Interview with Luther D. Reed, 1968 May 28 [audio](part 1)
- Early life and education; working at DuPont's dynamite mill; getting the job managing payrollKeywords: Ashley, Pennsylvania; Cressona, Pennsylvania; Du Pont, T. Coleman (Thomas Coleman), 1863-1930; DuPont; dynamite; Gibbstown, New Jersey; H.G. Chase; H.G. Haskell; Hamilton Barksdale; payroll; Pottsville Business College; Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Repauno; Schuylkill Haven; T.W. BacchusTranscript: Wilkinson: Let's begin by going to the town where you were born, Cressona, Pennsylvania. How did it come about that your family located there?
Reed: As far back as I can remember my grandfather was a boat builder on the Schuylkill Canal; he was on my father's side. On my mother's side my grandfather was a wheelwright and carriage builder. My father apprenticed himself as a wheelwright and as the story goes today, he married the boss's daughter. I don't know whatever became of the wheelwright business or how he became connected with the P. & amp; R. Railroad. My memory of him was that he was a very, very fine mechanic. However, the earlier family has a little history in the community Ashley, Pennsylvania in that both grandfathers I have mentioned helped to establish the Reformed Church in the community. It is the foremost church in the town at the present time. I may not have followed exactly in their footsteps. Originally the family settled at Ashley, Pennsylvania. That whole country is industrialized with mining and railroading and attracted men with a mechanical ability to shop and maintenance work of which my father was a mechanic. We moved from Ashley to Cressona because of a different method of bringing in coal in what we called "down the mountain" or "over the mountain".
My sister was born in Ashley and I was born in Cressona. Cressona was the headquarters for the so-called Mine Hill Railroad, a branch of the Reading system. It was not a mining town, it was a maintenance town, a maintenance headquarters for the Mine Hill Railroad and a shipping point for coal. I attended the public school in Cressona of which, incidentally, my father was a director, which caused me to be more or less on the job more than I possibly might have. I have a fond memory of the public school at Cressona, it was a rather plain brick building consisting of about 7 rooms running from the primary grade to high school, and I progressed through all of them. As I recall there were 4 classes to a room, and the courses were what the average high school offered in those days. In fact I think they carried some things that are not studied today. I recall very well things that I learned in the grade school and of my education particularly as it applies to mathematics. In recent years I have had the experience of having to figure various dimensions of triangles, ovals or circles, and my memory goes back to the day when I was taught to do that, which I have never forgotten. Geometry, I was always very good at, for some reason or other, algebra I was terrible.
Wilkinson: Did your parents possibly have in mind that your education should be more complete than theirs had been?
Reed: Oh, definitely, yes. Although as far as the educational conditions went in a community of that type, they had the average education, and those days it was the artisan, the mechanic, and men of that type who were the town fathers. They were the councilmen, the school directors and pretty nearly ran the community.
Wilkinson: What nationality was your family?
Reed: Well, I don't know too completely. On one side was a family by the name of Strauch, which I take to be German. That was on my mother's side. On my father's side the Reed was Irish. My grandmother on my mother's side was English. She talked with a Cockney accent and a very interesting thing to hear was to have her try to talk Pennsylvania Dutch with a Cockney accent. These are all interesting memories.
Wilkinson: You were bilingual for a while?
Reed: Yes, quite. I never attempted to chase down the lineage although I had an opportunity at one time. When I was a child I recall a woman visiting our house for about a week, and I inquired about what she was about because she was going in and out continually. I was told that she was studying the family tree on my mother's side, which didn't mean a thing in the world to me. Actually, after I started to work for the DuPont Company I had a letter from a publishing house that this book had been published and I could have a copy of it for $1.25, but I was broke and didn't have $1.25, so it still didn't mean anything to me.
Wilkinson: Did you buy a copy later?
Reed: I had one uncle, my mother's brother, who had some information on it. Unfortunately he passed away before I developed all of it, and I just never searched the thing down. A Dr. Allen King in town wants to do it for me, but I don't know whether at my age I have too great an interest in it.
Wilkinson: Your family, or you, went to Pottsville after you finished high school?
Reed: Let me finish what I started a while ago. I went after graduating from Cressona High School. My parents had no money to send me on for a higher education, so I just went back to high school for another term to brush up on some things that I was generally known to be deficient in. However, then I got the idea that I was going to quit school and take a job, and my father very wisely let me do it. I got a job in an underwear mill, knitting mill at Schuylkill Haven. I had about a three-mile walk or ride. There were no automobiles, remember, and the only thing offered was a possible horse and carriage or a coal train. I followed that job for about 6 months, when I suddenly realized it was pretty tough to earn a dollar. We worked from 7 in the morning until 6 at night, and we worked six days a week. I finally went back to my father and said, "I would like to follow up some more schooling." And he said, "I knew you would. And I'm glad you found it out for yourself." So I then went to Pottsville Business College. In the meantime I had enrolled in the International Correspondence School and took some more mathematics and some bookkeeping.
Wilkinson: Were you living at home at this time?
Reed: Yes, I was living at home. In fact I lived home all through this experience. Pottsville was just 4 miles away in another direction, and we either walked or if we had 5 cents we rode the trolley. However, we walked 2 miles to the trolley. And this wasn't a hardship. Everybody else did, and you were just attuned to that kind of exertion.
Wilkinson: You were about 18 years old at that time?
Reed: I was younger than that. I was just past 16.
Wilkinson: Was this about the year 1900 or 1901?
Reed: Well, I took up a business course and stenography at Pottsville College and after completing an 18-month course there I got a job in a law office where I was supposed to become a lawyer. In return for services I was getting a law education. I became rather proficient in stenography in that I made some money on the side taking court depositions and I spent all the time I could in the court house listening to trials. I attended to the business of this fellow's office and in the general course of the day's work, what you heard and what you had to look up for this lawyer you got a fairly good smattering of law.
Wilkinson: What was the lawyer's name?
Reed: J. Franklin Rehm. However, one day I was called back to the school and they said, "Would you like to take a job with the DuPont Company?" "What doing?" "Well, they need an all-around man down at Gibbstown, New Jersey, and we have recommended you." Well, about that time $40 a month looked much bigger than a law education, so I came with the DuPont Company.
Wilkinson: Did it strike you as odd that a firm based in Wilmington would go to Pottsville seeking an employee?
Reed: No, there was a reason for that. There was a former graduate of Pottsville Business College working for the DuPont Company, so like begets like. I left Cressona on October 28, 1903 and walked to Schuylkill Haven lugging an old suitcase, and came into Philadelphia and took the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad train out of Camden and came down to Gibbstown.
Wilkinson: How did your parents feel about this? You leaving home at the age of 18?
Reed: Well, that's a good question. As I explained earlier, the local occupation was either railroading or mining, and my mother always vowed that I would never get on the railroad, so I tell the story with a great deal of humor that I got this job in a dynamite mill.
Wilkinson: Much safer! How did you feel about going into a place where they were making dynamite?
Reed: I guess I didn't have sense enough to realize it - I just came into it, that's all.
Wilkinson: A job.
Reed: A job and $40 a month. That may sound terrible today, but that was the going rate for a beginner.
Wilkinson: What was room and board?
Reed: Room and board was $15 a month.
Wilkinson: Where did you live?
Reed: I lived right in Gibbstown. Had a room with a family by the name of Tussey. A lot of people in that town accepted boarders who worked for the plant. My start was made then with the DuPont Company as the office general stenographer. I was given charge of the battery, cap and fuse magazine of which I didn't know a thing in the world. I handled fulminate of mercury blasting caps for six months before I knew they would explode. I had to make my own cases, take customers orders, go down to this little magazine and make my boxes. Then I packed the material and nailed them up and took them out on the wharf and came back to the office and made my bills of lading; and then other work would have piled up - I tell the world they just worked hell out of you in those days.
Wilkinson: No preliminary indoctrination?
Reed: No, none whatever. I didn't know fulminate of mercury from sugar.
Wilkinson: Who was your boss?
Reed: A man by the name of E. T. Neal, later followed by H. B. Newman. However in my job as office stenographer I had to serve a number of individuals - the plant superintendent, assistant superintendent and other principals. In those days no organized programs of safety or otherwise. This was true of industry in general. Apparently the disposition seemed to be that what happened was just too bad.
Wilkinson: Part of the job. No printed safety rules?
Reed: Oh, heavens no!
Wilkinson: No matches?
Reed: Matches were one thing they did pay a lot of attention to. Yes, they ran regular match searches in those days, which I caught up with later. However, Repauno was still very young at that time and a man by the name of H. G. Chase, who was associated with Lammot du Pont at the time Lammot laid that plant out was still there. He told me the story very frequently and showed me the spot where they sat on a stump and on the back of a shingle sketched out what the plant was to be.
Wilkinson: Back in 1880?
Reed: Yes, the story of Mr. Lammot du Pont's demise was very fresh in everybody's mind.
Wilkinson: Was H. G. Chase still working at the plant?
Reed: Oh yes, he was still working at the plant and strange to say I could never understand it, he was a very intelligent man and his earlier associations with Lammot du Pont should have put him very much higher in the Company than he was because he only had charge of the magazines and general explosive shipping area, and even in my young life that was always a question in my mind, where does a guy go from here? I mention H. G. Chase rather freely in this interview and I would like to record a story that is quite worth mentioning. It seems that in the early days of the transportation of dynamite from the Repauno plant it was hauled through the city of Chester, and the City Fathers objected to it as a rather dangerous procedure. H. G. Chase said he could prove that dynamite was not dangerous in the absence of a detonator or spark. To prove this he volunteered to drop a case of dynamite - a fifty-pound case - from the top of a 50-ft. water tower onto a pyramid of rocks below to prove that it would not explode from that type of handling. He was taken up on it and he carried it through. The dynamite did not explode.
Wilkinson: How about the onlookers? Did they hide behind trees or what?
Reed: This story was recited to me by Mr. Chase, but he never told me what the onlookers did. I can imagine that they did keep at a very safe distance. That demonstration was put on at the Repauno plant near the Delaware River, quite close to the congested part of the plant, nearer the mechanical area.
Wilkinson: T. W. Bacchus was superintendent of the plant?
Reed: T. W. was superintendent of the plant, and I will say this: O. R. Jackson had just left because I think he was greatly shocked following an explosion which possibly hurt him both physically and mentally. There was some question as to whether the explosion could have been prevented and when an explosion occurred in those days, which they did frequently, it usually meant fatalities. I never knew much of O. R. until later years; however, T. W. Bacchus was an Englishman, and he always wanted it understood that he was a subject of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. His first instruction to me was, "You get two holidays a year, one for your country and one for your God and the rest of the time you work." And his method of training was to bawl you out regularly whether you needed it or not. Most of the time you did. He didn't censure you for mistakes, he didn't hold it against you, but boy, you never made the same one twice.
Wilkinson: How did he register with the work people?
Reed: Not badly. Because that was the custom of the day. Everybody looked for it. And he was a grand fellow. We all liked him.
Wilkinson: Was he a practical dynamite man?
Reed: He was not a chemist. He was more of a manager, and he depended on his experienced men for job detail. He knew how to put good men in the places where they belonged. His earlier experience was in sales.
Wilkinson: But O. R. Jackson's background was chemistry?
Reed: Jackson's background was largely chemistry, and he used more of a scientific approach to the problem. However, the ultimate disposition of T. W. Bacchus was that when the powder trust was dissolved he was transferred to Hercules. But meeting T. W. Bacchus later in Wilmington he would always say, "You will always be one of my boys."
Wilkinson: Now where does Hamilton Barksdale fit into the operation?
Reed : Well, now at that time T. Coleman du Pont was president of the Company, and H. G. Haskell was in charge of operations. Barksdale came in later, considerably later, into the picture - not until Irenee du Pont became active and if I don't happen to touch on that you remind me of it. The life at Gibbstown was the routine that a young, inexperienced boy would encounter. However, two things happened that possibly brought me into focus more than anything else. They were simple things. First, we used to telegraph by Morse code our shipments from the office up to the Gibbstown railroad station and one of the clerks there was a proficient Morse key operator. One day he was ill and the question was, what are we going to do about these shipments? Who is going to wire them up? I said, "I'll do it." As a background, we kids up in the mining region had loafed around the railroad offices. They were never closed, and there were not many regulations to keep you off the railroad, and all of us knew something about telegraphy. I had a brother-in-law, and we had a line set up between our houses, and we talked to each other that way. About the time I was running the key T. W. Bacchus came in and looked at me and never said a word, but it registered; I found out afterward. Then a general audit was made from Wilmington, and the disposition of most people in the office at that time was to make it just about as inconvenient for the auditors as they could. I didn't know it, I was too new in the organization, and I made it about as convenient as I could for him. When he wanted something I got it for him, and I listened to him and helped him all I possibly could, and a report came back which was very damaging to some people in the office criticizing the application of some of the people on various jobs. Only had an office force of 5 but one fellow was laid off entirely and other people were censured quite a lot for not paying attention to their work, and Reed was the only fellow that did any work in the office. Immediately I was taken off of stenography and placed in charge of payrolls. Those two things did help me a great deal.
- Wages at DuPont; nationalities of Gibbstown workers; other DuPont plants; chief clerk job at Hopewell plant; job as assistant to the superintendent at the Repauno plant; initiating DuPont's first safety proceduresKeywords: Ashburn, Missouri; Barksdale, Wisconsin; Boer War; C.A. Patterson; company housing; Duco; DuPont; explosions; Forcite, New Jersey; George A. Staples; Hollerith tabulating machines; Hopewell Plant; Italians; L.A. Du Blois; Lithuanians; Louviers, Colorado; Richmond, Virginia; South African War (1899-1902); wagesTranscript: Wilkinson: While we are on the subject, what wages were being paid?
Reed: Well that's a good question again. When I went there they worked a ten-hour day shift and a 14-hour night. The powder lines operated only in the daytime. However, the preparation area, the so-called acid area, worked a 24-hour shift because that was a continuous process that couldn't be turned off except on rare occasions. The general labor was paid 17 1/2 cents an hour and the people on the powder line were paid 20 cents an hour. I remember sometime afterward there was a general increase put across whereby the rate was raised from 17 1/2 cents to 20 cents and 20 cents to 22 1/2 cents an hour. People worked with it and were satisfied and lived on it.
Wilkinson: Was this about 1905?
Reed: I would say this was about 1905.
Wilkinson: I was thinking about the anthracite strike of 1902 and the demands for wage raises. Did this spread into other areas?
Reed: There was nothing that I recall that influenced this except that general economic conditions were making themselves felt. No strikes. In my early days there during that period strikes were almost unheard of.
Wilkinson: No unions?
Reed: Practically no union organization. Union organization didn't come into the field with any consequence until 1915. Now, we had the coal mines and lived through several strikes in the coal mining area, but they were never won because they didn't have the strength in those days. However, I handled a payroll for about 600 men. And that meant that we filled out employment cards and everybody on the plant could hire, every foreman on the place could employ. They would give the fellow a pink slip and send it into Reed and, well, Reed got it, and that was my authority to fill out an employment card and put his name on the payroll at the rate that his particular area carried. And if a fellow was fired he got a so-called yellow slip, and that was brought into Reed also. However, by this time we sold to employees powder clothes and they had to divest themselves of street clothes and put on white uniforms that had no pockets in them so that nothing of an abrasive nature could be hidden. They had one pocket, which was slatted, which would hold their handkerchief, and powder shoes on which the soles and heels were wood pegged so that there could be no static spark. And those deductions had to be made from wages. The great habit those days of people who were in debt was to have other creditors garnish wages and I had the experience, within comparatively recent years when I was still working down in the building, a fellow came to me, and I didn't know him from Adam, and he said, "I've just been pensioned and I want to talk to you. I want to thank you because you kept me from being garnished on a number of occasions at Gibbstown!"
Wilkinson: He had good reason to think fondly of you.
Reed: I became rather popular because I did protect workmen in every possible way that I could.
Wilkinson: What about a company store?
Reed: No, no commissary as such. We lived too near civilization, and we lived at Gibbstown - just a little crossroads actually, but we had Camden and Philadelphia close at hand.
Wilkinson: Company houses?
Reed: Well, there were no company houses, at that time. There were later on after I left Gibbstown. But company housing in the DuPont Company had not proved very successful. Now they have absolutely gone out of plant housing and have either sold the houses to the tenants or to somebody else. We did not have that problem at Gibbstown. Now, we had a couple of farms that had homes on them. They were a matter of safety, a buffer zone so that civilization wouldn't encroach on the plant property too rapidly.
Wilkinson: Did you ever sense that the surrounding community didn't feel at ease with a dynamite plant so close by?
Reed: They accepted it because in a small community if you employ 600 or 700 men it is an economic feature and it was a sort of a convenience. Whenever we had an explosion we paid for all the window panes that were broken in the last ten years.
Wilkinson: Did any nationality of worker predominate? Here it was the Irish and Italian. How about Gibbstown?
Reed: I wouldn't say that there was any particular nationality predominating but we did get quite a lot of immigrants down from Philadelphia and they could be Italian or particularly Lithuanian, as we had in those days. Lithuania is now absorbed into Czechoslovakia.
Wilkinson: Russia, I believe.
Reed: And we got a number of those and some Germans. I know I gave many people their names. They would come in with a name that I couldn't understand whatsoever and I'd tell them, "Your name is so-and-so, and here it is."
Wilkinson: He didn't have a passport to show you? How about turnover?
Reed: Turnover I would say was rather normal. We never had a great turnover. One thing was accepted for the day - if the fellow got fresh with his foreman he fired him. Well, you don't do that today.
Wilkinson: You arbitrate?
Reed: That's the way you settled an argument. "You're fired!"
Wilkinson: I was going to ask you something about output at Gibbstown. Do you recall production figures at any time while you were there?
Reed: Well, during the period that we were supplying the dynamite for the Panama Canal we were turning out three million pounds of straight dynamite a month, plus some gelatin dynamite. Now the difference between these designations is that one is an explosive for dry areas and the other an explosive for wet areas. But three million pounds is one thing we did month after month.
Wilkinson: And that lasted 1903 or 04?
Reed: Well that was nearer 1912.
Wilkinson: You were on the Panama Canal assignment production all those years?
Reed: Well, all up until the time it was finished. About 1911 or 12. That was our big sale. Then in the meantime we were supplying all of the mines up in the Pennsylvania country and then the Company started to branch out. Transportation costs made it necessary that production be located closer to the point of consumption. The Barksdale, Wisconsin plant was constructed, followed by a plant at Louviers, Colorado. Before the dissolution of the trust, plants operated at Forcite, N.J., Ashburn, Missouri and others I don't recall now. Repauno was the mother plant and naturally became the training ground for supervisory and specialty employees for the newer plants.
Wilkinson: At Repauno didn't you make the basic nitro starch and nitro cotton which was processed into the finished product at the other plants?
Reed: No, let me recite one thing first. I was given the opportunity to work through the entire process of the Repauno office, which gave me a very good insight into the chemistry of explosives which I made it my business to find out. If I have ever educated myself in any way it was through somebody else and nosing into somebody else's job. A man by the name of Fletcher took the census of Russia and he used what was then known as the Hollerith tabulating machine. He came to Wilmington and talked them into an installation of Hollerith statistics tabulating. That is the present day IBM. Well, the fellow came to Repauno, talked to our chief clerk about it, and then they got hold of me on the payroll where we operated what is known as a payroll distribution. That meant that you recorded the man's time but then that man's time produced something, operating a mixing house, a packing house, a repair job or a construction job; then we had to divide that time up according to the way his hours were spent, but that distribution would never equal the amount of the payroll. It did after I worked on it for awhile because I made it equal, There is a book in the Explosives Department now known as Egg, and Ralph Asheton started that book back in those days and he worked with me as to how various routines operated. This was done, and it was so recorded, and that became the Bible of operations. I recall he wanted to know how I made this payroll distribution equal the total payroll. "Well, I said, it is a simple percentage proposition. I took the amount that I was out, determined what percentage that was of the whole, and added or deducted this percentage from each labor cost recorded. Asheton was a representative from Wilmington. And he was writing this up so that they would have standard operations throughout the Explosives Department. It was a very good thing, and he did a very good job with it, and he and I argued these things out and arrived at a solution. Now I was doing all this while I was the general clerk and maybe should not have been doing it but possibly I was just a little more generous than the rest and willing to spend much time on it.
Wilkinson: I asked if this was recognized with an increase in salary periodically.
Reed: No, no.
Wilkinson: You stayed at $40 a long time?
Reed: I stayed at $40 for about three years, then I think I got $45, and then the millennium came and I got $60, and then I got $1,000 a year.
Wilkinson: Did that come at Repauno?
Reed: Yes, that came at Repauno. Well, this payroll distribution brought up a problem, and I adapted these Hollerith machines to payroll distribution. That solved our problem with punched cards for each charge and our costs balanced every day. We had no more trouble in that respect but if people would only know today what the present IBM tabulator system is as compared with earlier practices. The punch card sorting machine was vertically built instead of horizontal as at present, and the tabulating machines were entirely manually operated. The Hollerith system was used to solve other bothersome routines and the idea of daily controls and balance saved a lot of peak load and tended to speed up the closing of monthly accounting. Experience of this nature in my early life helped to lay the foundation for my future work in industrial management.
Wilkinson: You became Chief Clerk?
Reed: I never became Chief Clerk there. But all the while I would be training men who would be sent out to the Barksdale and the Louviers plants and others, but I don't remember who they were. However, finally about 1913 the Hopewell dynamite plant was built and I was chosen to be Chief Clerk of the Hopewell Dynamite Plant.
Wilkinson: They came to you and asked you to go there?
Reed: They told you to go there, and so I went down to Hopewell where I had the job of Chief Clerk and Labor Foreman. Where you had a plant consisting of a Manager and Assistant Manager, an acid department man, a powder department man, and a chief clerk, and naturally we mixed up an awful lot - our duties overlapped every once in a while -but the place operated with an organization of that kind pretty well. We were just about ready to run the first charge of nitroglycerin when we got orders to shut down in 1913 on account of what we call a recession today, but What was known then as a depression.
Wilkinson: May I go back a moment or two? This whole business of site selection for a plant - what was there about this particular location...?
Reed: Well, it was located there to supply the mining regions of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Very logical because we had Norfolk and Western transportation. Shipped from Gibbstown it had to go either P& amp; R, Penna. and transfer a couple of times and it was a big advantage in transportation charges.
Wilkinson :You also had water transportation?
Reed: No, we had the dirty James River. No advantage. Only a big advantage in later years when it became a water supply for Hopewell. However, the thing worked down to three people. We got notice to grease the machinery, ship the supplies, and close the plant. So it fell to my job to direct the labor crew and get out all the ingredients that we had stored, shipping them to various places as ordered from Wilmington, and then grease up the machinery and finally we were through, and we had no job. Well, we weren't fired, so the plant manager and the acid department man and myself were left there. We would come over to the office in the morning and make ourselves some George Washington coffee, which was the first instant coffee marketed, and then we found some dynamite that the construction crew had left there, and we would go out and blast stumps and kill snakes.
Wilkinson :You weren't married then?
Reed: Oh yes, I was married when I was at Repauno. After about three months I received instructions one day to close up the cash account and I don't recall where the other two men were sent, but I again went back to Repauno. At Repauno C. A. Patterson was then the plant superintendent. He was a very fine man. He had worked for the Company earlier and had left to go back to the University of Pennsylvania to study chemistry, and then came back to DuPont. So I was just sent there. I didn't know what I was going to do, so I met him on the morning that I arrived and he said that always at any plant where he had been located he had an assistant just to him, and he would like me to take this kind of a job. "It is a job that you will have to make. I can't tell you what you will have to do, you will just have to see it." But then he pictured to me where other men went to that he had used in similar capacities at other places, and that was beyond my fondest dreams. I could never see ahead to any horizon like that. However, I took on the job and I was very successful with C. A. Patterson. I impressed him very much one day by a very simple thing. We made an increase in wages. This was up now to 1913-14-15, and in about a half hour I came back and told him what that increase was going to cost the company as a whole. Apparently it was the first time it had ever been presented to him in that way, and it impressed him very much. I made myself generally useful, took up a number of chores. I became the first employment manager. We stopped everybody from employing help; I would go to one particular gate each morning where applicants would be waiting for a job. In the meantime I had been told what was needed in the plant and I would pick out these fellows and send them down to the office for recording and tell the rest of them to come back tomorrow morning.
Wilkinson: What kind of interview did you give these fellows?
Reed: Just sized them up. Where did you come from? What did you do there? Ever been arrested? Married? How many children and a general line of questioning like that. Part he and part myself. In other words I would draw them out and if the fellow acted anyway intelligent and wasn't overbearingly smart or was physically fit, he was hired.
Wilkinson: He didn't have to have experience in powder manufacturing?
Reed: No, we soon gave them that.
Wilkinson: Farmers in the nearby countryside came in?
Reed: Oh yes, that's in the country around Gibbstown. That's South Jersey vegetable country. We never really got the farmers. They stayed on the farm. We got them down from Philadelphia. There was one fellow came down from Philadelphia who was really a story book in himself. George H. Staples. He and Jack London had hobnobbed around together, and they would follow up various incipient wars. They heard of the Boer War down in South Africa, so they said, "Let's go down and take a shot at that." He came back from the Boer War, and he found himself in Philadelphia the day after we had an explosion at Gibbstown, and he said to himself this ought to offer some excitement, I'll go down there. So he goes down, and he gets a job. I shall never forget him. He became foreman of the "AF line packing house, and I can see his name on the box packing house reports today just as though I was there. And he was picked out of that and sent to the Canadian Explosives Company where he became president of Canadian Industries Ltd.
Wilkinson: Did you sense that he had something that the other men didn't have?
Reed: Well, he really had it, and what he was doing here was getting an education. But that put him on his feet. His health failed up there, but after a recovery, later in the Duco days, the Company re-employed him again, and he had charge of the Detroit sales office where we handled all the sale of the miracle finish "Duco", for the automobile trade. He had automobile trade in his hand all the time and did a great job. It is only a few years ago that he passed away.
Wilkinson: What were some of the other duties you did for Mr. Patterson?
Reed: Other duties just depended upon what the mail and the day brought forth. One unpleasant responsibility operated at the time of an accident. An explosion generally involved fatalities. Here it was my job to care for remains, advise families, handle newspapers, secure doctors, undertakers and other details. Other supervision was busy in safeguarding other operations and getting men back to work as soon as it was practical. At times it was a gruesome job but someone had to do it and in my job as special assistant it fell to my lot. I would go through such an ordeal all day and go home and become very sick. Some of these memories are still very vivid before me and at times I wish I never had the experience. I had one thing happen one day. When an explosion happens a big vacuum occurs, depending on the severity of the explosion, and when this vacuum occurs outside of a building, everything goes out, then that vacuum fills in and everything comes back. I was handling a comptometer at a desk one day when the safety screen that was beside me conked off, coming back and bent the keys from under my fingers.
Wilkinson: How did it miss hitting you when it was that close?
Reed: Just a miracle. It wouldn't have been a fatality, it would have been a scare more than anything else.
Wilkinson: Were there serious efforts made to learn the cause?
Reed: Very definitely. But generally the people who knew the cause weren't left to tell the story. Now, getting back a little further, I would say about 1905, one L. A. Du Blois, came into the picture as a safety engineer, and we all thought he was a huge joke. We didn't take him very seriously. He was a persistent individual, and after a while it began to take hold. So that I was in very personally on the initiation of safety practices in the DuPont Company. I shall never forget an example that he used to use. He'd say, "Well we never had any trouble with that - now you take a rubber band and you stretch it, you stretch it a bit further, a little further, and you stretch it still further, and it will break. Now you're just stretching that rubber band, and it's going to break one day, “ and sure as God made little apples that was true and we began to realize it so that the safety feature of the plant fell into my lap. In memory to L. A. Du Blois I would like to go on record by stating that in my opinion all of the vast safety organization and the wonderful safety records that DuPont has achieved stand today as a monument to him. Then I had the unique experience of installing the first medical unit at Repauno and from Dr. Hudson in Wilmington we got a medical doctor by the name of Dr. Clements, which was quite an innovation. One reason for it was that we had begun to get into rather top secret features. We started to make trinitrotoluol, which was the basis for dyes. And next it was the basis for TNT which later we made at Repauno. Now nitroglycerin is glycerin nitrated once. Tri would indicate something is nitrated three times and was that much more sensitive because of the much higher percentage of nitrogen in the mixture. This trinitrotoluol manufacture worked on the blood corpuscles and men turned bluish and their lips turned tan, and we had this medical unit to help control this situation. Blood samples of these men were sent to a laboratory in Trenton, and they would come back and say this man had better be taken out of this atmosphere, so we anticipated the trouble before we got into real extremes. E. B. Yancey, who later became General Manager of the Explosives Department and later a Vice President of the Company, and I didn't put an awful lot of credence in this blood sampling business, so we concluded that we'd send along with the next set a sample of the blood of a mule. And the answer came, "Somebody must be getting smart. We can't detect anything in this sample, and it's not the blood of a man, and considering the number of mules you have there it must be the blood of a mule." He hit it right on the nose. A policy was soon adopted to alternate employees - a week in the operation and a week in the open air. This situation may have been the Company's first experience with industrial poisoning.
- Hazards of working with nitroglycerin; manufacturing dynamite; explosions at the Repauno plantKeywords: explosions; headaches; manufacture of dynamite; nitroglycerinTranscript: Wilkinson: I understand that headaches are part of the job.
Reed: Well, that was nitroglycerin.
Wilkinson: How did you lessen the effects of that?
Reed: You couldn't. That is corrected by adjusting the bodily structure to the atmosphere. Nitroglycerin tablets to a man who has an angina - that's a constriction of the blood vessels just about the heart -you give him a nitroglycerin tablet, the nitroglycerin expands that area so that the blood can flow clear. When a fellow feels himself constricting in that area he takes his little tablet and goes on about his business. I'll never forget the one shipment that we had to make every month to one of the drug concerns in Philadelphia - add a half pound of nitroglycerin to 49 1/2 pounds of powdered chalk and incorporate it. There is your nitroglycerin tablet. You can see how little nitroglycerin you get in any one of these tablets and the effect it has on you. Now the man who goes into the nitroglycerin area or into any area where nitroglycerin is used, like the mixing house or packing house or other powder process breathe that atmosphere. Blood vessels become enlarged and one will suffer what is known as a nitroglycerin headache .I just told a story in here this morning, and I used the expression, and I told them why I used the expression. I had a terrible nitroglycerin headache one day - I never spent enough time in it to become thoroughly adjusted to it, and every time I knew I had to go into it I knew I was going to have a headache - and I was lying in a barber chair while the barber was working on me, and I was complaining about this pain, and he said, "Be happy, you'll soon be dead!"
Wilkinson: Wouldn't fans or air conditioning compensate for this?
Reed: Those days there was no air conditioning. After a few days men adjusted to the exposure. The heart adjusted to the capacity of the blood vessels. Whether it enlarged the heart or not I don't know. We didn't have any heart failures of any consequence. I never remember a heart failure. You could put a man in a hand-packing house. I say hand as opposed to machine - you make odd-sized cartridges where you would set up the paraffin paper shell and you would pour a scoop full of dynamite into it, and then take a rubber tamp and tamp it down, then pour some more and fold the top over. Well, the fellow was handling the material right there and after about half a day of this you'd usually find him lying in the grass on the other side of the tracks. Some of them would quit, they just couldn't take it; but others stayed right with it. I know some men who worked with it for years. I know of one man starting up the B nitroglycerin line - we had three lines A, B, and C, which really means three dynamite factories. When you start up a nitroglycerin line it is a dangerous thing, because if any dirt or a chip of wood or something inflammable were to be left in any of the areas where the acid came in contact with it a fire could be started and cause an explosion. The safeguard was when you started to nitrate a charge of glycerin; if it started to fume, you'd pull a valve and dump it into a vat of water. There was always a safety chute running down about three stories - these buildings were rather high - and if anything happened a fellow couldn't control he'd just jump into this chute and slide on down. Anyway, this fellow I'm talking about drowned 22 charges and the 23rd went off; he saw it was out of control, and he jumped down the chute. When the place was rebuilt, he was right back in it again. That just shows, more or less, how a man is wedded to his environment - we'd never shut the plant after an explosion. Just as soon as the fire was out and everything under control, the men would be sent right back to work. If you shut down they'd never come back; they would scare.
Wilkinson: I wonder if their wives and families had anything to say about this?
Reed: Sometimes. Not to any great extent. Mrs. Reed never tried to get me to go into any other work. She just took it as it came. If we'd have an explosion, she'd wonder where I was at that time. We didn't have any home telephones in those days and she'd just wonder. I lived in Bridgeport at that time; it was about 4 or 5 miles from the plant. That was on Raccoon River which is a tributary of the Delaware River, back about 2 miles from the Delaware River. This is the same Bridgeport on one end - the Chester-Bridgeport ferry run. I liked that little town. It had a number of very fine people in it. I lived there very comfortably. Now, you asked about products in the plant. The main product was dynamite in its various forms, and various sizes; various strengths...all the way from 5% railroad powder to 60% dynamite. These percentages represented the percentage of nitroglycerin, the remaining percentage was the vehicle or absorbent material. Other ingredients in a 40% dynamite were nitrate of soda, wood pulp and chalk. There were various formulas used. These ingredients were all carefully prepared in what we called a "dope house." Some were manufactured and refined in the plant. The nitrate of soda was refined in the plant, and the wood pulp was bought, but it all went to the "dope house" where it was carefully screened and weighed out in quantities. In other words, dynamite pretty nearly followed in the footsteps of black powder because that was the only experience they started with. However, when this screening process was done and that dope was brought into the mixing house, it was put into the mixing machine, which was almost the counterpart of the iron wheel we have here except the whole thing was wood construction and the shoes on the wheels were hard rubber. The same kind of a plow, one that moved in front of the wheel and one that followed at the back, turned it over all the time; at a certain stage they would bring in the nitroglycerin cart.
In those days we had the rubber lined barrels with pure rubber hose coming from it, and they would bring this into the mixing tub and turn open a valve and run the nitroglycerin into the mixture while the wheels were moving slowly. None of the charge was kept wet like one did with black powder. The percentage of nitroglycerin having been weighed out in this barrel was a charge. Now, this turned it into a sort of a wet substance. It was drier than putty. This went from the mixing house to a cartridge machine (Hall type) which was an automatic way of putting the dynamite into the paper cartridge. The paper cartridge was made in a shell house, we called them shells not cartridges - and there various machines took a roll of paper, cut it diagonally, formed the shell, crimped one end of it, and the empty shells were taken in so-called tote boxes over to the Hall machine. This machine had a drum and in that drum there were several shuttles. The operator would take a bunch of these paper cases and lay them out in cavities; they would fit in the shuttle, that would revolve to another stop, and the powder would flow into it. Then when it got up to the top the tamps would come down and the shell would be crimped. While all that was going on the operator would be loading another shuttle and a fellow on the other side would be unloading the one that was just finished. At an earlier time it was all hand punched (that's what we called it), but a fellow by the name of Hall built this machine. Repauno was an inventive sort of place; we had common ordinary machinists and one engineer...man by the name of Stillwell...and they did great inventive work on this Hall machine and on the shell machines and on mixing machines. They were practical men who saw what was needed and did it. We built practically all of our machines right on the job. We had big millwright shops and did very, very fine wood work; we made these big wooden mixing machines there. One of the products of the place then was invention and construction.
Wilkinson: Did you draw on the skills of the mechanics of any of the old plants, i.e., the Brandywine?
Reed: No, the Company didn't shift the men around. A black powder man wouldn't have anything to do with dynamite and a dynamite man wouldn't have anything to do with black powder. We made, as I said a while ago, all of the dynamites; we made all of the acids - nitric and sulfuric acids; we nitrated ammonia for nitrate ammonia which made a nitrate ammonia powder, one of the curses of the dynamite industry today. They only need to absorb nitrate ammonia in cylinder oil and they have as good a dynamite as the 40% dynamite was.
- DuPont refineries in South America; different types of blasting powders; explosive research and developmentKeywords: Charles L. Reese; H.G. Haskell; Judson powder; nitrate of ammonia; nitroglycerin; railroad powder; Repauno plant; W.P. AllenTranscript: Wilkinson: This nitrate of soda...DuPont had its own refineries down in South America?
Reed: We got nitrate of soda up here by the shipload and it was all bagged. There was a refinery building where the crude nitrate of soda was put through a grinding process. When it came in from the ship it was dumped in a great big dome-like building. Then taken from there into the refinery, and then the bags went through a washing process to get every last vestige of soda that was stuck to the bags. I don't know too much about the refining business, but I know it was done very meticulously. We made a Judson powder which was nothing more than black powder except we added 5% of nitroglycerin to it; we used powdered, soft coal and sulfur and some nitrate of soda and already there was black powder. Then we added 5% of nitroglycerin and it was known as a railroad powder. The railroads used it for light blasting; it had a very limited strength. It was always known as R.R.P. - railroad powder. Earlier it was made in the so-called safety area, the area that made nitric acid, sulfuric acid and coated nitrate of ammonia. One morning just before the plant started up it exploded. No one was in it and no one suspected it was going to blow, although they should have. After that a powder line was built out in the powder area and it was taken out of the safety area. Then one morning we had another beautiful blow in the same area - the nitrate of ammonia process exploded. Do you remember one time down in Texas City a few years ago when a ship blew up? I said immediately, "Nitrate of ammonia." This was the case.
Wilkinson: What might cause it to go off?
Reed: A flame or excessive heat would put it off. Powder is only a matter of rapid combustion. That's a very slow way of describing an explosion in a gun barrel. You fire your powder and a rapid accumulation of gas sets up from the flame that immediately explodes and your charge is gone. And evidently that was the same thing that happened on that ship. A fire must have started somewhere and set up enough gas and it blew. We don't know yet what caused that one over at Gibbstown, but no more nitrate of ammonia was coated in that area. Coating ammonia meant that you took the nitrate of ammonia as it was and you mixed it with a slight degree of paraffin.
Wilkinson: What was the nitrate of ammonia explosive used for?
Reed: In an ammonia powder it seemed to have some advantages in certain areas, but today I can't recall what they were. You used nitroglycerin and nitrate of ammonia, and that made an ammonia powder.
Wilkinson: Had the industry reached a stage at this time that it was tailoring certain types of explosives?
Reed: Definitely. The Eastern Laboratory operated at this point. That was the early research in explosives, in a very formal way. There they employed men who did nothing but research on materials for explosives and they were always trying to make the best explosive to meet a particular objective; Charles L. Reese, the father of the present C. L. Reese, was the director, and a Dr. Comey took it over after Dr. Reese went to Wilmington. This laboratory was just on the outskirts of the plant.
Wilkinson: Do you think you have covered Rapauno pretty well, or do you think there are more things you could tell us? Do you want to go on to Hopewell now?
Reed: There was one feature I had in mind, but it sort of slipped me for the time being.
Wilkinson: You were speaking of the various things you did under Patterson's direction.
Reed: Yes. That was the first installation of medicine on a DuPont plant. It has grown into a very big thing today. I was always able to draw on that experience, at whatever plant I was. A physician and nurse full time at a plant. The doctor was on the payroll, and if anything happened at night he was on call.
Wilkinson: If he was not busy treating people, did he give regular health examinations?
Reed: That was the time we started to physically examine employees. Everyone from the top right on down took an examination. They tried to get around to doing this once a year. Sometimes they couldn't make it once a year, but if there was any question about a man he was always sent to the doctor. We started to modernize about 1915.
Wilkinson: This business of the superior calling in his men periodically and discussing his job, or complaints, with him is considered a feature of the Company today. Was it in operation at that time?
Reed: No. Over there we had certain men earmarked for certain jobs as the new plants came into being. I know we used to buy crude glycerin and we paid an import duty on it. We finally bought the refined glycerin, because the import glycerin was crude and we had to have it refined. We built our own refinery, so we cut out one step. We made sweet glycerin which was the stuff that was nitrated for dynamite. A man by the name of W. P. Allen got into the picture there; and I became very closely associated with him in later years. We supplied some of this glycerin to other plants. A man by the name of Sinkinson more or less falsified his records in there and this man Allen was put in there, and he showed up the whole situation, so we had a little bit of that. But a man like Allen going in there who had been experienced on the dynamite lines (he was a chemist), in the safety area, the powder area, the glycerin area, was marked as the next superintendent. He was made Superintendent of the Hopewell dynamite plant and I was made Chief Clerk.
Wilkinson: Certain men out of their experiences, and so forth, became tagged for these jobs?
Reed: Yes. It was a day-to-day situation. There was no system as they have now. In the DuPont Company today they have a plan and have a great number of names that shows where this man should be at a certain stage, and at this stage by a certain time, and if he isn't there by that time it is investigated. Oh, it is formalized.
Wilkinson: Who in the Wilmington office exercised the general over-sight of the Repauno operations?
Reed: In the early days it was H. G. Haskell. I shall never forget T. W. Bacchus dictating to me - "H. G. Haskell, Esq., General Manager." On the accounting end there was a man by the name of J. Walker Burns; he had under him a man by the name of James Simmons. Simmons's daughter is working in the DuPont Building at the present time. W. P. Allen used to like me because I would oppose J. Walker Burns, whom he didn't like. I was a bit of a diplomat. I disliked him also. J. Walker Burns was very arbitrary and if something was done just not the way he wanted it done, it wasn't right no matter how right it was. One of my duties over there was to explain or justify a construction installation. For instance, we used to haul all of our products around by mule power; a locomotive never could come near a process area. Finally we got the idea we'd just run steam locomotives all over the place, so we put in a broad gauge track system and it was put in on a savings basis. A year after this was operated Mr. Patterson got a notice to explain the estimated savings on this project and I got the job. I explained it and O. R. Jackson said he knew it was wrong, but he couldn't prove it. He figured I'd justified the operation, but couldn't find out how I did it. They were some of the odd jobs that fell to me, but it was a wealth of experience. C. A. Patterson told me one day, "Now, I know I'm going places in the Company and there is no reason why you can't go with me. I'd like to have you continue right on with me as you are doing here. About that time Hopewell opened up. I'd been to Hopewell once, and back, and here it opens up again. This was the World War I Hopewell. One day Patterson said to me, "We're in trouble. They want you to go to Hopewell. I don't want you to go unless we can't help it." He showed me a letter, one day, where W. C. Spruance who had then replaced H. G. Haskell, said they just had to have a man with Reed's disposition to handle a bad labor situation at Hopewell. The payroll was all messed up down there. Mr. Patterson said he just had to let me go. Shortly after that Patterson was afflicted with a carbuncle on the back of his neck and died. Nevertheless, I went to Hopewell, and was thrown overboard. W. P. Allen told me it would be sink or swim. The biggest payroll I'd been faced with up to that time was 600 to 700 men and here I was faced with something that was going to go to 30,000, and it was all messed up to begin with of course, at that time they didn't have that number of employees as yet. W. P. Allen had become superintendent of the dynamite mill and then we were transferred away from that and then he was sent back to superintend this other operation. They could never have sent a better man - he had twice the brains of anybody I've ever known. William Porter Allen.
- Going to work at the Hopewell plant; daily life in Hopewell, Virginia; story about the difference between Allen's and Bacchus' management styleKeywords: African-Americans; daily life; games and amusements; Hopewell plant; Hopewell, Virginia; housing; labor; payroll; Petersburg, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; staffing; T.W. Bacchus; W.P. AllenTranscript: Dr. Wilkinson mentioned he'd been reading Van Gelder and Schlatter's History of the Explosives Industry in America.
Reed: Van Gelder was still in the Company when I first went to Gibbstown. He had lived at some of the boarding houses where I had lived. He was a very competent individual. We'll move on to Hopewell and if I can remember anything else at Gibbstown we can insert it later on.
I went to Hopewell and didn't even have an office. I had no assistance whatever. I looked at this tangled mess and was scared out of a year's growth. There was a location mid-way between A and B plants at Hopewell; that meant two distinct gun cotton mills each consisting of 6 nitrating lines...that's immense. There was a bit of woods, and the first thing I knew workmen were cutting down the woods and the next morning I had an office. Wasn't much of an office; it only kept the rain off you, but nevertheless it was my office. I didn't have a bit of help. I had to start from scratch, in a mixed-up, threatening situation. I was threatened with labor troubles because the men's pays weren't right and they had to be straightened out. The men were impatient, crooked (trying to get more than they should), and a general air of dissatisfaction prevailed. Well, I got this thing going and tried to get some semblance of order, but it couldn't be done right away. A man was assigned to a certain foreman at a certain job; he'd work eight hours at that job; his only identify was a brass check that he had. He'd go over on the next shift and work for somebody else and we'd get a time report from two places, which was right, because he worked 16 hours. In fact, the beds down there worked in shifts. As one fellow worked one shift, the fellow coming home would get in his bed. Labor movement had to be controlled.
Pizor: How was the housing?
Reed: The housing was very poor to begin with. The Company built the villages. They built an A village, a B village and a C village. The A village was for executives, the B village was for semi-executives and key employees, and the C village lower rank; but, a lot of them lived in boarding houses that sprung up in Hopewell. The town of Hopewell itself, started on a piece of land which the Company itself, foolishly, did not acquire. The toughest town in the United States grew up there. People said Nome, Alaska, never had anything on Hopewell. We had all the bad men and all the bad women the place could hold. I carried a gun regularly. As soon as I went down there the chief clerk asked me if I had a gun. When I said I didn't, he got one for me. There were people in Hopewell from all parts of the South. Hillbillies, moonshiners, people from way back in the mountains, etc. A great gambling area set up in Hopewell.
One night there was a sort of a midway going on in Hopewell and a couple of we fellows went in and almost had to shoot our way out. I never tried that again. I had an old Model "T' Ford and it could do anything. There were no roads as such, just dirt roads between Hopewell and Petersburg. Petersburg was our shopping center. We forded streams and climbed into one hole and out another. They also ran jitneys (I think that's where the word jitney originated) from Petersburg out. They also had Jim Crow cars and that was because our wives had to go in there to do their shopping. It was an adventurous life. I'll never forget the day I first took my wife down to the Hopewell dynamite mill. She said, "Are there many Negroes down there?" I said, "I didn't see many." When she got off the train at City Point and looked around and there were nothing but Negroes, my wife just wept. We had a high population of colored people; they made very good laborers. If you got a gang of them together doing a job that required a repetitive motion, and you had a singing Negro among them, he'd sing, and they'd work along right in time with him. Particularly, in loading a box car or something of that sort.
Dr. Wilkinson - Tell us how you got this payroll situation straightened out?
Reed: Let me finish Hopewell first. Hopewell was just a lawless city. One day I was in my office and I got word that Hopewell was on fire. I didn't pay any attention to it because we had a lot of fires. Finally we got the word that Hopewell had burned down completely. The wind took the fire one way, it turned and took it the other way, and then turned and took it back again. We had a lot of people over there and the buildings were just tar paper and yellow pine shacks. I gave a lot of pictures of that to Grace Ottey, Acquisitions Librarian. You should look at them and then you'd know what I'm talking about. Automobiles were in use by that time and we had a very modern, but lawless community. I recall very well, to house Negroes we had what we called a bunk village across the tracks from Hopewell and the sparks were beginning to come over there. Negroes were placed on the roofs with brooms sweeping the sparks and saved the structures. We had a water supply in the plant, but you couldn't stop a fire like that. Nevertheless, Hopewell was rebuilt within a year and incorporated as a city of the first class with a first class post office. Today Hopewell is a modern little city. I was down there a few years ago and what was then the elite place to live is now a slum area. There is a new city of Hopewell. Now, getting back to the payroll...I read somewhere that the Ford Motor Company had a scheme of photographing their employees. I took myself out to Detroit to see just how this plan worked. It appealed to me as being the thing to hold these people together in one place. We had about 20,000 names on the payroll at that time and we had to photograph all of these people. We did it day and night and we finally got them all photographed and identified with their name and their number photographed right across them. Then we put in time clocks and placed them nearest their particular job; we possibly had 20 stations over the whole area. I had a man in charge of every one of those stations. We introduced a plan where an employee would punch a card and then take it in and give it to his foreman. The foreman noted the distribution of labor on that card and would give it back to the laborer. Then the employee would punch it out at night. That fellow had to understand he was giving a bill to the Company for his labor for that day. Those cards were sent in to us and sorted numerically and given to various people at desks to record on the payroll. We cured shortages and labor troubles and everything else in about 6 months. The Company built a very modern clubhouse down there which was the community center. My wife happened to be over there one night when W. P. Allen showed up and asked where I was. My wife said, "Where he is every night; down at the plant." The next morning I was called over to Allen's office and he said, "Luther, I understand you work every night." "I have to in order to keep the thing going and keep on top of it," I replied. So, Mr. Allen said, "I want you to organize that work over there so that if you want to take a week off to go fishing you can do it." That was all he said to me, and so I did. However, about that time I was getting into the position to be able to do it. We worked days and nights and in the mud...even we fellows in the office wore hip boots. We used to have to go out and chase down different things and Virginia can produce the worst kind of mud there is. There is a parody told about a watchman at a gate seeing a hat floating down on top of the mud and he reached down and picked it up and there was a fellow underneath. He said, "What are you doing? He replied, "Don't you see I'm stealing a ride on a hay wagon?"
Wilkinson: About how many people did you have in your particular office?
Reed: As I recall it, I employed about 400 people; all the cashiers and clerical workers. I had a petty cash account of $100,000. Every few days we turned that much over. There was always a reimbursement order going in to Wilmington for more money. I wasn't involved with any of the clubhouse activities or the housing. I was given a very desirable place to live. One day I was brought to Wilmington by Bill Allen before the Smokeless Powder Committee. Now, the Smokeless Powder Committee was what amounted to the Executive Committee those days, and I was introduced as the individual who prevented labor troubles at Hopewell. There wasn't a diversity of work there...it was just one big job to be done. I carried it through as I have just stated, and apparently satisfactorily. I wouldn't go through it again for anybody, however, I wouldn't take a million dollars for that experience. It was very interesting to live among the people there. We had a bunk village for white people down along the James River and a large boarding house for single people. There were cottages of various types and descriptions for married people. The life in the bunkhouse was very interesting. I think if you ask Grace Ottey to get some of the data I have given her on Hopewell, you'll find a lot of descriptions and particularly of Some poems that were written by Sam Wingfield concerning Hopewell. We were very well entertained. We had a foreman pipefitter by the name of Heydre; he was a very good violinist and he created an orchestra - a cross between dance music and symphony. Even though his pipefitters were mostly musicians, they served a good purpose. In this clubhouse we would get varied entertainment. We had bowling alleys, pool rooms, basketball games, dances, etc. I remember the last game of baseball I played at Hopewell. I was on second base and somebody came to bat and hit a line ball and I put my hand up and when I brought it down it had the ball in it. I quit right then. So, what kind of a man was W. P. Allen as a manager. He was so different from T. W. Bacchus. Mr. Allen sort of corrected you by self- shame. He didn't shame you, you did it yourself. Some of the fellows who worked day and night before our families moved there were living in the so-called brick house, which was the home of the father of Dr. Shands, director of the Alfred I. du Pont Institute at Nemours. He was at that time in Washington and a sister of his was using this house. It was a big house so she opened it as a boarding house. Finally the Company took it over entirely and they operated it. The chief clerk, Al Abrams was in the house with several others. One night the whole thing got on their nerves and Al Abrams, who had authority to draw on the commissary, drew out a case of liquor, and they all got liquored up to a great extent. They broke up the Victrola records, filled each others boots with water, and ruined the place in general. They got up the next morning and naturally everything was a wreck . Al was elected to go to Mr. Allen to explain what happened. So Al went to see Mr. Allen and said, "Mr. Allen, I've got something to confess. There was a little misbehavior at the brick house last night." Then he told him exactly what had happened. "Al, where did you get the liquor?" Al told him that he drew it out of the commissary. Mr. Allen said, "Get me some, will you." That was all that was ever said, but they never did it again.
- Management and the "Hopewell Spirit"; manufacturing gun cotton; World War I; introduction of the eight hour shiftKeywords: Discrimination in employment; gun cotton; Hopewell plant; Hopewell Spirit; labor; management; shift work; smokeless gunpowder; T.W. Allen; World War (1914-1918)Transcript: Wilkinson - Mr. Reed, let's now resume with your Hopewell experience. The last incident you were talking about was Mr. Allen and his type of management.
Reed: Mr. Allen was probably one of the most popular managers I have ever known in the DuPont Company. The spirit he built up at Hopewell finally became known as the "Hopewell Spirit." Many other locations have tried to emulate it. He was a quiet man, a determined man, highly intelligent, and a student of human nature. His management was never troubled to any great extent by labor troubles. At Hopewell we all worked somewhat as specialists. Everybody had a job to do and they did it enthusiastically, which again gave rise to this thing which we referred to as the "Hopewell Spirit."
Wilkinson: As I indicated earlier, you were there during World War I, and I take it the Allied powers were calling on DuPont to supply a great amount of powder.
Reed: That goes back to the European conflict when various European countries, particularly England, came to the DuPont Company and asked them if they would take on the contract of supplying ammunition in the form of smokeless powder, in various types, and gun cotton to the Allied forces. This meant the DuPont Company was supposed to build all of the plants and make all of the production for which payments were made periodically as the work progressed. Hopewell was a supply point making nothing but gun cotton which was the basis for the manufacture of smokeless powder at various other smokeless powder mills such as Carney's Point, Parlin, Haskell and Nashville. When the United States entered into the conflict the work was considerably broadened and with the experience gained thus far the DuPont Company was able to sell to the United States government smokeless powder at a lower cost per pound than they did prior to the war. We turned out at Hopewell approximately 1,000,000 pounds of gun cotton 8 day made at three distinct plants all within the confines Of the Hopewell area known as A, B, and C plants. This ranged all the way from the purification of the cotton linters, through nitration, beating, poaching, blocking, on through to the packing in cases for shipment to the powder mills or shipment abroad.
Wilkinson: Were you familiar with the contract the Company had with the Allied powers? We heard that Mr. P. S. du Pont insisted a very large sum of money be placed at the Company's disposal to provide for the building and construction.
Reed: Yes, that is true. As I said, payments were made periodically, but there was an original payment made so that the DuPont Company could go into building on a large scale. Up to this time they had been largely a manufacturer of explosives and, while successful, never considered gigantic, as this particular project presented. As far as I know they protected themselves in a financial way very completely, and possibly through desperation abroad nothing that was proposed was turned down.
Wilkinson: Did you have inspectors from the other countries checking on the materials?
Reed: Yes. We had government inspectors at all times. While our work was not as delicate as the manufacture of smokeless powder, the smokeless powder plants had the greater number of inspectors. We never experienced any great trouble from the inspection viewpoint.
Wilkinson: Your own work didn't bring you into this area of testing and inspecting, did it?
Reed: No, it didn't. My work was strictly the labor and payroll side.
Wilkinson: The figure of 28,000 employees is mentioned by Van Gelder and Schlatter. Did you handle all the employment records and payroll for these employees?
Reed: I handled the entire payroll, but sometimes I had as high as 30,000 names. Of course, some of those names were pending; they were absent - you didn't know whether they'd quit or not, but I guess Van Gelder is right when he said we had 28,000 active employees. My job was to keep the records straight so the employees would get what was coming to them and overcome some of the crookedness at that time. We had theft and forgery of paychecks and payroll padding. In fact, I was in and out of the courthouse quite frequently at Prince George, Virginia. Prince George was no easy place to get to; there were no roads. Sometimes we'd get stuck in the mud. Frequently I had to have the protection division in Wilmington send detectives down. Security was one of our best organizations. A man from Repauno went to Hopewell as so-called Chief of Police. He set up a police headquarters and had possibly in the neighborhood of 400 officers trained. That plant was patrolled day and night, and so far as sabotage was concerned I don't recall anything even anything threatening. We had no "Black Tom" incidents whatsoever, and we had no bad fires. You will hear very frequently a reference to a nitrator fire. When I refer to a nitrator fire in nitrating cotton, it was a very common thing. You'd get a charge of cotton over heat in a nitration vat and burn up and create quite a fume in the air. That would be taken care of right there by the working crew, and you'd never pay a bit of attention to it. The construction of that plant was a remarkable thing. The property was in a woods that had not been disturbed since the Civil War, and the old furrows were still in the ground indicating it had earlier been farm property. The trees had grown to a pretty good size and all this land had to be cleared and stumps blasted away and a large plant constructed. It was quite a thing to see this plant grow and take shape. It was one of the greatest examples of organization that I have ever been connected with. DuPont Engineering Department directed it, planned it, and to a great extent worked on it, but they did employ many sub-contractors. The Norfolk and Western Railroad was extended to supply and shipping areas and quite a traffic organization was set up. The kind of a community we lived in required a complete commissary. All of the people, both married and single had to be housed. As I told you, some of the beds worked in shifts. I have put a lot of my memorabilia here in your files and you will find a lot of poems written to the James River bunkhouses and the so-called Hotel.
Pizor: Was it difficult getting men during World War I as employees?
Reed: No, at that time there was a sort of undercurrent of recession. Business had not been good since 1913, and it was very easy to attract people to a job like that. However, we did send out scouts and advertised. We brought in some very, very raw material from the mountains of West Virginia and Tennessee. At one time, to show how we had cleaned out North Carolina, there was a sign put up in a very prominent place that the Governor of North Carolina was calling a drill of his National Guard on the Hopewell ball diamond! We had a high percentage of colored employees, but a greater percentage of white. I want to say here that the colored workers were very good. They did the rough work; ditch digging, hauling, cleaning, etc. There was practically no friction between the two races. Again, I want to emphasize the type of spirit. I give Mr. Allen a great deal of credit for this.
Scafidi: How was your turnover during the war?
Reed: We had our Share of turnover. You got good and bad employees. At one time we considered paying the colored help every day so as to keep them broke, but we didn't do it. As long as they were broke they would work; if they had a few dollars in their pockets they didn't care. Finally, after three years of this, we got down to something stable.
Wilkinson: It wasn't possible for these people to travel back and forth from home to work as we do today?
Reed: No, there wasn't much transportation. There were automobiles, but just a few. But if you had an automobile, there weren't any roads. The plant created the community. Of course, the little town of Hopewell which I described earlier housed some of the employees.
Wilkinson: By this time you were in your early thirties? Did it occur to you at this time you might want to do something else, or had you committed yourself to the Company?
Reed: I never had any idea up to that time about quitting DuPont. I was in the learning stage and just beginning to "feel my oats." I was feeling useful. Up to that time I had felt rather subjected to everybody around me; it seemed they were all so far beyond me. I was beginning to realize what could be gained by the contacts I was making. So far as I knew, my future was secure with the Company, but I never worked on that basis nor took advantage of it. I was happy in what I was doing. I felt I had my first opportunity to do something as an individual. That was being impressed on me to some extent. I had a very loyal group in the office. They never complained, worked hard, underwent certain hardships, and stayed loyal.
Wilkinson: Was your office staff largely men?
Reed: To begin with it was largely men, and then we started to employ a lot of women. You couldn't get the men; particularly after the United States got into the war and Fort Lee was built between Petersburg and Hopewell. That's about the time we started to lose our boys, so we brought in women.
Wilkinson: What about getting exemptions for your workers?
Reed: The Company's policy was pretty broad on that. People in very necessary positions were exempted. Other positions could readily be filled either by older men or women. The Company was very liberal, as was the case in World War II. The DuPont Company always contributed its share and never stood out as a selfish organization in anything.
Wilkinson: Could we talk wages and salaries? Would you care to discuss what the workmen and office personnel were getting?
Reed: Wages were still on the very low side. As I previously stated when I left Repauno they were 17 and a half and 22 and a half cents an hour. For a long time they never got above 30¢ per hour at Hopewell. I know, for the job I did down there I got $250.00 a month. $250.00 a month for that job and other wages paid in proportion. There was one big thing that did arise at Hopewell which changed the wage picture somewhat. We worked a 10 hour day and a 14 hour night as was the case at Repauno. That was the only practice we knew up to that time. And then the 8 hour shift was introduced.
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