60 years of Nylon

DuPont plant workers, retirees celebrate
Manager credits plant's longevity to the people who work there


By Lynn R. Parks

The nylon plant in Seaford is one of the oldest DuPont plants still in operation. And it is still going strong, said plant manager Bland Dickey, because of the people it employs.
"I think there are only about two other that are older, and that is world-wide," said Dickey, who came to Seaford in 1996. "That is because the people at this plant are a cut above everybody else. I have worked other places and the value of this workforce is really great."
Last week, the Seaford plant marked its 60th birthday. On Wednesday, the first of a two-day celebration attended by about 2,000 current workers and retirees, Dickey said that with plans to double the size of its polymer operation, the plant will still be going strong when it celebrates its 70th birthday.
Reading from a proclamation issued for the plant's 50th anniversary celebration and adapted for this celebration, he said, "We will continue to touch the lives of people around the world in more ways that anyone could have dreamed of 60 years ago."
When Dickey assumed his duties at the plant, he was presented with one of the first pairs of stockings to be made from Seaford nylon. (The stockings, until recently on display at the Seaford Museum, were part of a display set up for the celebration.) But, he said, nylon has come to be used for much more than stockings.
"Tires, airbags, toothbrushes, hubcaps; there are so many things nylon goes into," he said. A significant percentage of uniforms worn by American soldiers are made from staple, a type of nylon made at the plant, said Art Cathell, operations development leader and 36-year employee. Staple also goes into tennis ball covers and pool table cloths and nylon, which is trucked out from the plant in 25-mile bolts, is used in carpets.
"This is something that I don't think we reflect on enough," said Dickey.

"We have made a significant difference in 60 years and we are still doing that today. That is a real credit."
Construction of the Seaford plant began in January 1939 and the plant opened nine months later, in October. During Wednesday evening's ceremony, Dickey introduced descendants of the Mears family, who sold 700 acres of farmland to the DuPont Company for the plant. He also introduced Caroline O'Bier, who was the first woman to work in the plant.
"Thank-you for being the pioneer that you were," he said.
Wright Robinson, 91, former owner of The Leader newspaper, reminisced about the Seaford of the 1930s and what the announcement that the nylon plant was coming meant to the town. He told William and Jack Mears, sons of the man who sold his land to DuPont, that their father "sacrificed greatly" to insure the town's prosperity. He also told of walking along High Street when the announcement was made that the plant was coming.
"I'll not forget the day the plant came," he said. "The whole town went wild. The Laurel High School band and the Seaford High School band marched in a parade down High Street. I sat down on the steps of Burton Bros. and listened to a gentleman with tears in his eyes tell me a story:
'I got about 60 acres to farm and that makes me a living. But I can't divide this land up for my sons. Now, with this plant, I know that my boys will be able to make a living in Seaford. You just don't know how much that means to me.'
"That doesn't sound like much," continued Robinson. "But this was in the 1930s. Seaford was just coming out of the Depression and to have something to guarantee our boys' and girls' future was a great thing."
The Harris family of Laurel was one of the families to whom DuPont made a big difference. According to Morris Harris, who attended Wednesday's ceremony as official photographer for the plant's 25-Year Club, he, his brother and his father all retired from DuPont.
Morris worked at the plant from 1957 to 1996, his father, Roscoe, from 1949 to 1975 and his brother, Dale, from 1958 to 1992. Another brother, Ronald, worked there from 1965 to 1970.
"I am very proud of this company," said Harris. "They were very good to me. I raised three sons and sent them all to college and I have a good retirement."
At its peak in the 1950s, the nylon plant employed 4,600 people. Today, said Dickey, it has 1,200 full-time employees and 400 contract workers. Despite the decrease in employees, Dickey said that the relationship between the plant and the community as well as between the plant and its workers is strong.
"Last year we put $50 million in the local economy in wages and materials bought," he said. "We contribute to local causes, including the Boys and Girls Club. Our employees go to church in Seaford, their children attend schools here, they are members of the Kiwanis and the Lions clubs. They are making this town a better place to live."