Updated 28-XII-2014

Ohio Lamp Plant, Warren

The Ohio Lamp Plant achieved a particularly impressive record by making lamps on the same site for an incredible 123 years. It was founded in 1890 by the Packard brothers, of later automobile fame. When they sold off their lamp works it became part of the General Electric family, that company keeping the production running up to 2014. Its existence was threatened only when new energy-efficiency laws made several of its incandescent products obsolete, and when GE proposed to re-tool the plant to make more efficient halogen lamps, many older employees callously rejected the plans in favour of an early retirement deal - robbing younger staff of their futures and bringing over a century of lampmaking at Warren to a most undeserving close.

View of Ohio Lamp Plant, Warren, from corner of North Park Avenue and Dana Street, 2011

Address 1210 North Park Avenue and Dana Street, Warren, Ohio, USA.
Location 41.2478°N, -80.8170°E
Opened 1890, with start of lampmaking in 1891.
Closed 2014.
Floorspace 354,000 sq.ft. (32,888 m²).
Products Carbon Filament Lamps, Tungsten Filament Lamps, later specialising in blown reflector and sealed beam PAR38 lamps. Also electrical transformers and motor vehicles in the early days.

The Packard Family of Warren, Ohio
The history of the Packards in North America begins with Samuel Packard, an English emigrant, who arrived along with other pilgrims at Massachussetts in 1638. The Warren-based branch of the family can be traced back to 1825 when hs descendant, William Packard, was lured to these frontier regions of the Western Reserve, settling just 5 miles south of Warren, at Lordstown. He and his wife Julia produced nine children, before he alone was once again lured away by the rush for California gold - apparently finding neither that nor the time or inclination to return home afterwards to his abandoned family.

One of the sons he left behind was 21-year-old Warren Packard, named after the nearby town, who at 18 years began working at a hardware store in Trumbull, Ohio. He proved considerably more successful than his father - within four years having taken over the store himself, as well as another local competitor. A series of highly successful ventures then followed, which took him into the profitable industries of iron-rolling, lumber and sawmilling. He had a particularly astute eye for spotting opportunities based on emerging technologies, such as the petroleum industry, as well as bringing in carefully chosen partners to help him run the new operations.

In 1860 Warren married Mary E. Doud, and of their five children it was the two boys, William Doud Packard of 3rd November 1861, and James Ward Packard of 5th November 1863, who followed in their fathers footsteps and ultimately extended the Packard's local success into national fame. William was a professional salesman and highly disciplined businessman, who entered his fathers' business after graduating from Ohio State University in 1882. James meanwhile was an engineer and did not find satisfaction in the idea of joining the family business. In 1884 he graduated as mechanical engineer from Lehigh University in Bethlehem PA, and moved to New York, where he was at once exposed to the vibrant world of technological innovations. He soon became aware of Edison's achievements with electrifation and the incandescent lamp, and in the same year accepted a job with the Sawyer-Man Company - a small competing manufacturer of incandescent lamps. Here he gained a strong position, patenting an improved lamp which was sold to the much larger Westinghouse Electric Company. Westinghouse eventually took over Sawyer-Man, and James would have been assured of a promising future career with that giant corporation - but he had far more grand plans of his own.

The Packard Electric Company
In 1890 he returned to his home town of Warren, and joined forces with his trusted brother in forming a new enterprise. The two men made a powerful combination - both highly competent university-trained engineers, one having outstanding skills for spotting new opportunities and engineering products around them, the other having superb managerial, financial, sales and general business experience.

The Packard Electric Company was incorporated on the 5th June 1890. The Packard brothers had, throughout their livs, shown tremendous skill in choosing valuable business partners, and they brought into the new company Messrs. Jacob Perkins, C.F. Clapp, Juston W. Spangenberg and M.B. Tayler. Perkins was a wealthy landowner, Tayler and Clapp local bankers, and Spangenberg a businessman with many partnerships including a machine shop, and a foundry that produced steam engines and sawmills.

In October of 1890 the company moved into its first premises at 410-416 North Avenue, Warren, Ohio. The site had been acquired from Perkins, and is believed to have already accommodated a small wood and brick factory that had been constructed in 1880. The company planned to manufacture incandescent lamps, dynamos, transformers and other 'electrical specialities'. The new factory received widespread acclaim at the time, for rather than driving the production machines via mechanical belts or piped steam, each process was equipped with a motor and driven electrically.

The New York & Ohio Company
Despite the financial strength and proficiency of the Packard brothers, it was recognised that an injection of significantly greater capital was needed to grow the business in the directions they intended. James called on his former colleagues, and attracted the support of John W. Peale of New York.

The result was the formation of the New York & Ohio Company, on 27th January 1891. The new corporation leased the space and equipment within the Packard factory, and Packard Electric shifted out to a small adjoining structure that was built to accommodate it. Both companies continued to operate in parallel for many years, sharing the same premises, but from their respective advertisements it is evident that New York & Ohio handled the manufacturing side, whereas Packard Electric assumed more of a role of electrical contractor - establishing sales and carrying out electrical and lighting installations for its customers. Lamps manufactured by the New York & Ohio Company still carried the Packard label and the lamps were sold under that brand.

Canadian Connections
Expansion of the Warren business was swift - and not only nationally, as the brothers followed up leads to export their lamps to Mexico and to England. Just two years in though, disaster struck, as the General Electric Company began actively enforcing its Edison patents on the original incandescent lamp. The Packards made frequent journeys to the coutroom as well as to GE's headquarters, and it is possible that the unusual patent laws of Canada enticed them northwards to ensure continuity of their business.

By 1893 The Packard Lamp Company Limited had been formed in Canada, with premises at 96-100 King Street in Montreal. The location was the same as that of the Dominion Electric Manuafacturing Company, which among other things, refilled burned-out lamps by breaking them open and installing a new carbon filament. Dominion had been practising that art since 1891, although originally in a different factory at 145 St. James Street. Packard, however, manufactured new lamps right from its 1893 beginnings in Canada. It is not clear whether Packard leased space and facilties at the Dominion works, which would surely have shared many common processes with those needed to produce new lamps, or if Packard had in fact taken over Dominion.

Soon after these early foundings of the Packard Lamp Company Ltd., The Packard Electric Company Ltd. was formed in Canada, and in February 1895 purchased all assets of both the Packard Lamp Company Ltd. and the Dominion Electric Manuafacturing Company (incidentally, the Packards were at that time already listed as owners of Dominion). The following year the company relocated to a new factory at the Neelon Mill in St. Catherines, Ontario, and the links with Montreal were broken. It operated most successfully under the direction of the headquarters at Warren, USA, and in addition to lamps it produced essentially the same product lines as Warren. The factory continued for many years although in its early days encountered turbulent times, and by 1900 all four of its founder members, including the two Packards, had sold out their shares.

Automotive Adventures
A brilliant mechanical engineer, James Packard also developed an interest in the emerging automobile industry. His experiences in this field date back to his purchase of a Winton Motor Carriage. Alexander Winton had emigrated from Scotland to America in 1884 and in 1891 established his own manufacture of bicycles in Cleveland, Ohio. By 1897 he had ventured into motorised carriages and founded the Winton Motor Carriage Company. By uncanny coincidence, from 1898 Winton leased space for the manufacture of his automobiles within the Euclid Lamp Plant of the former Brush Works in Cleveland Ohio - that same site still housing the manufactory of The General Incandescent Lamp Company, who had via a series of takeovers continued the Brush incandescent lamp manufacturing.

It is perhaps via this lamp-manufacturing link that Packard became aware of the Winton automobile, himself taking delivery of one of the first 100 vehicles in 1898. It was plagued with problems from the start - even breaking down on its first journey from Cleveland to Packard's home in Warren, which could be completed only by enlisting a team of horses to drag the vehicle the final distance. Packard made several personal trips to Cleveland to speak with Winton himself about the chronic unreliability of his contraption. When making some polite suggestions concerning improvements to the design of the vehicle based on Packard's own ideas, he incurred the spectacular wrath of Winton, the words being published in the press as perhaps one of the earliest recorded cases of poor customer relations in the automobile industry! Winton replied "... the Winton waggon as it stood was the ripened and perfected product of many years of lofty thought, aided by mechanical skill of the highest grade, and could not be improved in any detail, and that if Mr. Packard wanted any of his own cats and dogs worked into a waggon, he had better build it himself as he, Winton, would not stultify himself by any departure whatever from his own incontestably superior productions."

Packard apparently took Winton's advice - and being both technically and financially capable of such endeavours, in 1899 he and his brother produced the first automobile of their own design within the New York & Ohio works at Warren! Packard successfully enticed Winton's chief engineer to move to his operations at Warren, forming "Packard and Weiss", the automobile division of the New York & Ohio Company. Having launched two models and sold many tens of examples, the informal start-up was incorporated in August 1900, with the formation of the Ohio Automobile Company, which sold its vehicles under the Packard brand. The corporate name changed again in 1903 to The Packard Motor Car Company, and in the same year relocated to eminently more suitable premises for automotive prodcution, at Detroit, Michigan. So ended the affiliation of the Ohio Lamp Plant with automobiles and its focus returned to the incandescent lamp. Elsewhere in Warren, factories were opened for the manufacture of eletrical components for automobiles, and ultimately were taken over by the giant General Motors corporation. GM continued to operate the Warren facility under the Packard name until very recently, and the operations grew to vast proportions - eventually becoming the largest manufacturer of automotive wiring looms in the world.

Transfer to National and GE
In the early 1900s many of the smaller American lamp manufacturers recognised that their strength in fighting the giant General Electric and Westinghouse companies would be considerably greater if they were to combine forces, and share technical information for their mutual benefit. The idea for co-operation was founded one evening in 1901, when Franklin Terry of the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Company, and Burton Tremaine of the Fostoria Incandescent Lamp Company were seated next to each other at an industry dinner in Chicago. Discussions moved to the subject of competition with GE and Westinghouse, which the smaller manufacturers frequently lost because of the technical inferiority of their lamps - a position which none of them could afford to improve given the vast sums that had to be invested in Research and Development so as to make a better lamp. However both men recognised that if they were to combine forces, and bring in as many of the small independents as possible, they would stand a much better chance of funding the research needed to jointly improve all of their lamps, and perhaps stand a chance of competing with the industrial giants.

It was clear from Terry and Tremaine's negotiations with the other smaller manufacturers that many did not like the idea of a co-operative movement, fearing the loss of their independence. But they would agree to sell out to a larger combine, especially if they were kept on to manage their own factories. That, of course, required more capital than Terry and Tremaine could organise. Almost unimaginably however, they persuaded the president of their arch-rival, Charles Coffin of GE, to put up the cash! Coffin was a man who extolled the virtues of not only internal competition between his various factories of GE so as to push each to deliver the best in product quality and research, but also recognised the crucial importance of external competition which often brough radically new ideas to the industry. And what better opportunity for him, than to have at least financial control of a great new combined force of lamp manufacturers all dedicated to innovation and their own improvement. Remarkably he bought the idea, with the National Electric Lamp Company being founded on 3rd May 1901 with GE holding 75% of the stock, and an option on the remaining 25%.

The New York & Ohio Company, selling Packard brand lamps, was one of the principal smaller manufacturers that National approached and the reaction of its owners was typical. By this time, the Packard brothers were becoming increasingly attracted towards the automobile side of their business, and interest in lamps was waning. On the 1st October 1903 the deal was done, and the New York & Ohio company transferred, along with rights to the Packard brand for lamps, to Terry of National.

The company continued trading under its original name until 1911, when the antitrust lawsuits brought against GE required it to identify its majority shareholding in National. GE excercised its right to purchase the remaining 25% of the National stock, and each of the National companies became Divisions of General Electric. The Ohio Lamp Plant was re-named "Packard Lamp Division of General Electric". The Packard brand is believed to have continued in use until as late as 1925, when GE finally did away with each of the divisional brand names and produced all lamps under its General Electric and Mazda trademarks.

Operation under General Electric
The town of Warren in Ohio has surely been home to a greater number of lamp factories than any other city, at one time enjoying a total of fourteen plants - and in 1916 eight of these were competing Divisions within General Electric. One by one however, they were closed or amalgamated together, and by 1927 the Ohio Lamp Plant was the sole survivor.

GE treated its Ohio Lamp Plant well, continuing to invest in new manufacturing technologies, and it soon acquired a position of strength in the production of the company's reflector incandescent lamps. At first these were of the blown-bulb variety, and later the sealed-beam PAR38 types for general lighting were added. It is suspected that until the 1980s when the production of decorative incandescent lamps, such as the globe and candle types, was discontinued in the USA in favour of cheaper Asian imports, that these types may also have been produced at the site. In the later years an additional factory, known as the Trumbull Lamp Plant, was also built by GE at Warren.

The Ohio Lamp Plant of GE prospered for many decades - still employing some 600 staff at the turn of the twenty-first century. But the new millennium brought with it an acceleration in the uptake of new light sources having higher energy efficiency than the traditional incandescent lamp, and the Ohio lamps were increasingly threatened by halogen reflector types being made at GE's other plants, as well as compact fluorescent reflectors which GE imported from outside the Americas.

By 2010 headcount had dropped to 240, and the rate of obsolescence of the Ohio lamps was further accelerated by government energy-efficiency legislation which outlawed more of the plant's products, combined with the progressive adoption of LED-based retrofits. In January 2013 GE made the inevitable announcement of its intention to close the factory one year later. Many of the dedicated plant operators put together a powerful counter-proposal to re-tool for the manufacture of higher efficacy halogen lamps, which would have given them a secure future. Remarkably, GE approved the idea - the only recorded case of General Electric apparently being influenced by its employees to reverse the decision of a plant closure. On 1st April 2013, GE proposed to move out all of the incandescent lines except one, and to bring in new equipment for halogen production that would keep the site operational.

For a short while it seemed as though things were back on track - but to be approved, the Union's members also had to support the plans. A poll was held, and with a margin of just 6 votes, delivered the shocking result that favoured continuation with the original plans for plant closure. The Ohio Lamp Plant suffered from a strongly polarised demographic in staff. One group consisted of long-service employees who GE's CEO once referred to as the highest-paid light bulb workers in the world, earning an astronomical US$ 27 per hour. The other group was made up of mainly younger operators, whose pay levels were more fitting with the location and industry. Most unfortunately, the older group had more to win on a personal level by taking the early retirement deal, and their selfish position carried the vote by a small margin. There was despair among the younger crew, who were robbed not only of their own futures, but of continuing over a century of lampmaking at Warren and ushering in an exciting new era of manufacturing high-efficacy halogen lamps.

Following the Union's rejection of the opportunity to re-tool, GE had little option but to acknowledge their wishes, and on 5th April 2013 announced that it would proceed with the original plans for closure. Production came to an end on 24th January 2014, when the remaining 158 staff lost their jobs. GE later proved that its talk of an upgrade to manufacture high efficacy halogens was not empty : in October 2014 those lines went on to be started up at two of the company's nearby fluorescent lamp plants, at Bucyrus and Circleville in Ohio.

Building Developments
The earliest part of the manufacturing space, dating to 1890, is illustrated in the first photograph below. No trace of this small two-storey building exists in later photographs, and it is believed to have been built over, perhaps as early as 1891 when the New York & Ohio company was formed.

The oldest portion of the later lampworks is a building built in dark brown colour brick, situated about a third of the way along the site in the direction from North Park Avenue along Dana Street NE (originally known as North Avenue). It was situated at 410-416 North Ave. Part of the interior of this relatively small building is pictured in the 1910 photograph of the factory lunch room.

The next major building addition extended this brick building all the way along Dana Street to the intersection with North Park Avenue. It is constructed in red brick and some effort has been made to continue the architectural styling of the original building.

A large number of later additions are believed to have continued the expansion in a north-easterly direction along Dana Street NE, culminating in a modern metal-clad warehouse at the far end of the site.

After the vacation of the Ohio Lamp Plant, demolition was swiftly carried out in the Autumn of 2014, and today no trace of the great industrial history of the site remains.

Original Packard Works, 1890(4) Lunch Room, c.1910(11) Aerial View, 1959 Aerial View, 2011(13)
Front View, 2011(13) Southern Side View, 2011(13) Southern Centre View, 2011(13) Southern Rear View, 2011(13)
Northern Front View, 2011(13) Side Sign, 2014(9) Side Entrance, 2014(10) Side Entrance, 2014(10)
Front Sign, 2014(9) Derelict Buildings, 2014(12)

Examples of Ohio Lamps
Packard Carbon with Pollard stem Sunbeam Mazda Sintered Tungsten National Mazda Daylight Blue GE-Mazda White Bowl Indirect Reflector GE Tuff-Skin Rough Service GE Miser BR30 Blown Reflector
GE Ruby Infrared Reflector Pre-Focus Projector 500T10/P

1 The Packard Brothers and Packard Lamps, Early Incandescent Lamps website, E.J. Covington.
2 Lights Out for GE Plants in the Mahoning Valley, Don Shilling, 2010
3 Packard, Dennis Adler, published by Motorbooks International, 2004, ISBN 0-7603-1928-6, pp.11-15
4 Ferranti-Packard, Pioneers in Canadian Electrical Manufacturing, Norman R. Ball & John N. Vardalas, published by Rolls-Royce Industries Canada Inc., 1994, ISBN 0-7735-0983-6, pp.38-47
5 Website of the National Packard Museum
6 Lights Out in Warren at GE Lamp Plant, The Vindicator Newsletter of Mahoning Valley, 24th January 2014
7 It's Final : General Electric to Close Its Ohio Lamp Plant, The Youngstown Business Journal, 5th April 2013
8 General Electric to Close Ohio Lamp Plant Friday, The Youngstown Business Journal, 21st January 2014
9 GE Workers in Warren Reject Contract, WKBN.com, 3rd April 2013
10 GE Ohio Lamp Plant Closing May Be Averted, WFMJ.com, 4th April 2013
11 Flikr photo album of Josh Nativio
12 Photo by James Shuttic, 2014
13 Google Maps, 2014