ANDERSON — Candy bars. Bacon. Butter. Glass bottles for soda and jars for jelly and peanut butter. If you went to a grocery store in the 1950s and 1960s, packages were all around you. The products weren’t made in Anderson, but the machines that packaged them probably were. It’s an Anderson story.
The Lynch Glass Machinery Company began modestly in 1917 in Anderson, started by James Lynch, a glass blower from Summitville, and Ed Bridges, a mechanical engineer. Bridges’ and Lynch’s objective was to create an automatic bottle-blowing machine to take advantage of the growing soft drink industry. Although their final design wasn’t the first in the market, it was the first fully automatic machine of its kind and a significant industrial improvement. In 1928, Lynch and Bridges combined their operation with the Dice Machine Company to form Lynch Glass Machinery, later shortened to Lynch Corporation.
Lynch Corporation’s first headquarters was at 16th and Jackson streets. It then temporarily moved to the old American Playground site further south on Jackson Street. In 1933, the company acquired the old Ames Shovel plant on Crystal Street and moved its operations there. It would later acquire a second Anderson location at 230 Jackson St., where its general machine shop was located.
Lynch Corporation did relatively well in the Depression. In 1934, it bought the assets of the Miller Machine and Mold Company of Columbus, Ohio, which produced machines that made wide-topped canning jars, adding a second line to its glass machinery. The Miller operation was brought to the new Anderson factory. Lynch began adding workers and brought its production staff up to about 100. By 1941, Lynch was employing between 250 and 300 persons. The factory shifted much of its operations to the production of machine tool manufacture during World War II as part of the war effort.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Lynch experimented with other types of packaging equipment and with a line of air compressor and refrigeration products. The latter operations were sold off, but the packaging equipment became another of Lynch’s major products. Lynch was able to take advantage of the explosion of the packaging industry world-wide and by the late 1950s it had equipment which could serve nearly all segments of the food packaging industry. Lynch products were used in 60 foreign countries. There was even, for a time, a Lynch Corporation subsidiary operating in London, England.
Lynch products weren’t just used around the globe, they were used at home as well. In the Emge Plant on West 8th Street, employees packaged bacon using Lynch’s Tux bacon cartoning machine, which weighed over 10,000 pounds. Delco-Remy used a Lynch machine to package pre-assembled sets of contact ignition points for the automotive replacement parts market.
By 1960, 450 Lynch employees were busy at two locations making elevators and conveyors, machines for packaging solids and liquids, candy bar wrappers, automatic cartoning machines of all sorts, machines to mold, wrap and carton butter, machines to make and wrap ice cream sandwiches, machines to wrap and seal cookies and crackers, scales to measure products to be packed and many machines to form plastic products in sheets, threads and various other forms. The plastic was provided by a subsidiary in Elkhart.
The driving force behind Lynch’s phenomenal growth was Thomas Chandler Werbe, Sr. Although not one of Lynch’s original founders, he became associated with the company in the 1920s and was a driving force behind the merger of Dice and Lynch. He bought out James Lynch’s stock in the company when Lynch retired. Werbe was yet another of the entrepreneurs typical of Anderson in the first half of the 20th century. In addition to his leadership of Lynch Corporation, Werbe was active in the community as well. He was a director for Anderson’s YMCA and the president of the board of the Community Chest, which was the precursor of the United Way. Werbe’s wife was Cleo Edwards Werbe, a native of Tipton County. Cleo had attended college in Virginia and had been a news gatherer for the Anderson Herald. In the 30’s, the Werbes built Cleo’s dream home, modeled on the gracious Southern mansions she saw while a student in college. When it was finished, their home, Whitehall, was the largest residence in Anderson.
Lynch continued to prosper after T. C. Werbe’s death in 1951 and its heyday was probably the early '60s. The company had plants in Ohio and in Marion as well as the two in Anderson. After that time, employment steadily declined. The company had some labor troubles in the 1930s and 1940s, but they became more pressing in the '70s and 80s. At some point in time, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation acquired control of Lynch. The machine shop operation on Jackson Street was closed in 1982. (The property was reused by Prime Battery and was eventually demolished a few years ago.) A final strike which began June 22, 1984 lasted for several months. Lynch Corporation decided to close the Anderson operation and move it to Bainbridge, Ga.
Lynch Corporation employees took out advertising space in the local newspaper in which they published an obituary for the Lynch Corporation in Anderson. They accused the management of having deceived local officials by taking loans for a million dollars over two years and promising to buy new machinery and create new jobs, when in reality the intention was to move the machinery and operations to the South.
Lynch remained competitive and creative up to the very end of its time in Anderson. In 1979, Lynch set a record of sorts by building the largest commercial glass press in the world for a company in Taiwan. The press, which made television faces plates and picture tubes, weighed more than 80,000 pounds and was more than 14 feet tall. In the early 1980s, Lynch announced that it was going to begin to produce a manufacturing robot called the EZ Handler 1. Maybe it, too, went to Georgia.
Today Lynch Corporation’s Crystal Street plant is the home of the Historical Military Armor Museum.