Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Nestled in the valley of the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek sits Emporium, the seat of Cameron County. Emporium was known for industries that were prominent in other central Pennsylvania towns: lumber, coal, dynamite, iron smelting and tanning. By the early 20th century, however, the borough made a name for itself as the home of Sylvania Electric Products, which produced incandescent lamps and radio tubes.

Established in 1907 as the Novelty Incandescent Lamp Co. (NILCO), the company manufactured novelty lamps and refilled old light bulbs. NILCO changed hands a few times until local business entrepreneurs Bernard Erskine, Joseph Wortman and Guy Felt purchased the company in 1922. The owners built a new factory in Emporium in 1924 to capitalize on an emerging technology — receiving tubes for radios. They split this arm from NILCO to form Sylvania Products Co.

During World War II Sylvania, like many other industries, shifted production to help the war effort. In 1940 the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) employed scientists and institutions to develop a fuze that did not depend on time-to-target calculations. The solution was the proximity fuze, which would improve the precision of artillery shells.

Sylvania focused on manufacturing vacuum tubes and other electrical components for proximity fuzes and became the first company to produce a satisfactory design that met all the prescribed tests set by the NDRC. For their efforts and the high quality of the product, Sylvania received the Army-Navy “E” Award, earned by only 5 percent of the more than 85,000 companies that produced materials for the military during the war.


Nelson Dionne Salem History Collection, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections

Nelson Dionne Salem History Collection, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections

Sylvania brought attention to Emporium in another way: women workers. Across the nation, men enlisted in the military, leaving women to fill the gaps in the workforce. With Sylvania as one of the largest producers of vacuum tubes during the war, many women moved to Emporium for the work. According to Collier’s magazine, “So many women came to work that the townspeople were asked to put them up if they had a spare room,” and thereby dubbed Emporium “the nation’s first girls town.”

Even before World War II, however, Sylvania employed mostly women in their factories. The company reportedly preferred to hire women because of their patience and the deftness of hand required to work with the filament and tubing for lightbulbs and fuzes.

On May 25, 2021, Emporium dedicated a Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Sylvania Electric Products. The marker is located at 35 West 4th Street on the lawn of the former Sylvania Club. The factory is still extant and visible on Poplar Street.


The author acknowledges Andrea MacDonald, director of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, for her informative blog post on Sylvania at


Alli Davis is the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program.