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A Brief History Of The Jackson & Sharp Company, Car And Ship Builders, 1863-1950

After the First World War, ACF struggled to keep the Jackson & Sharp plant active. The plant ceased production of railway cars sometime in the early 1930s. In 1925, increasing emphasis was placed on the production of pleasure yachts. Orders for over 300 yachts came in from throughout the Americas. 23 In June 1938, the woodworking division of Jackson & Sharp was closed as well. Among its many projects, Jackson & Sharp had installed woodwork for many of the du Ponts, at Longwood, Nemours, and Winterthur. Some of the woodwork at Winterthur was taken from residences in Europe. This woodwork was remodeled in the Jackson & Sharp shops, and other pieces were crafted as well. In closing down the woodworking department, the Morning News reported that the plant would focus on shipbuilding. 24

The coming of war changed the nature of that shipbuilding. During the Second World War, Jackson & Sharp was awarded the Army-Navy “E” banner five times, for excellence in production. The Navy’s shipbuilding program during the Second World War began with the construction of an “experimental” sub chaser at the Jackson & Sharp shipyard in 1940. Four wooden minesweepers were built in 1941, and 38 forty-five foot tank lighters (LCM’s) “fitted with bullet-proof steel” were constructed that same year. The shipyard would build ten wooden minesweepers in all, and additional tank lighters—377 LSM(3)’s. Four wooden net tenders were built as well in 1943. That year, ACF built two salvage vessels, the USS Weight and USS Swivel, for the Navy. The Weight saw action in the Mediterranean, and the Swivel served off of the Normandy coast. One hundred thirty-one chemical warfare barges, and 226 aluminum pontoon boats were also constructed. Women comprised ten percent of the plant’s workforce in 1944. 25

From mid-1944 to the war’s end, the plant repaired small craft for the Navy. After the war, the Wilmington plant returned to the manufacture of rail cars. One of their first tasks was a somber one, equipping “funeral cars for the return of bodies of American servicemen from foreign cemeteries” in 1947 and 1948. Jackson & Sharp worked on a new line of rail cars for ACF, the Talgo, for the Spanish market. The aluminum Talgo car was unique in having only two wheels. These cars were delivered in 1949. 26

These projects were not enough to keep the plant in operation. In February 1950, ACF announced that it would be temporarily closing the Wilmington plant. At that time, only 50 people out of a workforce of 600, along with office personnel, remained to complete outstanding orders. After that work was finished, only office personnel stayed on. A drop in foreign orders was cited for the “temporary” closure. By 1951 it became apparent that no new orders would be coming through to the Wilmington plant. The buildings were leased to various concerns at that time, and the property, covering over 54 acres, was put up for sale. In June 1952, it was announced that the plant property had been sold to the East Coast Warehouse Terminal, Inc. 27

For almost ninety years, Jackson & Sharp played an important role in Wilmington’s economy. Its rail cars and sea craft plied the railways and waterways of the world. Its craftsmen built cars for royalty, and decorated public institutions and the homes of the rich and powerful. In two world wars, Jackson & Sharp workers helped meet the equipment and transport needs of the armed forces. Jackson & Sharp’s story holds relevance for business, labor, and technology historians; for railroad and maritime enthusiasts; and for students of local and regional history. While details of the company’s history sometimes elude us, the evidence of Jackson & Sharp’s handiwork remains an object of interest and admiration.

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