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The Big Four 'put Waynesboro on the map'

April 11, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

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WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Bill Helfrick would argue Waynesboro would look nothing like it does now without four 19th-century manufacturers -- Geiser Manufacturing Co., Frick Co., Landis Tool Co. and Landis Machine Co.

"Those four companies eventually put Waynesboro on the map," said Helfrick, who is active with the Waynesboro Area Industrial Heritage Trust.

Manufacturing long served as the backbone of Waynesboro's economy, and the companies employed a significant percentage of southern Franklin County's work force.

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"Over the years, they drew employees from the surrounding area," Helfrick said. "In the early era, people rode the train from Mont Alto."

Today, manufacturing represents 17 percent of Franklin County's nonfarm jobs, according to February statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. That compares to the 10.5 percent state average.

Geiser Manufacturing faded from the Waynesboro landscape before World War II, but "The Big 3" flourished in wartime. Landis Tool Co. made grinding parts for tanks, vehicles and aircraft; Landis Machine Co. made threading equipment used for automobiles and artillery shells; and Frick Co. produced air conditioning and refrigeration systems for ships.

"Frick and the two Landises came out of World War II very strong," Helfrick said.

But there have been big changes for "The Big 3" in the decades since.

Landis Machine Co., from where Helfrick retired, employed 750 people in the 1950s. The company, now known as Landis Threading Systems, now has fewer than 100 workers, he said.

Landis Tool Co., now called Cinetic Landis Grinding Corp., moved to Washington County, Md., in mid-2008.

And the one-time Frick Co. -- which became part of York International and now Johnson Controls -- joins many other businesses in struggling through the recession. Employees work overtime hours on occasion to fill some large orders, but the company today employs about 40 fewer people than in December 2008.

"The Big 3" may have anchored Waynesboro's manufacturing sector, but they spawned many smaller companies. Former Landis and Frick employees started several businesses that provided drafting, design or parts rebuilding services.

-- Jennifer Fitch

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