Thursday, January 28, 2016

Western Electric's Hawthorne Works

(Update: Joe Stupar posted a December, 1924, article about Western Electric making Chicago the "telephone capital of the world." Clifton Linton posted a request for information and got some answers.)

David Mrazek -> Forgotten Chicago
David's comment:
Hawthorne Works - Western Electric. Cover of 1937 Employee Handbook. Period photo of water tower. The white circle in this photo denotes area where present-day photo was taken by me. This photo has the same bittersweet resonance of the gate to the Stockyards.
My Czech grandfather worked here in the early 1900s but it wasn't for him. Though it was wonderful for thousands of others for so many years. Has anyone been to the Hawthorne Museum at Morton College? It looks very cool - worth a visit. How about a Forgotten Chicago field trip?
Michael Maitland's comment on John Smith's posting

A history and eight images

David Mrazek -> Forgotten Chicago
Western Electrics Hawthorne Works in Cicero, IL, used to make everything needed by the Bell System. It even had its own railroad --- Manufacturers' Junction. It employed over 40,000 people during its height after World War II. It was closed in 1986 and was torn down in 1994 to make way for strip malls. (Chicago Tribune) Quoting the Tribune's description of the discovery of the Hawthorne Effect:
It was a world center for industrial science, the site of the pioneering Hawthorne Studies that had a long-term impact on business management.
The studies, led by Harvard professor Elton Mayo between 1924 and 1933, showed that employees work harder when their bosses pay more attention to them and communicate with them.
One study turned up a paradox: that if supervisors increased lighting in the plant, employees would work harder, but complain. If they dimmed the lights in response to the complaints, they would work still harder.
A conclusion: Workers liked the feeling that management was listening to them.

Gregory Moore  -> Forgotten Chicago
This view is looking Southeast.
Gregory's comment:
Here is another of the Mega Size Chicago Buildings that are gone: HAWTHORNE WORKS. Located on 22nd Street (Cermak Road) and Cicero Avenue. This was the home of Western Electric. Most of the telephones (since 1923) were built at this location. It employed 45,000 people. During World World II it supported the war effort building aircraft equipment. It had it's own in-house fire station, police department, restaurants, places to sleep and shower and shopping stores...a city in a building. It was torn down in 1983 and is now a shopping center.
During the war effort, it helped develop and manufacture RADAR. A comment by Yaj Srednuas said it closed in 1983 and was razed in 1986. But note the previous posting has the dates 1986 and 1994. Western Electric was also a pioneer in audio reproduction. They provided the audio for many B&W movies including the first --- Jazz Singer. I think the comment about "most of the telephones" is also incorrect. WE had built a plant in Indianapolis, IN, dedicated to phone manufacture. Cable manufacturing moved to a plant north of Atlanta, GA. Columbus OH built a lot of the relay-based switching equipment. Oklahoma City was built to make the more modern computer-based switching equipment. Bell Labs, which had primarily been in New Jersey, opened a major location in Naperville, IL in the late 1960s called Indian Hill to be closer to the Hawthorne Works. (Only the white building in the middle existed in 1973. The glass building and parking garages in front was the original parking lot. The black building and parking lots was just grass. I believe the little wood building off the path to the retention pond is used for measuring the electromagnetic radiation of equipment. They also had a special room in the main building for measuring radiation.) The thought was that this would help transition development to manufacture. But, in practice, Bell Labbers worked with Oklahoma City instead of Hawthorne. Indian Hill is where I was hired in 1973. IH specialized in developing computer-based switching equipment. Over the decades that work evolved from hardware development to software development. The IH location is now owned by Alcatel-Lucent, but, as of my retirement in 2014, it was still mainly a "software factory" to support telephony systems, including cellular and packetized voice. I believe the Indianapolis plant closed. The Atlanta area plant has evolved from making copper cables to making fiber-optic cables. The largest copper cables had 3,600 pairs.

Eddie G Hoffmann -> Forgotten Chicago
Eddie's comment:
Western Electric, Hawthorne Plant, Rod Mill; Here is an exceedingly rare picture from what once was very much a Hawthorne landmark, the looping mill. The men working here needed nerves of steel as "catchers" to guide the orange hot copper to various draws. My father was one of these men.
The link in the comments to the Hawthorn Museum at Morton College was broke, but I was able to find a couple more: history and museum. The WesternElectricCo site says RADAR was developed circa 1918 and WE also worked on night vision gear. I'm disappointed that he choose to Copyright photos that he took out of a waste bin.

Edward Kwiatkowski shared Mike Pender's photo
April '86 Western Electric Hawthorne works before demolition.
Cicero and Cermak looking S.E..
A Flickr view of the main building. There is a sequence of three photos on Lightbox.

Below are some comments on the posting to the right.

Jimmy Boyce Anton Tonchev, The only tower that remains is closer to the freight line between Cicero & Kostner. This tower in the picture would not be the same one.

Chuck Edmonson comment
It sounds like the tower that was saved was just a water tank. Dave Gudewicz commented "The tower's "look" was in keeping with the motif of the rest of the campus, although I don't know how many other buildings had turrerts. I guess they had the $$ and the architect had the notion, so there it is. There are a number of brick towers in the Chicagoland area's industrial buildings that hid (unsightly) water tanks. Here's an example of another ornate brick tower hiding a water tank. I believe this structure is on Pulaski in Avondale. Originally it was an envelope manufacturing company. Photo taken during a FC tour of Avondale a few years ago."

Jeff Nichols posted
Update: Jeff's comment "Western Electric, 2200 S. Cicero, undated. University of Illinois at Chicago"

Anthony Gorss My high school teacher and I went there in the late 80's to strip out anything we could for the electrics lab at MEHS. Lot's of telephone stuff, and some really cool stuff that would fetch a good price today. Shame it was torn down, for a now questionable shopping plaza.

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP
I added a red rectangle to indicate the location of the water tower. The shadow confirms it is the tower. While researching this, I was amazed by how much industry used to be in Cicero along Cicero Avenue and the MJ+BRC railroads between the CB&Q on the south and B&OCT (Wisconsin Central) on the north. WE was on the south end.
1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP
I spent quite a bit of time looking for the Sanborn Map because it was in the Chicago Volumes. As an experiment, I include it below as "Original Size."
Sanborn Map, 1951 series, Vol. 20, Sheet 136.

Riley Franson posted
Caption says: the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric Company. The photo was taken on October 15, 1957.
Robert Leffingwell I remember the 24 hour bars in the area.

Brian Brown Moved us all out there from Pilsen. [I didn't even know Western Electric had an earlier plant in downtown Chicago. That creates another research item.]

Dan Adams My Great Uncle Joe was a Western Electric employee, and worked there. Both he and my Great Aunt Anna were on the ship when it capsized. Both survived, and really didn't want to discuss their obviously horrendous experience. He was transferred to a different plant in South Bend, IN in the 1930's. [And a South Bend plant.]

Rimas Novickis my lithuanian immigrant dad put in time at western along with 6-7 of the other huge manufacturing plants which ringed the town of cicero, including hotpoint, sunbeam, kropp forge...and close to 10 years spent at taylor forge north on cicero avenue which was prob one 1/4 the size of western's main plant ^ this one, but still huge.

3 shifts, round the clock almost all of them - one reason why cicero had so many 4am (or later) liquor licenses.

Dan Adams I've heard about Cicero's reputation as a nightclub scene. Now I know the reason why!

Rimas Novickis calumet city was in that league too, prob because of IT's proximity to the 5-6 steel mills working 3 shifts that were all along that IL / IN border.

Update: in 1958 you could at least choose a color other than black. Note that touch-tone did not yet exist.

Hawthorne Works Museum and Archives  added
Artifact of the Month: The Western Electric Model 302 telephones were introduced in 1937 and manufactured at the Hawthorne Works. The Henry Dreyfuss-designed deskset combined the ringer unit and speaker circuits within a single zinc alloy housing. Previous Western Electric telephones had required a separate ringer box.
World War II forced sharp reductions in the production of home telephones, but beginning in late 1945, the Hawthorne Works rushed to meet a backlog of two million orders. Western Electric acquired extra space in the former Studebaker plant on Archer Avenue, and by March 1946, assemblers had turned out one hundred thousand Model 302s.
In 1950, Western Electric rolled out a new model telephone and a new manufacturing plant. Henry Dreyfuss' famed Model 500 rolled off the assembly lines in Indianapolis for the next thirty-three years.
I still have a couple of Model 500s, one of which has a dial.

Donald McLean's comment on Antonio's posting
Lance Grey's comment on Antonio's posting
Viewed South from the Railroad embankment @ Cermak, in 1910
Lance Grey's comment on Antonio's posting
Cicero @ 24th looking north, as posted to FC last November.
North and Central posted
Western Electric Hawthorne Works plant. One of the factories mentioned in North and Central.
Craig Holmberg commented on tha above posting

Edward Kwiatkowski posted
Demolition of the old Western Electric Company building on South Cicero Avenue and West Cermak Road. Cicero Illinois. Jan 1987.

WE's Kansas City Works made vacuume tubes until 2002. It has links to a lot of WE history.

Hawthorne, Its Life and People.



    Contributions of Illinois civilians, impressive in volume and variety, to victory in the Second World War were related in Volume I of this history. But, in addition to the million Illinoisans in arms, the major contributions from the state were machines for war and food for soldiers. In production of war goods Illinois claimed second rank among the states, and in diversity of items it held first place. The story of Illinois industry at war is drama comparable in interest and significance to the air battles and beachhead landings in which its sons participated. Mighty engines and delicate precision instruments produced in the state helped to conquer both time and space in a global war. And their production wrote another large chapter in the industrial expansion of the Prairie State.

    A little late in full conversion to war, Illinois industry reached the height of production in the emergencies of 1944 when many other areas had already begun reconversion to peacetime work. Also, the state led in the manufacture of new devices, such as radar and electronics, without slowing the output of airplane engines, bombs, guns, and tanks. In plant expansion and the construction of new factories the Illinois record exceeded that of any other state; and, although a few plants disappeared with the war, many “war babies” became fixtures in the industrial expansion of the state. Knowledge gained and techniques developed in the wartime emergency constituted a veritable industrial revolution.

    Mary Waters
    Illinois In The Second World War
    Volume II, The Production Front
    Illinois State Historical Library, Copyright 1952
    p. 1

    1. "In the radio and electronics field, Illinois has remained the chief producer. According to 1947 census figures the state had 179 of the 850 radio and television manufacturers in the United States, most of them in Chicago. There are, however, important plants in Elgin, Mt. Carmel, and Bloomington, and manufacturers of parts in various downstate cities. In its review of Chicago industry for 1949, Commerce reported phenomenal gains in 1949 in radio and television, which brought her record to 40 per cent of the national output. Of 2,800,000 television sets, the Chicago area had made 1,242,000 ; of the 10,000,000 radio receivers, she accounted for 4,000,000.
      Illinois radio and electronic manufacturers ( Zenith, Belmont, Hallicrafters, Motorola, Admiral, Stewart-Warner, and others ) have handled a large volume of postwar defense contracts, often as much as 30 per cent of their entire production. These projects - radar, guided missiles, and other robot devices - constitute perhaps the most important field of military research aside from the atomic bomb."

      Mary Watters Illinois In The Second World War, Volume II: The Production Front Illinois State Historical Library, 1952 p. 132

  2. This is a long shot. My "Aunt" Carmella C Nicosia worked at the Hawthorne works in the mid-40s I have her ID Card from 1946. I also found a letter from her that stated her employer had chosen her to work on "coding". We have several engineers in the family, but for a young Woman in the 40's this would have been unique. It was post WWII. Sadly, she died, not much later of a fatal seizure and was not able to fulfill her future. Does anyone have documentation of what was occurring at Hawthorne at that time? I have been reading up on the history. thank you