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The York Plan–York County’s World War II industrial contribution

Unidentified young woman doing metal work in York County World War II factory
Unidentified young woman doing metal work in York County World War II factory

You may have heard of “The York Plan.” You also might know that it had something to do with defense manufacturing during World War II, when York County manufacturing was nearing its peak. But, what was the plan, how did it come about and why did it become a nationwide model?

My recent York Sunday News column below gives an overview of the plan and its spread. The original records, with much more information, are available for research at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives. They fill 16 five-inch archival file boxes and two scrapbooks. They are not fully indexed, but there is a detailed inventory created by Sandy Twitchell some years ago.

As fellow blogger Jim McClure often points out, here is another doctoral thesis waiting to be written. (Click this link for McClure’s 2009 York Plan post and column.)

The information in the York Plan files is also valuable as a rich history of industry in York County 70 years ago. On a more personal level, some of your relatives might appear in the over 100 photos connected with the collection. (They photos shown here are attributed to the Manufacturers’s Association of York, the organization that hatched the York Plan.)

The original caption reads:  "Mrs Marie Green,  56, Grandmother,  Martin's Engine Parts [for]   Martin Cargo Ship (Corvette)"
The original caption reads: “Mrs Marie Green, 56, Grandmother, Martin’s Engine Parts [for] Martin Cargo Ship (Corvette)”

Here is my full York Sunday News column:

The York Plan: “To do what we CAN with what we HAVE.”

It was the summer of 1940. The United States hadn’t officially entered World War II yet, but defense manufacturing was gearing up in a big way. Our active participation was on the horizon, and we were already supplying Great Britain with war materiel.

York was an industrial city, and local business leaders realized that effective manufacturing was essential to defense, and the York community would need to play a big part. Some local companies, such as York Safe & Lock, were already doing work for the Army and Navy, but most just could not handle large government contracts on their own.

The catalyst came when local firms had to pass up bidding on a contract for mounts for five-inch anti-aircraft guns; they realized then that by inventorying machinery and manpower available in all local firms, large and small, they might be able to get some of these big jobs.

The Manufacturers’ Association of York named four industrialists: William S. Shipley, Robert P. Turner, William J. Fisher and Warren C. Bulette to a Defense Committee. Chaired by Shipley, it was charged with getting all these tools and workers together with the greatest efficiency. The three basic requirements were:

“1. That we should enter our duties with a firm conviction of necessity for this National Defense Program.
2. That we should be whole-heartedly, and without any reservations, in back of the President in his endeavor to prepare America and assist Great Britain, forgetting for the time being, all political affiliations.
3. That we would, with grace, seek and consider suggestions and ideas from all branches of our people, and from every source, and that we would interest ourselves in everything that pertained to defense or that seemingly barred progress.”

In February, 1941, only seven months later, Shipley addressed the Manufacturers’ Association, sharing that The York Plan, as it was now known, was already a success and a national model. After pointing out that the basic principles of taking advice and helping each other were not new, and that the committee was taking credit for only putting them into practice, he enumerated the plan’s 15 objectives:

“1. To make use of our present facilities in regards to tools.
2. To get idle tools and idle men working.
3. To make a survey of the tools outside the metal trades.
4. To study types of work we could do, with the facilities at our command.
5. To make a decided effort to explain and sell the Defense Plan to the community.
6. To assist in educational work as it pertained to educating new employees.
7. To study housing.
8. To study workers’ health.
9. To establish the costs of the sub-contractor to the prime contractor.
10. To study deliveries of sub-contractors to prime contractors so that the material would be supplied to the prime contractor as needed.
11. To impress on the minds of the sub-contractors the necessity for accuracy of work so as to assure Federal acceptance of the parts being furnished to the prime contractor.
12. To study supplying needed labor if and when working three shifts.
13. To study labor potentials in York.
14. To take steps to supply this additional labor when and where needed.
15. To enter into all local activities that dealt either directly or indirectly with the present emergency.”

The committee looked at 245 manufacturing plants, even candy makers and silk weavers, to find equipment that any company could use to subcontract. They inventoried workers, also noting those who had experience in metalwork, but had left the trade. Summer and night school programs were quickly set up at high school metal shops to train or retrain people.

It was the efficiency and zeal that the Defense Committee of the Manufacturers Association of York put into the implementation of the York Plan that made it a national model with a slogan to live up to: “Do What you CAN with what you HAVE.

The federal government embraced the York Plan and urged other communities to use it as a model, distributing a booklet describing the plan through the Office of Price Management. Word quickly spread through meetings, national press coverage, trade magazines and popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. William S. Shipley became its ambassador, spending much of 1941 travelling the country, speaking at Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce and Manufacturers’ Associations from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Atlanta to Seattle and most major cities in between.

NBC radio got the nation’s attention when they came to York to broadcast a live prime time Saturday night dramatization of the York Plan.

Patriotism and the conviction to do everything to combat the worldwide threat to democracy seemed to spur on America’s response to industrial mobilization. In his February 1941 speech, Shipley quotes Winston Churchill from that morning’s paper: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” Shipley says it is the least we can do, and points out that the British are fighting our battle too–if they fall, we fall. Shipley closes with: “Let us give our all so that whatever the end may be, we will have no regrets so far as our duty is concerned.”

This was just the beginning of the York Plan. Soon the majority of industries in York County had converted to defense manufacturing as prime contractors or subcontractors. York Safe & Lock came in under the umbrella as did non-metal shops, such as Red Lion Cabinet, Hanover Shoe and Dentists’ Supply companies. York Ice Machinery made refrigeration equipment for military needs, but also went into production of barbette [elevated] guns and gun parts. One of my favorite examples is subcontractor Floorola, a very small maker of floor polishers with a staff of five, who soon had 30 workers machining parts for gun carriages for York Safe & Lock and aluminum castings for Glenn Martin bombers and Fairchild training planes.

York industrialists observing York Plan worker
York industrialists observing York Plan worker

Click this link for my Red Lion Cabinet Company column with a list of their World War II defense products.