York Town Square

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H.J. Freezer made shirts for the military. (York County History Center photo).

Woman’s polio death closed key York County defense plant at critical time in World War II

H.J. Freezer employees were on a high after their shirt maker won the coveted Army/Navy “E” Award in late June 1944.

The East Street company was producing shirts for the Army, 3,000 dozen per week, and Navy fatigues at a clip that would top 1 million at war’s end.

Then came news in August that a 20-year-old worker, Alverta Viola Keener, had died from polio at her relatives’ Jacobus-area home.

According to newspaper accounts, County Health Director S.H. Esminger stepped in and ordered this prized, award-winning plant to close and all 400 employees, mostly women, sent home. Work for one war front was temporarily suspended, and a second front – one of public health – had opened up.

All this came shortly after the Allied D-Day invasion in northern France, with the outcome of the war on both fronts hanging in the balance.

The quarantine was expected to last at least two weeks, and each house would be tagged so prospective visitors would know about the quarantine and stay away.

The Freezer Co. represented Exhibit A in the prowess of the York Plan, a coordinated sharing of manpower and machines in York County so that factories had enough muscle to earn big defense contracts.

The ideas of collaboration that spurred the York Plan are being put forth 80 years later in another deadly season of disease of the COVID-19 kind.

The primary promoter, York Exponential’s John McElligott, is looking for a redefined York Plan – York Plan 2.0 – to build collaboration to help the economy in the aftermath of the deadly COVID-19. And he’s working to bring together a group to position York to respond to the current pandemic.

As for McElligott’s own company, which specializes in robotics, he says his team is finishing prototypes for two robots that can design face masks and check temperatures of people entering a medical facility.

Two York Plans – one in history and one proposed. Two eras. Two companies – the established Freezer Co. and startup York Exponential. One company suffered through an epidemic with the aim of reentering the fight in a war against the world’s military enemies. The other primed to enter the fight today in the war against the world’s brutal disease.



The U.S. government issued poster like this one to encourage cleanliness in the workplace as a guard against lost work time because of illness. (Submitted)