- The General Fireproofing Company, Youngstown, OhioCollections Note
The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, a site of the Ohio History Connection operated by Youngstown State University, is a museum and archives located in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown and the Mahoning River Valley were once the home of a thriving steel industry that employed thousands of workers. In addition to the steel mills, ancillary industries and businesses made the area a magnet for immigrants and migrants looking for work. By the 1920s Youngstown was one of the top producers of steel in the country. The 1970s saw increased foreign competition and decline in this industry. On Monday, September 19, 1977, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company closed its Campbell, Ohio, works; by 1984, many of the mills in the area shut their doors, leading to a devastating decline in the local economy. The 1980s saw little improvement as the area attempted to revitalize itself and diversify its industrial and commercial base. This led Ohio State Sen. Harry Meshel to propose a museum that would commemorate the steel industry and its impact on the people of Youngstown and surrounding areas. The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor opened its doors to the public in 1992 and dedicated itself to collecting, preserving, and interpreting the industrial and labor history of the Mahoning Valley, the region, and the state. Over the years our collections have grown to include an array of artifacts dealing with most of the business and industries in the area. Our archives library has accumulated a vast array of material dealing with local companies that produced steel, created finished products, and sold those products across the country and around the world. [End Page 65] This collection includes records for Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Buckeye Coal, US Steel, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Youngstown Welding & Engineering, and the United Steelworkers of America—just to name a few.
To add to the collections in the archives library, we recently received a donation of archival material for the General Fireproofing Company from Bruce Bastoky of San Jose, California. The collection contains photographs, catalogs, and newsletters for this Youngstown, Ohio, business. The company opened its doors in 19021 and remained in business until 1989, when TANG Industries bought it and relocated its operations to Tennessee. Through the examination of the history of General Fireproofing, we see the development of the company and its corresponding contributions and reflections of everyday life and popular culture. The story of General Fireproofing is one of innovation, product, and people.
As a means of showcasing how innovative people were in the early twentieth century, the GF collection highlights how its owners started their business. “It is quite possible that there would be no General Fireproofing today if the incandescent lamp had not replaced the gas light!”2 This enigmatic quotation encapsulates the history of General Fireproofing from its beginning as a building construction supply business to its development of steel office equipment and materials, which dominated much of the industry in the twentieth century. The history of this company reflects many of the trends and changes in business and manufacturing in America. The chronicle of General Fireproofing is an American success story that focuses on many men and innovative thinking, much of it centered in Youngstown, Ohio, and based on the resources, primarily steel, available there.
The company is best known for its production of quality office furniture, which remains popular and garners high prices in today’s marketplace. The company did not begin in the office equipment industry but with lighting. Brothers Herbert and Clarence White began their careers in New York by selling gas lamps in the last part of the nineteenth century. From that beginning we eventually see the start and growth of a large, successful office furniture manufacturing company.
The White brothers traveled throughout South America in 1892, researching gas lamps for a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, company. When they returned [End Page 66] to the United States, they sold the lamps in Brooklyn, New York. As the men worked, they noticed the popularity of electric lights and suspected they would eventually replace the gas lamps that were then lighting...