in the demise of US manufacturing, bad lawyers included, but in the end, it could have been stopped if Americans were willing to resist buying from companies which exported their jobs. -ww.

  6. baschmidt says:

    Another great post by William. I did in fact forward it to my friends.

  7. I have been in the machine tool business for 24 years. I have seen it crumble. Much of it by stolen technology by the Japanese, but also because they will work hard and make a quality product. Companies like Bridgeport, Hardinge, South Bend Lathe Corporation, Cincinnati Milling Machines & Grinders, and too many more to name… castings now made in China and India for Taiwanese and Korean manufacturers. The U.S.A. has just about fallen into last place. I have toured some of these U.S. factories. South Bend was a huge factory… gone. Gone to China like so many others. I work in Houston and surrounded by oilfield companies. The largest oil show in the world called the Offshore Technology Conference aka OTC is held here each year. It’s HUGE. Big money. And I see the Chinese creeping their junk here more and more. They seem to be unstoppable.
    People won’t stop buying from Wal-Mart. It used to be Made in the U.S.A. when Sam Walton was alive. Now is not the case. Idiots gotta have their TVs/Idiot boxes along with their music… what is music nowadays? All the kids listen to now is rap… good grief. No such thing as good music anymore. NFL football? I give up on it. People won’t stand for the anthem or have any respect for veterans. Veterans before illegals!!

  8. Hi All;
    I am totally in agreement with WW on this issue, and his post is well written. Some observations:
    Manufacturing jobs are about twice as good as service jobs, for the following reasons:
    a. When we had them, it took only one salary to support a middle class family comfortably. “Mom” didn’t have to work if she didn’t want to.
    b. With the leading manufacturing economy in the world, we used to be able to export products and keep a healthy balance of trade.
    c. With very few exceptions, you can’t export “service,” so our country falls further and further into debt.
    d. And possibly most important, we now cannot manufacture the tools required to build military equipment (Blanchard grinders, gun drills, large lathes, etc.) or utility equipment (large transformers). So we have to hope we’re friends with the foreign countries who do make them at the time when we do need them. Crazy!
    Cheers! Stu.

  9. Jon Gougar says:

    I recently acquired a 1960 Rockwell Delta 10×36 lathe. It’s ten years older than me and in better working order. I am motivated to take good care of it and pass it down to a worthy owner someday.

  10. Howard Horner says:

    I can honestly say I agree 100% with your sentiment and share your passion regarding the Made in America movement. Problem is, just like the guy that says his family is #1 but his calendar is all about work or the “philanthropist’s” checkbook that is all about extravagant toys, my shop would tell the ugly truth. I own more tools than anyone I know, from Auto Body, mechanics, to woodworking and piano rebuilding. I own some good tools, but I also own a lot of cheap imported stuff that is only useful on a very occasional basis. My friends could verify my extreme frustration and angst in the early 80’s when it was time to set up my home and shop and I absolutely could not find an American TV or Microwave. From there it was a slippery slope hastened by frustrating experiences buying products from what were long-known- American- brands, only to discover they or their parts were imported. (Ever walked into a distributor to source parts for an American brand only to be informed they are only available as an assembly or not available at all because they were imported?)
    I hope all this political noise turns into some meaningful progress towards making American manufacturing great again, although I am concerned that the heritage of hard work and skill may be permanently lost. In the meantime, I hope you and our “rust belt” friends will forgive me for the “Pittsburgh” tools in my shop. I really do feel sick every time I surrender to the pressure of the disposable appliance culture, and I am gradually moving back to Made in the USA even if I can only afford used ones.

    • Howard,

      A few comments back I wrote to Robert about percentages vs purity, saying that it is better to make the effort to buy less imported stuff than fret over the impossibility of being ‘pure’ about it. Every dollar you don’t send overseas is appreciated by some parent who is going to use it to feed their kid. -ww.

  11. dan glaze says:

    William, when I left North American Rockwell in 1987 at the end of the B-1B program 2 of the largest Cincinnati Milacron CNC gantries East of the Mississippi were sold to China for pennies on the dollar of what they were worth. someday I envision them being used to build tools of war to use against us. dan-o

  12. Tim Hansen says:

    William,
    Another good post to remind us what “quality” and ‘durability” actually meant. I am glad you mentioned not throwing in the towel when we find ourselves with no options, as giving up is never a good option. As you have pointed out in previous posts and here, we did not get here in a day, and we won’t get back overnight. We should also not be ashamed to occasionally employ those honorably employed, such as our neighbors to the north, so long as standards remain high.

    You should know, and I’m sure you do, that your words do not fall on deaf ears, and in fact many more than you know have been convinced to do what is right, even if it takes hearing it many times. This is only one part of the equation, however, and I feel you are particularly well positioned to add the next piece of the puzzle.

    Many builders, and potential builders, who are still yet to accumulate the vast quantity of high quality tools and machines helpful or necessary to build their own aircraft and its engine, are listening to your reminders. The knowledge of our past, and how we got here is important to understand what mistakes not to repeat, but for the purposes of righting the ship and getting back on course, we also need the next piece of the puzzle. Builders who are looking for items Made in America might be genuinely ready to pay the price, and even go the extra mile to find them, and as pointed out, still fall prey to companies who previously made their products here, but have since then moved production offshore and made it as difficult as possible to determine a product’s true country of origin.

    With the above in mind, a humble request: You once wrote an article that described a helpful setup of some of the basic tools of homebuilding, and explained that you could get quite a long way towards building an airplane with these basic power tools. They were arranged on a cart and had a logic to their arrangement as well. If memory serves, they were a Bench Grinder, a Belt Sander, and a Metal Cutting Saw (perhaps a miter/chop saw). Perhaps an idea for a future post here would include a short one, listing at least one current Made in America producer, and a retailer that sold it, for each of these basic tools and their associated belts, blades, etc. This would give anyone who took the message to heart a genuine starting point for doing their part to get us back on track. Any further additional specific suggestions of commonly needed tool and machine makers who are doing the right thing would be an added bonus.

    As always, we continue to ask for more of your expertise, with good reason: It is Valued.

    Thanks for reading and your consideration.
    Tim Hansen in Orient, OH

  13. Joe Sarcione says:

    I’ve always been disappointed in the consumerist imported goods but many times there doesn’t seem to be a choice. There are many fantastic used tools and equipment out there but the only way we as consumers can help is to buy new to support the companies that still do exist in the US. How about a data plate follow up of companies that are still in the US and have struggled to survive because they chose principles over profit?

  14. Roger Pepin says:

    This is sensible “crowd sourcing”

  15. Larry Boucher says:

    What a great walk through American manufacturing history. That these antique machines and products are still performing is testament to the quality of American design & manufacturing.
    It would be nearly impossible to replace most of them with new made in America products. And if they are American made they are usually way more costly than similar quality machines from overseas where there is no OSHA and other controls to protect the environment, employees and local residents. Foreign products that are equal in quality are cheaper because they place profits above human life and a future environment safe for their children.
    In 2007 I helped crate & ship millions of dollars worth of AC Spark Plug manufacturing equipment for their entire lines of regular and platinum tip spark plugs to China. China now makes AC/Delco Spark Plugs for GM. The Chinese employee’s pay started at 37 cents per hour to build spark plugs with our equipment in 2007. And the Flint, Michigan site that once employed over 12,000 AC Spark Plug employees has been completely demolished. Nothing left but weeds and a perimeter fence.

  16. Sten Backhans says:

    William, this dismantling of manufacturing facilities and hands on know-how is not limited to the US. It is the same in Sweden. The opinioneers despise people in blue collar jobs, the economy journalists cheer foreign enterprises buying key manufacturing and the politicians embrace the idea of everyone working with service.
    Knowing quality requires education & experience. Steel and walnut,,,

    Strange, off-loading all that did not make me feel any better,,,

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