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Red Lion Cabinet Company’s many products varied during wartime and peacetime

Red Lion Cabinet Company, c.1953
Red Lion Cabinet Company, c.1953

The aerial photo above is the cover of an undated booklet giving statistics on the Red Lion Cabinet Company. It was probably done around 1953 when York County manufacturing was booming and the cabinet company itself was at its peak. The buildings still stand, occupying much of the northeastern part of the borough. They are now owned by different entities, having provided, and continuing to provide, manufacturing facilities for various products since Red Lion Cabinet Company closed.

My recent York Sunday News column on Red Lion Cabinet Company is below. I have also included some photos below of items on display at the Red Lion Area Historical Society Center Square Museum. My next post will include more photos that show the scope of the company’s goods produced during peacetime and wartime. The society has many examples of products manufactured by Red Lion Cabinet Company and their Redco division over their forty-year history. Besides the manufactured goods, the historical society has albums and scrapbooks showing the variety of the company’s output. The museum is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays and by appointment.

Red Lion Cabinet Company was more than just radio and television cabinets

Remember Red Lion Cabinet Company? Sixty years ago you would have been hard pressed to find anyone in south-central York County who didn’t have a friend or family member who worked there.

Red Lion Cabinet Company was established by the Sechrist and Craley families in 1917 as an outgrowth of Red Lion Furniture Company. The latter company, founded in 1913, needed more room to make bedroom furniture. The four-story building, just north of East Broadway, went into operation in 1920 and soon employed 120 workers.

Some years ago I did an extensive oral history with Stephen S. Sechrist, who worked in the family business all his life. He related the story that his father, James B. Sechrist, one of the company organizers, purchased an early radio in the 1920s, when the craze was just catching on. The elder Sechrist really liked the radio, but not looking at its exposed wires and speaker. He is said to have gone to Atwater Kent in Philadelphia, an early manufacturer of radios for consumers, with the idea that they would have more appeal with everything enclosed in a good-looking wooden cabinet. The Red Lion factory started making radio cabinets for Atwater-Kent around 1926/27. (An exact date has not been ascertained.) After several years the factory was making only radio cabinets.

The Sechrists were acquainted with the owners of the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company (later the Philco Corporation). Philco started producing radios about 1928. Red Lion Cabinet Company constructed its huge Plant #2 with an eye to making cabinets for Philco, and by 1935 was making Philco cabinets exclusively. Plant #2 was built for assembly line fabrication; it was one-story in a line more than two city blocks long.

The wooden cabinets were faced first with walnut, but when American walnut became scarce, they were mostly finished with mahogany veneers. The Cabinet Company, in partnership with the Thompson Mahogany Company, imported the logs from South America or Africa, even owning a veneer mill in Cornelia, Ga.

When lumber arrived at Red Lion, it was kiln-dried in-house. The workers milled and banded the cores themselves to make the plywood, which was finished with the veneers. They also developed a process for bending plywood, using heat and pressure, resulting in popular styles like the “cathedral” radio cabinets, thousands of which were shipped out of the Cabinet Company each year in the 1930s. As Sechrist pointed out, the radio industry, including the Cabinet Company, didn’t suffer during the depression. Radios were comparatively reasonable and afforded cheap entertainment in a gloomy time.

From 1942 to 1945, the Red Lion Cabinet Company made only war materiel. They were part of the “York Plan” of cooperation and redirecting production for the war effort. One of the first contracts was for plywood wings for experimental planes. The many military products they manufactured included rocket target fins, sled toboggans, pack boards, treadways for pontoon bridges, duck boards (for bridging small streams), plywood flaps for B-26 bombers, bomb fuses (40,000 a month), chronometer boxes, walkie-talkie boxes, pioneer chests, spare part boxes, aircraft forms, glider parts, binnacle stands, tripod boxes, and hospital tent components. Some of the government work was done as primary contractor and some as subcontractor for companies such as Philco and Martin (aviation).

The company grew rapidly after the war was over, mostly producing radio and television cabinets for Philco, Dumont, Bendix, RCA and Westinghouse. The business reached its zenith in 1953 with 1,650 employees and $18,000,000 in sales. Every week 30 railroad cars of material arrived at, and 60 railroad cars of finished products left, the Cabinet Company siding. They kept competitive by pioneering new techniques, such as using a radio wave heating process to quickly set glue, eliminating the need for screws. The resulting three and nine-tenths cent savings per unit added up when you were producing thousands each week.

The company diversified in 1948, creating Redco Tool for manufacture of carbide tipped cutting tools for woodworking and other industries. They also developed the Redco Profile Grinder to maintain the tools, thus manufacturing tools for their own use and for other factories. Redco had many defense contracts during the 1950s, manufacturing aircraft engine stands, gun sights, missile skids, hydraulic accumulators, bomb hoists, missile components, gun and rocket parts, and over two million 90 mm projectiles.

The wooden television cabinet business changed rapidly in the last half of the 1950s. Some television manufacturers had built their own cabinet plants, and others were interested in cutting costs with cheaper materials, such as Masonite or metal. Styles changed quickly, resulting in shorter run orders and much more time retooling the factory, cutting drastically into full production time. After forays into making metal TV cabinets, and even wooden boats, in 1959 the larger plants went up for sale.

The company, now going under the Redco Corporation name, did acquire Kapri Kitchens in 1962 and made kitchen cabinets until 1970 when that business and building was sold. Redco plant #5 was sold in 1961 and became part of Flinchbaugh Products, carrying on defense manufacturing. After that, Redco Corporation concentrated on manufacturing truck tire rims for customers such as Fruehauf, Great Dane and others.

Kitchen cabinets were later made by Yorktowne Kitchens in what had been Red Lion Cabinet Company’s plant #2, but that factory closed in 2011. Yorktowne is now a division of Elkay Manufacturing. According to their website, they are still made in the U.S.A., but, alas, not here.

Radios with wooden cabinets are currently popular with collectors and restorers. You often see them in museum exhibits, evoking the spirit of the 1930s and 1940s. Look closely the next time you see one, especially if it is labeled a Philco. You might be seeing a remnant of York County history.

Early Atwater Kent radio in RLCC cabinet and carbine-tipped woodworking tools from Redco division
Early Atwater Kent radio in RLCC cabinet and carbine-tipped woodworking tools from Redco division

The 2,000,000th 90 mm projectile made by Redco (1956).  Another million may have been made before the plant was sold in 1961.
The 2,000,000th 90 mm projectile made by Redco (1956). Another million may have been made before the plant was sold in 1961.

Here is more on the Cabinet Company’s World War II products.