SCHS Thanksgiving Story: “The year that Pottsville celebrated three Thanksgivings”
“It is eminently right and proper that all good Pottsvillians should join in this display of further reason for thanksgiving, because of the many blessings which have been bestowed on the community, the most significant is the completion of the Aetna Steel plant, a new milestone in the industrial growth of our influential and progressive city.” – Claude A. Lord, Mayor of Pottsville
In 1940 Pottsville’s Republican Mayor Lord (who I was told modeled himself after NYC mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) proclaimed a third thanksgiving for December 5th. On the previous day, Lord distributed 1,000 free live chickens to needy families which were reported to have been personally purchased by him from nearby farmers. The poultry gifts occurred in front of his Garfield Square home with each recipient having to show a city residency card available at City Hall.
November 21st was the national Thanksgiving as designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following Thursday was the Commonwealth’s Thanksgiving as proclaimed by Governor Arthur James. Pottsville with its population of approximately 25,000 celebrated its third Thanksgiving with a gigantic parade with laborers, fire fighters, school children and teachers marching to the Aetna Steel Plant that was under construction as the company was relocating from Brooklyn to Pottsville. Mayor Lord helped lay the cornerstone and Judge Cyrus Palmer gave opening remarks. Aetna was expected to hire several thousand at the municipally-owned Peacock Street plant. Along with the recent arrival of Pottsville Die Casting and Machine Company which employed 350, it gave the city something to celebrate after the long economic depression that had engulfed the nation and much of the world. The evening of this third Thanksgiving was capped off with a North-South all-star football game at the stadium.
The new industries came to the city as a result of a successful industrial promotion fund drive As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the local citizens pooled their resources and raised $125,000 to prevent the scheduled closing of the P&R C&I shops and then raised another $175,000 to build a new plant for Aetna Steel. The Inquirer reported that the local citizens became investors in their future with the average working family contributing about $25.
Besides creating new jobs, the morale of the population strengthened. Although war had recently broken out in Europe, the United States was still at peace.
The Aetna Steel plant would operate in the city for several decades, closing in February 1970 by the general manager who stated that the plant could not continue to operate profitably due to both the lack of demand for steel products and the need for expensive operational changes. The only products being produced at the plant during its final days were manufacturing steel shelving and furnishings for libraries and offices. In the past it successfully made steel doors and window frames. Operations changed hands in April 1967 and the plant was set up as subsidiary of Highway Trailer Industries. Perhaps you had a relative, neighbor or friend who worked in the plant, proudly making American made steel products.
On December 26, 1941, Congress would legally change the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday and Pottsville would celebrate only one Thanksgiving per year.
And now a final word from your sponsor: The Schuylkill County Historical Society has its annual appeal underway. If you enjoyed reading any of the blogs posted this year, please consider a financial donation to the Society so that the blogs will continue. The Society is striving to make its museum and research library a place for visitors from near and far to spend time. If you are scheduling a class reunion, remember that the Society, located within a building built during the Civil War can be a destination before your reunion banquet begins. Your donations can be easily made by sending in a check or via Paypal. See our website for further details.
Happy Thanksgiving to all! Yes, the Society’s gift shop will be open on Small Business Saturday!
J.R. Zane, President
Photo: Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943; Claude A. Lord, courtesy of City of Pottsville
Shenandoah Evening Herald Feb 13, 1970 p. 9
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle December 8, 1940 p. 43