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Why Manufacturing: A Daughter's Tale

Oct. 2, 2014
"It was a good place to work," my dad said. "Never was I not proud to work there."

On Manufacturing Day, we often ask: Why manufacturing?

The day is an annual celebration of industry, of its challenges and opportunities. The industrial community comes together in what is both a major PR movement and a pledge of solidarity to promote manufacturing, to attract the youth, to pull back the curtain for the general public.

There's a tangible excitement as industry raises its collective voice and demands to be heard.

So this year I asked myself: why manufacturing?

As a journalist, I'd covered business, general news, real estate and finance, but manufacturing was a new challenge. Despite having a father who retired from a chemical plant, I knew little about the world of industry when I accepted a job covering manufacturing.

The unknown intrigued me:  I wanted to see inside that world that I only knew from my dad's tales. I wanted to paint in the details of his stories with knowledge of my own. I wanted to love manufacturing, too.

My parents both worked in manufacturing. My mom, shortly after high school, took a job at Sanborn Wire in Rock Creek, Ohio, making springs for 10 years until my sister was born.

My dad, Howard, started working at Lubrizol's Painesville, Ohio, facility in January 1978 as a production chemical operator, a job he would hold until he retired 23 years later.

My dad was a farmer. He was born on a farm and maintained the family farm after he married my mom. Hard work was something to which he was accustomed. Hard work, manual work, was a part of life.

Even today, my 71-year-old dad repairs his own roof, helps neighbors (and me, his ever-mobile daughter) move and even helps out at his brother-in-law's farm as needed during hay season.

His father was in his 20s during The Great Depression, and juggled two or three jobs at a time – manufacturing doors for furnaces and doing mortaring in smokestacks – all while keeping the farm afloat.

"If you wanted to put food on the table, you worked, you worked, you worked," my dad said of his father.

That's why my dad took a job at Lubrizol 30 miles away, while still on the farm, when my sister was two years old: to do what it took to support his family.

"On the farm, you really have no savings plan, no health insurance. I was looking for security for my family," my dad said.

With that, he began his career at Lubrizol making additives for lubricants, dealing daily with highly-combustible materials.

"Lubrizol was way ahead of the curve when it came to safety," he said. "Even though we were working with chemicals, it was a safe environment."

My dad's job entailed running batches, getting the timing just right – a perfect fit for a self-professed lover of math.

"I was always active. I liked to use my hands and my mind," he said.

And, financially, manufacturing gave him the wherewithal to voluntarily retire before he was 60 when the plant was downsizing.

"It was a good place to work," he said. "Never was I not proud to work there."

My dad, like the millions of workers on factory floors across the country, experienced what a job in manufacturing could provide: a challenging and stimulating environment that allowed him to support a family and take pride in his work.

And, in covering manufacturing, in writing the stories of innovation, of seeing ingeunity at work in the factories I've toured, of hearing the passion in the voices of those on the machines day in and day out, I've developed a deep appreciation for this foreign world of industry.

Check out IndustryWeek's complete coverage of Manufacturing Day 2014.

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