This weeks’ Throwback Thursday blends the past and the present. On Saturday, past employees of AmChem got together for their 10th reunion, a tradition that started in 1996, and one they remain loyal to every two years. This year, after the luncheon at Old York Road Country Club, they toured Ambler Yards , the site of their former workplace. See some photos of the AmChem 2017 reunion tour here.
AroundAmbler.com had the chance to talk to Gary Fuess, an AmChem employee from 1967 until 2005, when it was the Henkel Corporation. Gary gave us an incredible look into the history of American Chemical Paint Company, AmChem, and it’s founder James Harvey Gravell.
American Chemical Paint Company was founded in 1914 in Philadelphia, PA by James Harvey Gravell, because he helped to develop, and later bought, the patent to Deoxidine, a solution and chemical treatment for preventing rust and peeling on painted metal and aluminum. Gravell started manufacturing the product, and at the same time, Henry Ford was making Model T’s and having a problem with paint adhesion. Seeing the opportunity, Gravell met with Henry Ford and demonstrated his product, and from that point on, the company took off and became extremely successful.
In 1923, Gravell moved the company to the Ambler site that he purchased from the Marsden Glass Co., and in 1958, the name was changed to Amchem Products Inc. because the company started an agricultural chemical division that produced herbicides and growth regulators. The former employees that attended this weekend’s reunion worked for Amchem as it progressed thru the purchase of the company by Union Carbide in 1977, and then thru Carbide’s sale to Henkel Dusseldorf, W. Germany in 1980. Henkel Corporation became Cognis Corporation (a subsidiary of Henkel Corp.) and was sold to BASF, the German Chemical Company. Ambler Yards then negotiated their acquisition of the BASF site.
Gary Fuess retired in December, 2005, as purchasing manager for GEO Specialty Chemicals Inc, and was integral in negotiating the lease for ” building 35″ with Cognis Assoc. for GEO, which still leases from Ambler Yards today. When Cognis was getting the building ready to sell, Gary was called to go through the many files that were found in the basement belonging to James Harvey Gravell. Gary and the AmChem reunion committee spent countless hours reviewing all of Gravell’s files, photographs, newspaper articles, and personal information. Things like: Gravell’s Honorary Doctorate from Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener, was given to the historians at Widener University, hand-logged ledgers from Gravell’s Delaware River Ferry Company (aka Chester Ferry Company), that crossed the Delaware River from Chester, PA to Bridgeport, NJ, were donated to the Chester Historical Society, and many other pieces from AmChem’s history, including 3 full sets of “AmChem News”, were presented to the Wissahickon Valley Historical Society and will be put on display in the future.
One of the most prized possessions that Gary found, was the original letter (see below photo) from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, congratulating Gravell for the “generous remembrance of your employees at the holiday season.” Gravell paid all of his employees’ outstanding debts and mortgages that year. At the same time, he instituted a company profit-sharing plan, and in early 1939, Gravell authored, “The Cause and Cure of Depressions”, met with F.D.R, and addressed the U.S. Congress on this subject. He died on December 8, 1939 at Abington Memorial Hospital, and is interred at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA.