The Memorial Day holiday means different things to different people. To some it is the official start of summer, although the erratic weather makes planning outdoor activities chancy. To others it is still a much older holiday, Decoration Day, with roots in the post-Civil War tradition of sprucing up cemeteries after winter has done its worst to trees, shrubs, and monuments.
I grew up the son a World War II sailor who didn’t want to talk much about “his” war. So later, when the country publicly fought about the then current war in Southeast Asia, I did not get much exposure to cemetery clean-ups, parades, or speeches. Schools taught plenty of history, though, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
A phrase that stuck with me from that period was “Arsenal of Democracy.” When called upon, American industry quickly converted from making consumer and industrial goods to weapons of war. The gear companies of the day were in the thick of it.
Years later, fortunate to apprentice at The Falk Corporation in Milwaukee, I was privileged to hear the wonderful stories about the thousands of gearboxes made for U.S. Navy ships. Supposedly, they employed a troop of ex-circus “little people” to crawl into the giant boxes and file off any bumps likely to make them fail noise testing.
Later, I worked for Brad Foote. The Cicero Avenue plant still has signs on the building identifying it as a security zone due to its military work. Much of the building was constructed under wartime steel restrictions; the beautiful wooden roof trusses were an engineering marvel. Thousands of people worked in that building during the war, a building that had parking problems for a hundred people in modern times.
We stumbled on to a Navy “E” flag once while cleaning a storeroom at the Quaker City Gear Works. Despite its name, this family-owned firm got the majority of its work from defense contracts. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the transition from analog to digital instruments and that framed “E” is now in some collector’s game room. I hope, via this blog entry, to make at least a few of you remember the contributions our industry has made that allow us to worry more about ball games than bomb sights.