AMP’s early story in Pennsylvania: Glen Rock cigar factory rolled into electronics plant

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The former J. C. Winter Cigar factory at 18 Winter Avenue was the first AMP site in Pennsylvania. From there, AMP located its electronics and connector businesses in plants in small towns across York County’s landscape and other rural areas. Also of interest: AMP and AMF’s alphabet soup spilled from same York County town.

Remember those AMP plants that dotted towns around York County 25 years ago?

They represented the opportunity for residents to live and work in the same small town.

They closed one by one as the company changed. But what is the story about how AMP came to Pennsylvania and York County?

In the World War II era, the first factory moved into a former cigar factory in Glen Rock. That, in itself, is interesting, a changeover from an agribusiness that started with lots of manual work to a maker of electronics – AMP – that later became known as a high-tech industry.

After seeing a then-and-now Picturing History segment about AMP, Glen Rock Historic Preservation Society’s John ‘Otts’ Hufnagel provided a detailed look at AMP’s start in that southern York County borough.

The story of AMP’s coming to Pennsylvania and York County’s role in it can be overlooked because the business’s chose to locate its headquarters in Harrisburg, and the company’s founder’s name, U.A. Whitaker, is given to a popular Harrisburg venue – the Whitaker Center.

Here AMP’s story, with pictures, courtesy of Otts and GRHPS, told in four segments:

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AMP’s Winter Street plant – its first in Pennsylvania – is marked in this Glen Rock photo.

“The company was started in September 1941, in Elizabeth, New Jersey by Uncas A. Whitaker who was an accomplished engineer with dozens of patents to his name and only 41 years of age. The company started business under the name Aero-Marine Products. This name lasted a month, at which time the Directors changed the corporate name to Aircraft-Marine Products.

“Whitaker was studying a business opportunity with a small New Jersey manufacturing company. The company produced an inexpensive and simple product – a two-cent terminal that could be crimped onto the end of a wire. Most terminals at the time were soldered, which left room for human error and required expertise as well as special materials. Crimped terminals on the other hand, appeared to offer convenience, speed and durability.

“When Whitaker purchased the company, most of the work was being done by outside contractors. This changed in 1943 when an important defense contract was in jeopardy because the supplier had fallen far behind to deliver parts. As 1941 was ending, Whitaker saw a need for more space and when the business at Elizabeth, New Jersey began to show labor unrest, the directors felt it was advisable to have a second source in case there were any labor problems.

“Whitaker knew of a plant in Glen Rock which was used by American Machine and Foundry and thought of Paul Shepperd (1902 – 1987) who had done work for AMF in Glen Rock. In 1941, Shepperd agreed to handle the assembly work on a cost-plus basis and opened for business in the former J. C. Winter Cigar factory at 18 Winter Avenue. As business increased, Shepperd purchased the former A. M. F. property at 28 Junior Street. With World War II going on, the terminals were needed for aircrafts, ships and many other products.”
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The Junior Street plant, AMP’s second in Glen Rock, burned in 1943. The company quickly recovered and rebuilt on the same site.

“Shortly before AMP moved from New Jersey to Harrisburg in 1943, fire struck the Junior Street plant and the partly wood building burned to the ground. Word about the fire reached New Jersey by Saturday night and on Sunday management called everybody and told them to get on a train, a bus or in their cars and get to Pennsylvania, check into the Yorktown Hotel and be in Glen Rock in the morning to help. They salvaged as much as they could – machinery and product – and cleaned it up. Four people drove U-Hauls to suppliers in New York to gather any parts already made, dies and machines belonging to AMP and hauled them to Glen Rock. They set-up wherever they could, in the bank’s board room, the Community Building, the warehouse on Winter Avenue and they even put stuff in employees living rooms. They would work and everyday someone would pick up their production. This improvision worked so well that probably no more than half-a-dozen customers knew that AMP was practically out of business.

“Shepperd rebuilt the Junior Street plant on its original site and with the war coming to an end, the challenge was to turn from making tools of war to supplying the needs of the civilian population. During 1943, Shepperd Industries was absorbed into Aircraft-Marine Products.

“The fire at the Junior Street plant caused Whitaker not to place to much production in one building in an effort to prevent losing all the business if there was another fire. Keeping them small was also a deterrent from becoming a unionized shop. With the business continuing to grow, Shepperd converted his old garage building at Centerville into the engineering department. The old warehouse down the road along 616 North, just passed the Rockville Road was used for plating until they needed a larger building. With that they relocated to the Brodbecks band hall at 4685 Shaffers Church Road. As the engineering department grew, they opened a new building at 2860 Seven Valleys Road in Larue. AMP Plastics was started at Centerville.

“When Whitaker would visit Glen Rock, he spoke with the employees asking them for their ideas to make the job easier and he made the employee feel important doing their job.”

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Demand surpassed supply in the post-World War II years in the rebuilt plant on Junior Street in Glen Rock, seen here, and AMP spread out from there.

“In 1956, Aircraft-Marine Products became known as AMP, Incorporated. A name that was the suggestion of Paul Shepperd, Jr and accepted by Whitaker. By this time the products produced in Glen Rock were being shipped world wide and plants were being opened overseas in Europe. As production continued to increase, so did the need for space. Additional plants like the Loganville East and West buildings, in Jacobus, Shrewsbury, at the end of Church Street on the Susquehanna Trail, Green Valley Road and Church Street in Seven Valleys.

“Each plant made a different product which became its own division after it was developed and could support a production facility. AMP engineers would travel to customer’s factories and listened to what they needed to make their product. They would return to AMP and design the products needed for the customer.

“AMP always tried to provide for their employees by offering sick leave, pension plan and increased vacation as your seniority increased. Rather than layoff employees, they would give employees a week off each month to prevent employees from losing their jobs.

“Many employees that worked for AMP were husbands and wives and sometimes there were two generations of a family working there at the same time. By 1996, AMP, Inc. was located in 40 Countries, had 45,000 employees worldwide and was the eighth largest plant in York County.

“In April 1999, Tyco, Inc. purchased the company and proceeded to lay off 2000 employees in south central Pennsylvania. Tyco wanted to close all the small plants and merge the production into larger plants to cut costs in hauling products to all the different plants.”
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AMP’s Junior Street plant today in Glen Rock. See this photo and the one immediately above in a special before-and-after slider in Picturing History.

“Between July 1998 and March 2002, over 1,000 employees in southern York County plants lost their jobs, as did many York County residents that worked in Harrisburg.

“By March 2002, the last York County plant (Jacobus) was closed with some of the employees being sent to the Mount Joy, Pennsylvania plant in Lancaster County. Some of the jobs being done at Jacobus, had originally started at the Junior Street plant which closed in 1982. After sixty years, production of AMP parts in York County became a thing of the past.”

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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