Tonawanda News

December 10, 2012

Historical society presentation highlights aircraft plant

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

TOWN OF TONAWANDA — If a picture is worth a thousand words, then there’s enough for an entire book in the handful of photographs of the Curtiss-Wright airplane plant Town of Tonawanda Historian recently received on a tiny flash drive.

Percy said he was giving a presentation on general aviation history in the Buffalo area last spring, when one attendee from North Tonawanda said he had some photographs to share. 

His “grandfather worked for Curtiss-Wright and had a whole lot of pictures of airplanes over the years,” Percy said of the encounter. “Seeing as how I had this information, I developed it into a PowerPoint (presentation) and made it available for public viewing.”

That presentation on the airplane manufacturing plant that once stood on Vulcan Street in the Town of Tonawanda will be held 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Tonawanda-Kenmore Historical Society at 100 Knoche Road, Town of Tonawanda. 

We “have very interesting photos of a number of planes, some of which I had never seen before so I think it would be interesting for the public to see the variety of planes they manufactured over the years.”

The plant, which was located where there is now a family support center for the Charter School for Applied Technology, was built at the beginning of World War I and operated until 1946 after World War II was over. 

“It employed a lot of people, and it’s an important part of Western New York’s manufacturing history,” said Village Historian of Kenmore, Ed Adamczyk.

Percy said the Curtiss plant moved to Western New York from Hammondsport because the area “offered a lot more industrial opportunity.” The plant produced the Curtiss JN4, or Curtiss Jenny, a biplane used in military training. 

The company left the area in 1929, only to return, join forces with the rival Wright Brothers operation and produce combat planes throughout the second World War. 

“Photographs taken by Life magazine in 1941 or ’42 show aircraft being screwed together in the parking lot, that’s how busy the place was,” Adamczyk said.

Tuesday’s presentation is free and open to the public and is one in a series of talks the historical society has planned focusing on industry in the area.

At the beginning of the century, “Buffalo was one of the largest cities in the country. There was great transport in the Erie Canal, railroads and lakes. It had banking, a skilled labor force supplied from the bike and auto industries and electric power from the Niagara Falls,” Percy said. “It all filtered together in the Buffalo area.”

Adamczyk, who, together with Percy and the historical society, is working to produce these talks, said those they’ve already held have proven successful. In the future he said they plan to take a look at companies like General Motors and Dupont.

“People are connected to these industries whether they know it or not. These were and are huge industries in the Town of Tonawanda, and people used to work there. Those that are still running, people still work there. Everybody seems to have members in the fmaily who used to work there,” Adamczyk said.

“Everybody out here seems to be connected and I think that’s pretty cool,” said Adamczyk, himself a former GM worker. “We all have oil and blood and steel going through our veins whether we know it not.”



IF YOU GO • WHAT: Curtiss-Wright Plant presentation by Town of Tonawanda Historian John Percy • WHEN: 7:15 p.m. Tuesday • WHERE: The Tonawanda-Kenmore Historical Society, 100 Knoche Road, Town of Tonawanda • COST: Free • MORE INFORMATION: Call 873-5774.


Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.