Apr 18, 2016

When Mack Was Allentown

I grew up around the corner from Mack's famous 5C plant, on the corner of Lehigh and S. 12th Streets. In the early 1950's, the brightly colored truck tractors would cover the lot next to the old assembly plant. All day long, a new tractor would leave for delivery somewhere, with two more piggy back on the coupling hitches. Over the years I have written a lot of posts about Mack, especially how their workers would use the Fountain Park WPA steps,  walking to their jobs on S. 10th Street.  Mack made all their own truck parts there, except the tires. Built Like A Mack Truck, was a result of the local craftsmanship.

In Saturday's Morning Call article about Mack investing in the Macungie plant, the vice president is quoted as saying that Mack was here to stay. By Saturday evening, that vice president was no longer with the company, according to WFMZ. I remember when the larger share of production was moved to South Carolina in 1987. Shortly before that plant closed in 2002, they handed out sunglasses to symbolize their bright future there. I remember when the World Headquarters on Mack Boulevard moved to North Carolina. I don't know about Mack's long term future in the valley, but I do know that the ties that bind have long since been broken.

Jack Mack, one of Mack Truck's founding brothers, was killed in an auto accident in 1924.  He is buried in Fairview Cemetery on Lehigh Street. This week I will be revisiting my work and posts about that cemetery.                                                                                                                                                               


Ray Nemeth Sr said...

I worked for Mack for a while in the mid 1960s. It appeared to be a modern and efficient manufacturing plant. I was dismayed at the time and the lesson remained with me till this time when I was approached by the union steward, I was on peace rate at the time, and was told how many pieces I could make and more or less threatened with union retaliation if I did not comply, That and other work rules just didn't feel right for me. I eventually became self employed and stayed that way till I retired. While it was a struggle at times, it was the best course for me. Mack has had a great reputation for years at producing quality trucks. Last I new they were now owned by a foreign truck Company. The first owners were the typical entrepreneur of the time. I question if that type of business could be started up today.

doug_b said...

My dad worked for Beth Steel - in management - even though I was in grade school, I remember hearing a lot of inside info.

As far as I can recall - both the Beth Steel and Mack Trucks were the employer (that paid a good blue collar wage) that they loved to hate. I remember, in the 1960's, strike after strike. What happens when you have a 30-45 day strike? That's like 8% - 12% of a year - what happens to earnings? profits?

Well it looks like their (the unions) wish has come true, they negotiated such a good packages that they eventuall put the employer out of business, or drove them from PA.

No more mean old Beth Steel or Mack Trucks.

michael molovinsky said...

doug@11:33, mack truck is still here, but not from loyalty to the area, but because, by volvo calculations, it's asset wise. same goes for the $70 million they're supposedly investing in their local macungie plant. it's not because they want to commit to the area, or any area, but to remain competitive with their product. when a VP says that they're here to stay, but he's gone a few months later, we're dealing with just words, not real commitments.

Jamie Kelton said...

Unfortunatley, Industry and Allentown parted ways decades ago. We have a lot of skeletons left our industrial economy, our silk mills, a few of the Mack Assembly Plants are still standing, Traylor Engineering (who built Hotel Traylor) an a few others, but we are now a service economy area along with all the bedroom developments for the transplants from New Jersey and New York. They moved here for the lower taxes and keep Bieber Bus line in business and the ones who clamor for the commuter trains to Port Authority in Manhattan or Philadelphia.

The overall wages are lower when you work in a Warehouse, or sell merchandise, or be a bank teller, or any other of the myriad of service jobs waiting for our high school graduates. College grads and technical college grads leave the area in most part to further their careers where opportunity is, which is generally not in this area.

This is Allentown 4.0. The Allentown of the 21st century.