A view of the shipyard buildings in 1963 with Broadway in the foreground. The long building that stretches from the center to the right side of the photo is the old Building 210, where The Prosperity Company was in operation, manufacturing laundry and dry-cleaning equipment. The Prosperity Company had just been sold to Ametek, Inc. when this photo was taken. Photo courtesy of the Linda and Mike Eastman Collection at South Portland Historical Society.

As we continue to research and document what happened at the South Portland shipyards after the conclusion of World War II, we pick up the story where we left off last week.

Portland Machine Tool Works had taken over several of the largest buildings in the shipyard during the 1950s. After changing its name to Portland Industries, new management had gone to work seeking out new contracts to fulfill, many with the federal government. In its last days as Portland Industries, the company also completed construction of a full-scale pressure test laboratory that would be able to simulate conditions on a submarine.

That pressure test laboratory was over in Building 25, formerly a fabrication building in the West Yard.  The 750-foot long building was on the northwest side of Madison Street that ran the whole length of the street. The entire company was then sold to Ward Industries and became a division of Ward’s subsidiary, The Prosperity Company.

The Prosperity Company was a manufacturer of commercial laundry and dry-cleaning equipment. The company was founded in 1915 in Syracuse, New York. In 1955, Ward International Corp. acquired the controlling interest in The Prosperity Company which, by 1961, had become a division of Ward Industries.

In April of 1961, the directors of Ward Industries announced that they had approved the purchase of Portland Industries in South Portland. This represented an expansion of The Prosperity Company’s business into the production of missiles and parts for nuclear submarines. That portion of the business became known as Prosperity’s Heavy Military Equipment Division.

Although Ward Industries assured its Prosperity employees and the local Syracuse community that it would keep manufacturing jobs there, it was not to be. On June 1, 1961, the president of Ward Industries came out with the announcement that they would close the Syracuse plant and move the jobs to South Portland. The Syracuse plant closed in the fall.

Here in South Portland, with the laundry and dry-cleaning equipment manufacturing moved here to augment the existing contract business, it was a high point for the company and the local area. The technology of wrinkle-resistant fabric was continuing to advance, however; not a good sign for the company’s original business line.

Local resident, Susan Longanecker, was hired by The Prosperity Company here in South Portland in the fall of 1961. According to Susan, the company was manufacturing laundry presses in Building 210 (the former long building in front of the shipyard basins, at the end of Broadway) and the administrative offices were in a smaller building in front of it. In the fall of 1962, the company told employees that they were cutting back on production and laid off employees.

With business falling off, Ward Industries decided to sell off the business. The first step of that process happened in April 1963 when the Heavy Military Equipment Division was leased to another company. At the close of business on Friday, April 26, 1963, The Prosperity Company closed that division and when it reopened on Monday, April 29, it reopened as South Portland Engineering Corporation.

That encompassed two of the large buildings in the former yard, Building 25 on the northwest side of Madison Street and Building 203, the long machine shop building that ran parallel to it on the other side of Madison Street.

On Friday, May 24, 1963, Ward Industries sold off the inventory and assets of its remaining Prosperity Company business to Ametek, Inc. Ametek also took over the leases on three of Prosperity’s buildings in the former shipyard (in the East Yard). Prosperity continued in the business of manufacturing laundry and dry-cleaning equipment at the site, now as a division of Ametek, Inc.

If you worked at or have any information to share on businesses that were located in the old South Portland shipyards, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact the South Portland Historical Society at 207-767-7299, email [email protected], or at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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