Friday, November 7, 2014

Bygone Business: McAleer Manufacturing - Part 2

In September 1942, McAleer Manufacturing announced that it would build a second facility in Rochester. The factory in the former Western Knitting Mills building was already running shifts around the clock and McAleer had just won a new defense contract - to produce aluminum powder used in the manufacture of various types of explosive ordnance.

The new factory was built on South Street, along the banks of the Clinton River. It was financed and built by the Defense Plant Corporation, or DPC, a government agency created expedite the equipping of private sector industry for wartime production. Factories built by the DPC were given Plancor numbers for identification purposes. The McAleer powder plant on South Street was designated Plancor 2151, and it was built with the urgency that accompanied the times: the project was announced in September and the plant began operating in December 1942.

The work done at the South Street plant was dangerous, and several concrete bunkers were built away from the main plant to further isolate the risky operations. In December 1942, just after production began, an explosion in one of the compound's small cement and frame building killed two women employees and seriously injured a third. The women were blown out of the building when powder in a mixing machine they were using exploded, and they were burned when their clothing caught fire. Virginia Ann MacLeod, 22, of Rochester, and Ella Jane Brinker Thorne, 31, of Pontiac, died from their injuries. Audrey M. Shoemaker Fisher, 30, also of Pontiac, was the only one of the three to survive the accident.

Another fatal explosion happened a year later.  George Howard Smith was killed when the powder he was mixing exploded and destroyed the isolated building in which he was working. According to one newspaper account, Smith had been a member of the plant protection force before transferring to the job of explosives mixer. The day of the explosion was his first and only day on the new job.  In addition to these tragedies, several other serious but non-fatal accidents happened at the powder plant during the war years.

After the war ended, the McAleer powder plant was idled and in April 1946 the government offered it for sale as excess inventory. The main powder plant building still stands on South Street, looking much as it did during the war, but almost all of the outbuildings that were part of the compound have long since disappeared.  Several light industrial operations have occupied the former powder plant over the years, including Crucible Brass, Beaver Stair Company, and Boyle Engineering.

Next week: Part 3: McAleer in the Postwar Era.  (Click here to go back to Part 1.)

Click here to view  a video of the story of McAleer employee Virginia MacLeod, who was portrayed by actress Halley Anspach in the 2014 Mount Avon Cemetery Walk, "Heroes in the Stones."

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