Readco and the Transition to Military Manufacturing in World War II

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

Once the United States entered World War II in December 1941, every facet of American life was affected. The unprecedented quantities of ammunition, weapons and vehicles required to sustain the war effort called for many Pennsylvania manufacturers to retool their production to fulfill these critical needs. Companies like Ford’s assembly plant in Chester, Delaware County, began producing military jeeps instead of civilian automobiles, and the Philco Corp. of Philadelphia, which led the nation in sales of radios, also began manufacturing plexiglass canopies for American aircraft. This change from civilian to wartime production was more the norm than the exception throughout Pennsylvania.

The Read Machinery Co. (Readco) of York County, founded by Harry Read in 1906 in Glen Rock as a manufacturer of baker’s machinery and mixers, was another business that altered its production for war.

In the 1930s the U.S. federal government realized that the American Armed Forces needed a thorough modernization plan to defend America and to prepare for the eventuality of the nation going to war. As a result, Pennsylvania industries began to receive rewarding government contracts that permitted them to enlarge their physical plants and hire more workers.

Three years before the U.S. entered World War II, in 1938, Readco was awarded military contracts to produce 60 mm trench mortars and, later, 105 mm high-explosive shells. The company remained in military production until the end of the war. It manufactured 50 percent of all the 60 mm M2 trench mortars used by the U.S. Army during the conflict.

In 1941 the U.S. government contracted with Readco to manufacture 50,000 105 mm high-explosive shells per month. To meet this demand the company constructed a large annex building. New automatic conveyor equipment and special lathes were procured to meet the demands of the required high-precision machining operations. The accompanying c. 1942 photograph, now in the collection of the Pennsylvania State Archives (RG-13.99), shows Readco employees, both men and women, manufacturing 105 mm shells.

In 1942 Readco undertook a contract with the Navy to produce complete assemblies for steam-powered torpedoes. That same year, the company contracted with the Army to manufacture portable field bakeries. These traveling bakeries were needed to feed servicemen in the field and were built to withstand the rigors of heavy-duty service. In 1943 Readco began manufacturing vital process equipment for making the atomic bomb.

Readco was awarded the Army-Navy “E” Award for Excellence in Production with two stars for both quality and quantity of war material. The “E” Award was given to only 5 percent of the estimated war plants in the nation. Those meeting the stringent eligibility requirements ranged in size from a one-man plant to large corporations and included facilities that converted from peace to war production, as well as new plants built especially for war purposes.

After the war, Readco returned to producing baker’s machinery. The company still operates in York today under the name Readco Kurimoto LLC.


Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of the award-winning book Soldiers to Governors and numerous articles on military, political and sports history.