GE donates salvaged Packard markers to Ohio museum

ED RUNYAN The (Youngstown) Vindicator Published:

WARREN, Ohio (AP) -- There are relatively few physical artifacts for today's generation to view from the football-field-sized area on Dana Street Northeast where two Warren brothers, J.W. and W.D. Packard, started the Packard Electric Co.

The site where the Packard brothers manufactured some of the world's first light bulbs, first automobiles and first automobile wiring more than a century ago is now under the General Electric Ohio Lamp Plant.

The Packard brothers built several buildings there after starting Packard Electric in 1890, but the buildings came down about 20 years later, and new ones went up to produce light bulbs full time.

Construction of new buildings farther east on Dana and nearby Griswold Street and later on North River Road housed the flourishing Packard Electric enterprise, which eventually became the largest wiring harness manufacturer in the world.

A few photos exist of the factory where the first 400 Packard automobiles were made from 1899 to 1903, before production moved to Detroit. The National Packard Museum in Warren has four of those Packard automobiles on display. It also has a few of the light bulbs made there before it became a General Electric plant.

But thanks to GE, the museum has two other artifacts to display with a connection to the original Packard factory buildings.

George Lopuchovsky, Ohio Lamp Plant manager, recently turned over two bronze markers to the National Packard Museum that commemorate the site as the location where the Packard brothers started their businesses.

Lopuchovsky took the two markers down off an outside wall on Dana last summer and locked them inside the plant for safekeeping.

Several months earlier, it became apparent GE was going to close the plant, where incandescent light bulbs were manufactured for more than 100 years. Lopuchovsky, a Hubbard native, believed the markers should be stored to prevent them from being poached by scrap thieves.

The plant's last day of production was Jan. 24, but company officials say they don't know yet what they will do with the plant.

Cindee Mines, a member of the Trumbull County Historical Society and former National Packard Museum board member, contacted Lopuchovsky several months ago about acquiring the markers from GE, and Lopuchovsky agreed.

The older of the two markers, each weighing about 30 pounds, was placed on the building during a ceremony in November 1949, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the completion of the first Packard automobile on that site Nov. 6, 1899.

The marker, made by the Packard Motor Car Co., was "a tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of two great automotive pioneers," the marker says.

The second marker is a tribute to George Weiss, a partner with the Packard brothers when they began to make automobiles.

Mary Ann Porinchak, executive director of the National Packard Museum, said the older marker may be gently restored but both markers will go on display at the museum sometime before this summer's Packard car show in July, along with a map showing where the Ohio Lamp Plant/Packard automobile site can be found.

The Ohio Lamp Plant already is one of the stops on the "Packard Footprints" History Tour, which takes visitors to about a dozen locations (this year July 18) to point out locations where the Packard family lived, worked or inspired the creation of a landmark.

Among them are the W.D. Packard Music Hall, a gift from W.D. Packard; Packard Park; J.W. Packard's mansion on Oak Knoll Ave. Northeast; the Packard Block building on Courthouse Square, built by J.W. Packard in 1894 as an office building; and the Packard Apartments on North Park Avenue just north of Courthouse Square.

On the day Lopuchovsky turned over the markers to Mines and other museum volunteers, he also showed them photographs and newsletters showing milestones in the GE plant's history -- construction of each of the four three-story buildings that make up the facility, for example, and GE newsletters with historical articles on the plant.

Lopuchovsky said he would make copies to give to the museum, but little else in the plant has historical value.

"We used every square inch for making lamps," he noted.

Aside from some Packard automobiles and buildings associated with the Packard family that are still with us, Mines said she also has a great respect for another, lesser-known part of the Packard history -- the Packard brothers' sister, Alaska, who served as Packard Electric's plant manager while it was focused on making light bulbs.

She later became the FBI's first female agent in 1922 at age 54. But she served only two years before being asked to resign by newly-appointed Director J. Edgar Hoover, according to the FBI's website. It wasn't until 1972, shortly after Hoover's death and the passing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, that women once again joined the forces of the FBI.

"I'm interested in the Packard family, the houses they lived in," Mines said. "Warren was, at the turn of the century, such a boom town -- steel, light bulbs, railroads. The industry was remarkable."

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Information from: The Vindicator, http://www.vindy.com