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‘Little Johnny’ called from York for Allies in World War II

Four-foot-tall “Little Johnny” is shown with 250-pound Charles Chester Stine during a visit to York Corporation during World War II. York Corporation played role in Manhattan Project and All Johnson Controls/York Corporation posts from the start and York County sacrificed on homefront and war front to aid Allies in World War II.

Hedy Lamarr made a well-publicized visit to York Safe & Lock to promote war bond sales in 1942.
A lot of people remember that visit.
York Corporation, another giant defense contractor, also brought in a celebrity to raise morale and investment in war bonds.
That was “Little Johnny” of Philip Morris cigarette fame… .

The bellhop was known then for his trademark “Call for Phillip Morris.”
Few remember that visit.
Although outdone in the celebrity race, York Corporation held its own in contributions to the American “Arsenal of Democracy,” as suggested by my recent York Sunday News column:
Before Johnson Controls came York International.
And before YI came Borg-Warner.
And before Borg-Warner came York Corporation.
And before Yorkco came York Ice Machinery.
And before York Ice came York Manufacturing.
But the 25-Years Continuous Service Club has been a constant through much of the changing history of this international maker of refrigeration and cooling equipment.
My remarks to about 600 members at the recent 78th annual gathering of this 25-year group are adapted here:
* * *
In the dark days of World War II, 25-Years Continuous Service Club members at York Corporation earned a well-deserved reputation as a critical stabilizing influence.
As young men and women were called to serve in uniform, the 25-year members were there. In 1943, 543 Yorkco employees – 16 percent of the work force – had been continuously employed by the company for 25 years.
You’re the heirs of these veteran employees who did what they could with what they had to help the Allies win the war.
* * *
A couple of years ago, I was mulling how to tell the story of York County
in World War II.
I had a massive amount of material, and I needed some type of frame or device to tell that story.
I was browsing through boxes of books at the York County Heritage Trust’s Book Blast and came across a full set of Shop News from the 1940s.
I immediately knew how I was going to tell the story. I would use the Shop News – Yorkco’s newsletter to employees at home and in uniform – as a thread to weave the story of life on the home front and war front.
* * *
After “In the thick of the fight” came out, some critics wondered why I had so much information on York Corporation and their workers when so many others also sacrificed so much.
I ask them: What is more York than Yorkco?
The company is named for York.
In fact, its two plants – West York and Grantley – were known as “The Yorks.”
It was founded by S. Morgan Smith, among others, in 1874, and we know the mark he made on York – Precision Components, Voith Hydro and American Hydro.
P.H. Glatfelter came in to save York Manufacturing in the 1880s, so that covered the paper mill, too. What is more York County than the Glatfelter legacy?
Glatfelter brought in the venerable Shipley family. Thomas took the company to international fame. His brother, W.S., guided the company through World War II and was the primary organizer and promoter of the York Plan.
Yorkco was perhaps the county’s largest manufacturer in the World War II era with 4,500-some employees with another 1,000 in the field.
Yes, the use of Yorkco to tell the local story of World War II is easy to defend.
* * *
To tell a good story, you need to tell about people.
And I discovered a salt-of-the-earth York countian to help frame the story.
Bob and Ethel Senft were typical of young married people of the day.
Bob fought with his typing fingers, supporting those on the front lines both at Yorkco before he was drafted and in military duties that eventually led him from Zion View to Okinawa.
So with Bob and those newsletters – and interviews and a ton of other research – I was able to tell a tale of York County war heroes and unsung soldiers, great industrialists and lathe operators.
It’s a story of soldiers maneuvering howitzers overseas, seaman on submarine lookout aboard zigzagging ships on the seas and Army Air Force pilots dogfighting with Zeroes above the seas.
* * *
What I found were that Yorkco’s connections were everywhere in York.
Here’s just one example:
Jacob Loucks was an early partner in York Manufacturing Co. His daughter, Ella, married Philip Devers. They had a son, Jacob Loucks Devers, who grew up down West York Avenue from Yorkco’s West York plant and then went to West Point and ended up on the west shore of the Rhine, locking arms with George Patton in the march across Germany.
He became a four-star general, one of the highest-ranking officers of the war.
He was Yorkco, true and blue.
Yorkco’s 1,200 men and women in uniform did march home after V-J Day in 1945. Well, 25 who courageously died in service to their country did not.
Those returning joined millions of other Americans to become known as the Greatest Generation.
And because of their sacrifices on the home front and war front, in what Ken Burns called “The War,” we can enjoy liberty and freedom today.
Jake Devers returned to his hometown after his duties in Europe in June 1945.
With perhaps contributions by the men and women from Yorkco and other factories in mind, he told a crowd filling the grandstand at the fairgrounds:
“With this great effort put out in York, you have given us the equipment and the food and the incentive to go ahead, without which we could not have done what has been done.
“We have received this equipment, and we have received it at the right time, and the right place, and we had plenty of it.”