Economic boon before the Great Depression
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This being Williamsport’s sesquicentennial year, Sesquicentennial Corner, a weekly Saturday series, will focus on the city’s history.)
“Let’s Know Our Own Home Town.”
That was the slogan written in italics on the annual report of the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce for the year ending Oct. 15, 1929.
Little did anyone realize that a great economic crash soon would engulf the city, as part of the Great Depression.
There appeared to be no indication of the gloomy days ahead.
In fact, quite the opposite. Williamsport was riding a type of industrial high and was known throughout the nation as a city on the move.
“Tourist traffic over the Susquehanna Trail (which included Route 15 and the overpass), and adjacent routes through the City of Williamsport during the past summer was the heaviest in several years, indicating that the publicity and advertising campaign of the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce was unusually productive,” wrote John E. Person, chairman of the chamber’s Publicity Bureau Committee in an address in 1929.
The trail, which brought travelers, many in cars, was advertised as far south as Washington, D.C.
A single news item carried in the Washington Star, brought in 410 requests for information and for the Susquehanna Trail booklet.
Williamsport was featured in an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, a column and half story on the Susquehanna Trail and the city. An excerpt of it read as follows: “Allow me to congratulate you on producing one of the best tour stories it has been my privilege to receive this year.”
Such prosperity was observed in a Grit editorial of Oct. 20, 1929. “The ideal city for home and business,” the editorial writer wrote. “The crying need of the city today is for more industries — industries of the solid worth-while type such as we already have; industries which will provide work for those who may be without work, which will bring to the city more families that will create more business for our merchants and business houses.”
That year, 14,300 families lived in the city, an area famous for its “soft water,” quality drinking water taken from reservoirs still in use today. Those who fell ill could find healing at the Williamsport Hospital, which had a 275 beds, 75 of which were free of charge.
For those tired of reading and seeking entertainment, there were seven movie theaters, which when combined seated 7,000 patrons.
After the crash took place, the city’s industrial leaders of the time were J.K. Mosser Co., the largest sole leather cutting plant in the world, and Lycoming Manufacturing Co., largest producer of eight-cylinder automobile motors, along with Lycoming Rubber Co., leading producer of “Keds,” brand of shoes.
Business boomed for the Williamsport Wire Rope Co., one of the largest manufacturers of wire rope and cable.
Four railroads served the city, including The Pennsylvania, The Reading, The New York Central and the Susquehanna and New York. Diversified routings were assured and first class service offered.
By 1930, there were significant changes to these and other businesses and industries.
The chamber president described the industrial slump evident and questioning whether the chamber was doing all it could to increase the size of established industries and attract outside companies to secure location in the city.
He questioned whether stock should be sold and by 1932 the chamber’s annual report indicated worsening conditions.
“The curtailing of men of production in many of our manufacturing plants and the consequent decrease in industrial employment throughout the year came to a climax when the U.S. Rubber Co. announced the closing of its local plant September first of this year,” the report stated.
What transpired for the booming lumber industry had repeated itself.
The chamber and others in the city were brought forcibly to the fact that Williamsport was facing a situation analogous to the one Williamsport faced many years before, when it became apparent that the lumber industry was on the wane.
By the time the chamber produced its Nov. 30, 1932, annual report, there were statements that lessening employment existed in every industrial city throughout the nation, and Williamsport was among them.