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A Road Named N.O.P., Arsenal and Whiteford; Part 2 – Bofors at York Safe & Lock Co.

Rows of 40-MM Naval Anti-aircraft Bofors Guns on the Production Floor in York, Pennsylvania during WWII (Pennsylvania State Archives)

Virtually every sizeable ship in the Navy during WWII was outfitted with 40-MM Naval Anti-aircraft Bofors Guns.  The gun fired a two-pound projectile from each barrel at the rate of 120 or better per minute.  The projectile itself was of the tracer type, high explosive, with a super-sensitive nose fuse; the fuse did not become active until the projectile left the gun.  The projectiles could reach two-miles into the air; it was the primary weapon for close-in anti-aircraft defense during WWII.

York Safe & Lock Company in York, Pennsylvania was selected as the prime contractor for the Bofors guns and mounts; this fact has a direct bearing on two of the names for a stretch of road in Springettsbury Township.  This is the second part of a series examining the reasons for the names associated with this stretch of road.  Other posts in this series and related posts include:


Dr. Walter M. Mitchell, Chief Metallurgist of the York Safe & Lock Company, in an address delivered before the Philadelphia Chapter of America Society for Metals on October 1st 1943 noted the early involvement by York Safe & Lock Company with regards the Bofors gun.  A History of Guns and Mounts by the Bureau of Ordnance during WWII documents the significance of the York Safe & Lock Company in the U. S. Naval history of this gun.  Documents from the Library/Archives of the York County Heritage Trust were also used as a background source for this post.

When the York Safe & Lock Company was awarded a contract by the Army in July 1938 to build three-inch anti-aircraft gun mounts, they became the first non-government facility in the United States to make heavy ordnance since WWI.  The York Safe & Lock Company sought to expand their ordnance business and became interested in obtaining manufacturing rights for the Bofors gun in this country in 1939.

S. Forry Laucks, the President of the Company had his Assistant, Mr. J. A. Cunningham, visit the Bofors Company in Sweden where he witnessed a demonstration of the gun in 1939.  The plan for the York Safe & Lock Company to acquire manufacturing rights progressed to the point where a representative of the Company, with Naval authorization, started for Sweden in April 1940 to negotiate a contract.  Just as the representative was ready to sail from New York, however, the Nazis seized Norway and the visit was canceled.

The Navy Department continued pursuit of the gun and a demonstration was conducted in the Dutch West Indies for the U. S. Navy during August 1940. The Navy Department liked what they saw and purchased a gun from the Bofors Company for additional proof firing and testing.  This purchase agreement specifically stated that no manufacture rights or license were granted by virtue of the sale.

The Navy Department continued negotiating and soon contract (N557a-2) was signed in Stockholm on June 21st 1941, with the United States purchasing manufacturing rights from the Bofors Company for both Naval and Army use.   Besides production drawings, details of measuring tools and descriptions of shop practices were included.

The task of translating the Metric drawings into American drawings to Navy Standards, with inch dimensioning, was turned over to the York Safe & Lock Company for the Naval Guns.  Likewise, the Chrysler Corporation, which had accepted a similar assignment from the Army version of the gun, worked with the York Safe & Lock Company to assure interchangeability of parts between the Army and Navy mechanisms.

Converting the metric measurements to inches measurements can prove troublesome; especially in the matter of tolerances. However this was far from the worst of it in creating drawings with tolerances for mass production.  The York Safe & Lock Company and Chrysler Corporation discovered the dimensions called for in the drawings did not always agree with actual measurements taken from the guns.

The Bofors Company drawings were essentially guidelines for producing a limited quantity of handmade guns using shop-floor craftsmanship to create the proper clearances between parts; resulting in no two guns being exactly alike.  There were notes all over the drawings which read “file to fit at assembly” or “drill to fit at assembly” which constituted nothing but headaches for American producers who were soon faced with the necessity of setting up assembly lines for mass production.

Within months, the design and drawings were fine-tuned by York Safe & Lock Company and Chrysler Corporation for mass production.  Of even greater importance were design changes for rapid interchangeability of parts should a gun become damaged in the course of battle. A further improvement on the Naval gun was the addition of a power drive for faster response in aiming the guns.  The U. S. Bofors gun and associated equipment ended up a very different final product from the original.

The York Safe & Lock Company, which had been interested in producing the gun from the beginning, was chosen as the prime contractor for the Naval Bofors guns and mounts.  The first official commitment authorizing the establishment of facilities was made by letter of intent to the York Safe & Lock Company on February 19th 1941.  This letter of intent was several months after the Navy obtained a demonstration gun from the Bofors Company but before the United States purchasing manufacturing rights on June 21st 1941.

The letter of intent was enough for S. Forry Laucks to immediately start construction on an additional York Safe & Lock Company plant in the fields of a farm in Springettsbury Township.  An Emergency Plant Facilities Contract followed from the Navy Department’s Bureau of Ordnance in April 1941; which quickly expanded plant construction.  See the following Penn Pilot aerial photo of September 18th 1937 for location of the 1941 Plant on this farm.  Disregard the yellow markings on the aerial photo and map; I’ll reference them in future posts.

1937 Aerial Photo of the Area Northwest of Current Crossroad Arsenal Road and North Sherman Street in Springettsbury Township, York Co., PA (Photo from Penn Pilot)

For orientation purposes, the following 2012 Aerial Map Section from Bing.Com exactly duplicates the Springettsbury Township area shown in the 1937 Aerial Photo.

2012 Aerial Map Highlighting an Area of Springettsbury Township, York Co., PA; matching the 1937 Aerial Photo (2012, from Bing.Com)

If you refer back to the 1876 Map within the last post in this series and compare it to the 1937 Aerial Photo, you will see that not much has changed in 60 years with regards to the two big farms in the area of the plant.  On the 1876 Map, S. Hively owned one of the farms; this was Samuel Hively.  Samuel’s son William Hively would soon own the neighboring farm.  I believe during this period of the late 1800s, was when the road began to be called Hively Road.

Years ago, I remember seeing an early 1900s map with this road noted as Hively Road. I’m continuing to look for this map, however if anyone can reference such a map, please reply to this post.  The road may have continued to be called Hively Road up until the time it started to be called NOP Road during the 1940s, because the woman that I referenced in the first post in this series used the phrase Hively Road.

I’ve added a notation on the 2012 Aerial Map that the 1941 Plant was torn down in March 2012; therefore this Bing.Com photo was taken earlier in 2012.  The 1941 Plant was torn down after Harley-Davidson consolidated all their operations into a new state-of-the-art plant built immediately east of the 1941 Plant.  Harley-Davidson sold the old plant and site to the York County Industrial Development Authority in 2010; they determined the site had better potential without the 70-year-old factory.

Prior to WWII, there was one York Safe & Lock Company plant; located along Loucks’ Mill Road, in Spring Garden Township, just outside the city limits.  By the end of WWII, they had established four new plants in addition to their main plant, all located in York, Pennsylvania, and all devoted to the war effort.  Check back on Tuesday for a related post; Eliot Ness cracks the York Safe & Lock Company.

Check back in one week for the next installment in the series: A Road Named N.O.P., Arsenal and Whiteford; Part 3 – Naval Ordnance Plant.

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