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Last week the old Pencoyd works was a mere speck in a series of new munitions plants that stretch for two and a half miles along the Schuylkill. They include electric furnace, forging and machining operations, are integrated from steel fur nace to finished 75, of which Empire now makes four a day, will soon make 13.
A new subsidiary called Vulcan Iron Works (WilkesBarre) makes locomotives, other heavy machinery, castings. A plant in Brooklyn produces telescopic sights.
From its West Pittston plant every week come 24 sets of the 33 steel plates that make a 30-ton tank. Nearby, the Wilkes-Barre Carriage Co., also Empire-owned, makes gun mounts, inserts recoils, ships them back to the Schuylkill. From there the finished 755 go to the U.S. Army's Aberdeen testing ground. They are all British orders, but since Lend-Lease the Army tests them. From Aberdeen, says Frank Cohen proudly, Empire has never had a reject.
On to Ships. Until last month, the only U.S. contract Empire had was for reconditioning 300 3-in. guns for the Navy (to arm merchant vessels). But last spring Frank Cohen decided he could build ships too. So he went to see the Maritime Com mission Chairman, and Admiral Land told him he was crazy. At that time it was the Commission's frank policy to finance the expansion of existing yards, not to encourage new ones.
Nevertheless Frank Cohen went to Savannah, Ga., bought from the Port Authority 1,500 feet of frontage along the Savannah River, leased another 1,500 feet for 20 years. Savannah was no more hospitable than Admiral Land had been. As if a Jew in the gun business were not enough, he had brought along a Catholic, William R. Crowley, to run his projected yards. Savannah's xenophobes saw the whole thing as a Wall Street plot. By last week Savannah was changing its mind.
With 250-350 locally recruited employes, Cohen and Crowley put on one of the quickest construction jobs Georgia had ever seen. Empire drove the first pile on May 31, poured some $800,000 into its Savannah Shipyards. Last week three shipways, four craneways were nearly complete. The keel for the first of twelve Victory ships will be laid about Dec. 1less than two months after the Maritime Commission, finally relenting, granted the contract. Also under way: a $1,500,000 housing project for Savannah's 4,000 prospective shipyard employes.
All for Hitler. Frank Cohen is no longer just a smart man with a dollar. He runs Empire Ordnance from top to bottom, works twelve to 16 hours daily. He pays himself $25,000 a year, but he is not doing it for the money. Empire has put all its earnings into expansion, has paid no dividends. Besides 70% of the voting preferred, Cohen, his wife and his son own 45% of the common. But 15% of the common belongs to Esco Fund, a private Cohen charity which has sent vitamins and shelters for children to the British.
Cohen has advanced Esco (against future dividends) $52,000.