By Keith Gushard
Albert Foriska looked at some of Meadville’s industrial names and shook his head with a wry smile.
“It’s kind of neat — I didn’t realize some of these were here,” said Foriska, who had about 45 years in the tooling and machining trade before retiring about 18 months ago. “The Meadville Wrench Co. — I never heard of that.”
Foriska was one of dozens of people who crowded into the Meadville Market House on Sunday afternoon for the opening reception of “Tool City Voices,” a collaborative community project that tells the history of tooling and machining in the Meadville area.
The Foriska family tooling history goes back to 1926 when Albert’s father, Frank, began working in a small tooling shop on West College Street.
It started out as McNair Tool Co. making wrenches in the late 1800s. It was known as Davenport’s Machine Shop when Frank Foriska began working there right out of eighth grade in 1926 and then became Foriska’s Machine Shop when Frank bought it in 1962. The elder Foriska retired from the business in 2000 with Albert retiring from it in 2012.
“For anyone to work in one spot for 74 years is quite an achievement,” Albert said of his father.
Preserving tooling and machining’s history is important for the Meadville community because of the industry’s global impact, according to River Branch, a communication arts professor at Allegheny College.
Tooling companies have been involved in everything from zippers on space suits to aerospace components to parts for everyday items like cellular phones and electronics to medical equipment, she said.
“It’s important to us as a community because tool and die has such a rich history. In one way or another we’re all impacted by tool and die. People have family members or friends who are in the trade.
Ken Kuhn, president of the northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, a trade association, agrees.
“This is something we’ve highly supported since it began,” said Kuhn, who also owns Kuhn Tool & Die of Meadville. “This dovetails with the NTMA’s own initiative to do a chronology.”
Branch and fellow Allegheny faculty member Emily Yochim began the project last spring as a collaboration among Crawford County tool and die shops, Crawford County Career and Technical Center, Allegheny College students and other community partners.
The display, at the Market House in downtown Meadville through January, features multiple short documentaries featuring community members contributing their own stories to the project and interacting with community-produced stories.
“So often history that is passed down is ‘tribal history’ where people are formally trained,” said Elisabeth Smith, director of strategic operations at Acutec Precision Machining Inc. “So much training is through tribal knowledge. What the industry has to do is take that knowledge and standardize it. Hopefully, this will collect history and pass it down.”
That’s what the project is aiming to do, according to Branch.
“We want it to be an ongoing storytelling process,” she said, noting people will have a chance to add their own stories to the display at the Market House.
“We’re going to do more recording of stories,” she said. “We’re going to develop a website in the coming weeks so people can interact with it.”
The community-produced installation will travel to local high schools and other venues after its debut at the Meadville Market House.
“The tool and die industry wants it to travel throughout the region,” she said. “It’s going to be an ongoing process of adding to history.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.