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George Powell

          George Powell was a Helwig Employee from 1945 to 1950.

          Helwig Dye Company - Homestead Street, off Delaware River. Dying and finishing - best machinery in industry. George joined through his father after discharge from Navy in 1945. Father was business agent for Philadelphia Textile Union. George served aboard a mine sweeper involved in 17 landings in small islands in the South Pacific, one in which his ship was sunk and he narrowly escaped death. 

          After discharge he was living in the Oxford Circle section of Frankford, and used bus transportation to Helwig's where he worked as an apprentice electrician. George graduated from Frankford High School. His memory is that Helwig's moved from 9th & Buttonwood Streets in Philadelphia to Wissinoming. Helwig president was Jake Kamber and brother Leon and Mr. Goodykuntz were also in management.

          His starting salary was $69.00 a week and he worked very hard, and management acknowledged such work. Normal hours were eight hours a day, five days a week and four or five hours on Saturday.                               

          Helwig's did much work for the military in dying uniform material and parachutes, although they did as much or more in commercial activity. Finishing was also a large part of the work. He said that Helwig processed a million yards a month. Business fell off after World War II but picked up again during the Korean War. 

          They used a variety of chemicals in the processing, and care was needed to avoid burns and scalding. Some acids could eat right through to the bone. It was extremely hot there in the summer and very foggy in the winter due to the outside cold and inside heat. He had to wear "clogs" on his feet due to the chemicals and said that his feet had a bad odor for five years after he left. They wore no masks and he is surprised that he did not suffer any respiratory problems from breathing the chemical atmosphere. 

          Rejected materials were either given free to employees or sold for twenty five cents a yard. Some of the materials they processed were twill, poplin, gabardine and nylon. They did finished cloth for upholstery and curtains. They had chemists who mixed and measured chemicals for various jobs.

 Memories and Ramblings:

          The name Helwig came from the combination of two previous owners' names. 

          George Essigram had a small grocery store across from Helwig's and sold sandwiches for lunches. 

          Recalls some theft at plant. One employee wrapped 50 yards of silk material around his body, under his clothing, so tightly to avoid detection, that he collapsed before he got out. The owner was called and the final result was that he gave him the material. 

          When asked about the disposal of chemicals and acids, the answer was "piped into the river". 

          George remembers the name of the caretaker at Wissinoming Park as Campbell, a very big man. Described him as a cowboy type. In his youth George played with his son named Eddie. 

          For several years George has been converting an old barn into a nice home in Barto (Pennsylvania) and tells of the quality of lumber used, and still in good condition. So good, he says "that termites wear out their sows". 

          He is interested in history and very proud of his namesake who is State Commander of the GAR, and heavily involved in the General Army of the Republic, Civil War Museum in Frankford. 

 

Interviewed and submitted by John Altomari

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