Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series that highlights the many sewing factories that once called Shippensburg home, and the people who worked in them.
Shippensburg was once home to several sewing factories that employed a vast number of women in the area.
Sewing skills were a hot commodity in the early manufacturing days of the town, and those who demonstrated these skills had the opportunity to earn good wages, especially if they were fast at their job; the faster you were at turning out the product (or completing your part of the process) the more money you made. In those days, it was called piece rate.
Here’s a look at the dress, pants and shirt factories that called Shippensburg home at one time or another, starting back in the late 1800s. Information compiled for this article was found in several different sources, including “Shippensburg’s 250 Year History,” The Shippensburg Digital History Museum by Shippensburg University, www.vintagefashionguild.com, and shared information from folks who worked at companies later housed in the factories.
Penn Pants Co. first opened its doors in Shippensburg in 1900, but quickly grew and changed owners and locations over the years. Founded by W.A. Lutz, the original building was located at 105 S. Prince St., and was often referred to as the Lutz & Co. Factory. Penn Pants mainly manufactured men’s work pants that were not made from denim. The pants were made in part in the factory, and finished by women in their homes. One woman worked to sew certain pieces of the pants, as well as completing certain stitches, and then the pants were passed onto another woman to perform the next step in the completion process. It was noted that the women made 15 cents per bushel/dozen.
The factory changed hands several times throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1923, Lewis Kraemer Co. purchased the factory; in 1928, H. Lister and Co. took over the plant, and in 1931 the
Rose Brothers became the owners. By the early 1930s, Penn Pants had approximately 50 employees.
In 1937, the plant moved to the corner of Burd Street and Apple Avenue where it continued operations until 1948.
On July 1, 1948, The Marden Co. broke ground for a new plant on Lurgan Avenue and the name was changed to The Marden Clothing Co. The plant continued under the name of Marden until Sept. 1, 1967, when the Rose Brothers sold it to Phoenix Clothes, Inc. in Allentown, and the name was changed to Jordan Clothing Co. The company was later sold and the name changed again to the Greif Co., and then again to Franklin Clothing before finally closing its doors in Shippensburg after the year 2000.
From 1888-1920, The Shippensburg Manufacturing Co. (also called The Shippensburg Dress Factory) was located on West Garfield Street in Shippensburg, with another building in Mongul (Lurgan Township). The president of the company in 1888 was J.C. Rummel. James C. Fleming was the secretary, and A. Angle was the treasurer.
By 1895, the company was manufacturing suits, pants blouses, overalls and shirts. Both the Shippensburg and Mongul locations were water powered. The company also had factories in Mercersburg and Fayetteville. The owners later changed the name to Rummel, Himes & Co. The company logo was stamped on metal buttons of the authentic overalls that were manufactured at the Shippensburg location.
Rummel, Himes & Co. ceased functioning in the 1920s.
Sometime between 1920 and 1935, new owners took over and the name of the company was called or changed to the Shippensburg Dress Factory (though the origin is unclear).
In 1935, the former Rummel, Himes & Co. building at the corner of West Garfield and South Fayette streets became U-Wanna-Wash Frocks Inc. The new owners operated a successful company that made men’s suits, women’s blouses, overalls and shirts. The building quickly expanded and began making women’s and girl’s housecoats, and employed thousands of men and women (with the largest percentage of the workforce being women) over the next 50 years.
In 1988, U-Wanna-Wash Frocks moved from Shippensburg to Newville.
The ShirtCraft Co. was also located on Lurgan Avenue, and opened in 1930. In 1934, workers were expected to make 10 dozen shirts per hour. Wages of factory workers are unknown for 1934, but just before closing in 1955, the wages were about $85-$90 dollars per week.
The company specialized in men’s dress shirts with trubenized collars. These collars kept their shape without starch, even after being washed. The company reopened in 1957, but was only opened for a short period of time. The ShirtCraft Co. also had factories in Hazleton and Hagerstown.
L’Aiglon was one of the most popular sewing factories in Shippensburg, as far as employment figures.
Founded in 1898 in Philadelphia as part of Biberman Brothers Inc., the company’s original label read “Biberman Make,” but changed to L’Aiglon in 1919. The earlier labels had “Biberman Make” sewn in with small letters. Biberman Make dresses were ‘wash dresses’ or washable. Biberman also made bathrobes and uniforms for maids and nurses.
Its founder, Joseph Biberman, sadly committed suicide in 1933 as a result of financial difficulties during the Great Depression. After his death, the company continued to make inexpensive but stylish and attractive dresses for women and juniors. During the 1950s, L’Aiglon dresses were used as costumes on the soap opera, “The Edge of Night.” The label was trademarked in 1963. The company was liquidated in 1975.
The L’Aiglon Co. operated in Shippensburg on Lurgan Avenue in a building between Franklin Clothing (currently The Shoebox Supply House) and the former Affiliated Industries Building. The building has been gone from the landscape for the better part of 50 years or more. In its heyday, which according to various sources, would have been in the early 1960s to the mid-1970s.
Orweco Dress Factory was opened in 1952 by Jack Confino, and located at 225 S. Gettle Ave. It operated for nearly 40 years before closing its doors. Orweco closed in October of 1989, and the employees were given a 60-day layoff notice in August.
Shippensburg’s Orweco Dress Factory was one of four Orweco Factories in Pennsylvania. Others were located in Mifflintown, Lebanon and two in Mechanicsburg.
R&S Dress Factory was started by Bobby Rhine and Fred Stouffer Sr. in 1969. The two friends started out in a small factory located at 211 N. Queen St. The building was two stories, and housed the sewing factory on the first floor, while the second floor was home to a factory outlet and apartments.
Rhine later purchased Stouffer’s interest and moved his operations to a larger, more spacious newly constructed building located at 201 Dykeman Road, Shippensburg (keeping the original R&S name). The factory closed in 1986 and has been the home of Niche Electronics since the late 1990s.
I can personally attest to the thousands of women who labored in these factories as young women, and then grew to be young mothers and wives, and many more who made a career out of sewing and working piece rate to bring home a paycheck that helped to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of their children. My mother was one of those young, hard-working women who began working at U-Wanna-Wash Frocks in the late 1950s, and continued to work at several of the other factories alongside countless other ladies who would become lifelong friends.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this special Blast from the Past when I’ll share more photos and memories of the women who honed their sewing skills in these hallowed places.
When I began my search to find more information about the sewing factories that I remembered while growing up in Shippensburg, I was quite surprised to learn about the older factories. In addition, the number of memories and comments shared with me through Facebook has been phenomenal and heart-warming to say the least. I am truly touched by all those who remember my mother, and even more so by everyone who has shared memories, photos and personal stories of their loved ones, each one with a unique story to tell, and everyone who helped to put Shippensburg on the map, one stitch at a time.
(Part 2 will be published in the Feb. 18 Weekend Edition of The News-Chronicle.)