Lately I’ve been living in the past.
A client recently asked me to write a company history for them. Before long, my research turned very personal.
Like so many businesses throughout the country, the seeds of my client’s company were sewn during the post–World War II economic boom. In North Carolina, that boom consisted largely of furniture, textiles and tobacco. Those factories needed heat and eventually air conditioning. That of course unleashed a subsequent demand for sheet metal, castings, machinery, and a whole host of materials and services.
My own father was among those returning home from war. He first got a job working in a textile mill (doing what I do not know) but a few years later went to work for a company called Wysong & Miles, a manufacturer of metal working machines. There he stayed until he started his own business as a machinist in the 1970s.
As a child I didn’t have a clue what my father did inside that large brick and metal building with the huge green ball tower that read “Wysong.” The youngest of five children whose ages spanned two full decades, I have only the vaguest memory of my father during his tenure at Wysong. My parents had inadvertently thrown in a Gen-Xer into their gaggle of Baby Boomers. By the time I came of age and of inclination to care, my father had long since retired and then passed away. Time ran out, leaving me with no more chances to hear my father reflect on his job or the company where he worked for 25 years.
But I did have something – a collection of notes written by the president of Wysong to my father, each typed on the same monogramed notecards and personally signed by Russell F. Hall, Jr., a name I had heard my father mention many times.
The notes are extraordinary, not just for the fact that the president of this relatively large company took the time to personally thank my father for his many suggestions, but also for what they suggest about a past generation of workers and management.
These are just a few of several notes of acknowledgement and gratitude my father received from the president of Wysong. They must have meant something to him; they are all that remains of his 25 years with the company.
Preserving A Fragile Part of History
I decided to poke around on the internet to see if I could find out a little bit more about Wysong and my father’s former boss. Sadly, I found only a few things.
Mr. Hall, like my father, was also an Army veteran of WWII. He died in his 50s – probably around the time of my father’s departure from the company. Following his death, its seems that Wysong may have gone through a series of evolutions. The trademark is now owned by another company. I couldn’t find much about the history, except what appears on the inside cover of this catalog:
These were the kinds of machines my father helped build. It had been a very long time, but I recognized the complex looking contraptions as those that were pictured in some of the literature my father brought home from work. These were machines borne out of a post-war era, built and operated by a generation that has all but died out. It is especially a generation of men whose work came to define them, and they their work. A part of history that is unique and increasingly fragile.
There are many companies like Wysong, built on the backs of veterans, whose stories will go untold. These days we are often told we need to live more in the moment. But as the daughter of one of these men, I covet every discovery I make about this particular past.
As a writer, I’m honored to help these companies preserve their history in words.