I would like to tell here about a group of Jewish refugees that finally were allowed to come to America after the Second World War ended, and how Joe Young, my ex-boss, and I put them to work in a factory I was running on an assembly line making bunches of grapes made out of poured plastic balls. Oh! Did I say that they were actually Doctors and their wives, who were not allowed to practice in America, but still needed to earn a living, as they too were penniless. I still have some of their personal Jewelry that they gave me as a gift for my help, as it was all they had to give.
I was operating a small factory producing Flower Arrangements for a subsidiary of Revlon Cosmetics, and one day Joe Young, a former boss and close friend, came to me and asked if I would help find work for a group of his Jewish friends who have just been allowed to come into America. They were part of the many people he found in Concentration camps in Germany while he served in the US Arm as an MP. Naturally, I wanted to help, but I had to find something for them to do, so I designed something different to sell to the Gift departments of those same retail customer I was presently selling my plastic artificial flower arrangements to.
I remember seeing some bunches of grapes made from very fine glass balls made by Corning Glass Co. They were very delicate and the slightest hit would shatter them. In my factory, I was presently making artificial flower arrangement on an assembly basis. First I taught the local workers, who were Portuguese families living in our area, on how to step by step put together flowers into an arrangements I had designed. Then on an assembly line each would do his, or her part to make the finished arrangement at the end of the line. The system worked beautifully. every so often I would go around and inspect the double level trolleys holding the finished arrangements. One day inspecting, I bent down to look at a particular arrangement that I thought needed an adjustment, and in doing so, being distracted, my mouth came in contact with the metal bars holding up the second level…Bamm! For a second I was senseless and disoriented, till I felt my nose and mouth and saw blood on my hands. Worse yet, I saw my two front teeth laying on the floor in front of me. My foreman, Arty Millbaurer, saw this and came running over and thinking fast drove me to the local hospital. My two front teeth, my two front teeth…”All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..my two front teeth”.. a song that came rushing into my mind. Well, that was an experience. To get back onto the Jewish families that needed work, I had family in Corning New York, that were my Grandfather’s brother’s children, I called and asked them how I could buy Glass balls made a special way. They were glad to help, as one of the Cousins, “Stash” worked there. his brother, Lewis, had come down years before and met my first cousin Maryanne, who he then married… second cousins marrying??? They turned out just fine and have had a wonderful marriage and children together.
Meantime, I drove up to Corning Glass Works, in Corning, N.Y. and with my cousin”Stash”, met with the sales department where I worked out a new design and plan of delivery of a 1.5″ clear glass balls that had a flared whole on top. I took 500 samples that were very close to what I would eventually use, Before leaving, I met with my family, for a great dinner, then thanked them for all there help, and returned home.
Using those samples, I came up with a process to produce plastic balls by filling the empty glass balls with a plastic compound that hardened after it was mixed with a hardening agent. (An aside here;; My First Son Trey has developed a company called Smooth-on, that does exactly that, but only on a multi-million dollar scale.) This allowed a worker to first make the mixture and then pour it into the empty glass balls that were all set up in a line to allow then to harden. With the system worked out, I had one person cutting a brown thin flexible wire, into 6″ pieces. Another worker was cutting a .5″ diameter wooden branch 4″ long, while another drilled out a hole 1/8″ in diameter on the narrower side close to the end. On the next attempt of pouring, the wire was inserted into the empty glass ball before the plastic was poured, so when it hardened a worker could pick up the new plastic ball by the wire as it was firmly in place. One other part was necessary, and that was plastic grape leaves, so I temporarily took them from my existing artificial bushes. All the parts were ready, and the new workers were anxious to start. I realized they were very smart when they caught onto my ideas as they were happening. Using only the wives now, I set up long tables, and set up on them a simple moving belt attached to it’s center. This was to allow the three parts to flow down the table very slowly. With them all watching, I began to make up a grape bunch that I had earlier worked on, to make it as simple an assemble as possible. Again, I was amazed that the women first started with my method, but began to use there own system to assemble the bunch and actually creating slightly different shaped bunches, creating a variety. Seeing this I realized that I could make the different shapes act as the different varieties of Grapes, and then separating the women onto different tables to keep the same shapes all together. I then realized that I could make different assembly lines for the different shapes and having the plastic poured in a different color, but still keeping the colors as close to each of the natural grape varieties that they would represent. Wow! we had a product, but we were only half way there.
I now picked out a set of perfect samples and began my selling trip, starting with Bloomingdale’s in Brooklyn, as the buyers there had become my friends while I worked there in the past, doubling there gift department volume by my designing different Flower Arrangements for their customers, sometimes working late into the night. Naturally, they immediately gave me an order and it’s how we began producing grape bunches. ((I’d like to say here, that my family, starting with my father, was actually in the Grape business, some cousins were farming hundreds of acres of different varieties. Co-incidence???)) As I began becoming friends to my new workers, I found out that each man was a doctor in Germany, but now were not allowed to practice here in America until they went through a vigorous training program. They couldn’t do it and earn a living at the same time, so, Joe and I set up a plan to have all the wives work for us, as half of the doctors went through the necessary program to be able to practice. When the first batch was finished, but still had to wait for acceptance, they came back to work while the other half went for their training program. It all worked out for the best, I got a new product line to sell, and they were able to become what they were trained for… Doctors and as each set up their practice, they asked me to take a gift that was a piece of jewelry that they owned in Europe. I still have them today, as treasured memories. Don’t know what happened to the Doctors, except they are now and will always be part of my memory, and for you to share now as you finish this story. Take a look at my design…They were really great.