A History of Curtiss-Wright During WWII

Curtiss-Wright propeller in We Can Do It! WWII
The completed display in the We Can Do It! WWII exhibit. The propeller is a SB2C Helldiver dive bomber made by the Curtiss-Wright propeller division, Beaver, Pa., c. 1943. L2015.44.1. Photo by Liz Simpson.

On display in the Hall of Industry section of the We Can Do It! WWII exhibition is a propeller on loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum that was made locally by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

The company was part of a large national network that produced components for a variety of airplanes. As World War II intensified in 1940, Curtiss-Wright faced an increasing demand for manufacturing airplane parts, including propeller blades. Despite having multiple plants operating at full capacity with sites located in Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Curtiss-Wright could not keep up with the demand.

Curtiss-Wright plant, Beaver, Pa., 1945
An aerial view of the Curtiss-Wright plant in Beaver, Pa., May 1945.
Beaver Area Heritage Museum, 2010.02.01b.

A search began for a location for a new plant and in February 1941, the War Department announced that a site had been chosen – a farm in Borough (now Vanport) Township near Beaver, Pa.[1] The new $5 million facility would be “the largest individual aircraft propeller manufacturing plant in the United States” according to the company’s president.[2] The factory brought thousands of new jobs to the area between 1942 and 1945, employing many men and women, especially as welders. These workers eventually fabricated more than 100,000 new propeller blades for a variety of aircraft each year. The propeller displayed in the We Can Do It! WWII exhibit is from a Curtiss Helldiver, a carrier-based dive bomber used in squadron raids against Japan.

When the propeller arrived at the History Center for the exhibit, the pieces were unassembled and our skilled exhibits team had the task of locking the blades into the central mount then securing the propeller on the support base and to the wall. The blades and central mount of the propeller are very precise and need to be completely level with each other in order to screw into place. This was no small feat to accomplish!

Once the bottom blades were attached, the central mount could be placed on the support base that we built to hold it. The final piece to be added was the top blade that had to be raised above the central mount with a lift, then lowered and screwed into place before it could be secured to the wall. Once assembled and secured in place, we could truly appreciate the skill and hard work that it must have taken for Curtiss-Wright workers to make these propellers and for technicians to assemble such impressive machinery at wartime.

Unassembled components of the Curtiss-Wright propeller
Unassembled components of the Curtiss-Wright propeller. <em>L2015.44.1. Photo by Liz Simpson.</em>

[1] Some newspaper accounts at the time refer to the land selected as being in “Beaver Township,” probably a corruption of the township’s original name “Borough Township.” The official designation was changed to Vanport Township in 1970. The name shift was recorded by the “Beaver County Bicentennial Atlas” (1976), as accessed online, part of the Beaver County History Online project

[2] “Big Propeller Plant Will Be Built Near City,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 27, 1941.

Exhibits team
The exhibits team lifting the top blade of the propeller into place.<em> Photo by Liz Simpson.</em>

Liz Simpson is the assistant editor for Western Pennsylvania History Magazine and assistant registrar with the museum division at the Heinz History Center.

19 thoughts on “A History of Curtiss-Wright During WWII

    1. Spencer M. Vawter,
      My grandfather Earle Taylor also worked at the CW propeller plant in Indianapolis during WWII. I am finding it hard to find any records or information on the facility.

    2. My father, Homer Mullen worked at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Columbus, Ohio and received an ‘honorable mention’ certificate for an idea he submitted that was used. I have the certificate but was never able to find out what his ‘idea’ was.

      1. My Mother also worked at the Indy plant during the war. She worked in the shipping department. Does anyone know where the plant was located in Indy?

  1. I worked in this plant when it was Westinghouse. I knew its history and sought out others who did too. Spent many lunch periods exploring. I loved it! Great memories! Thanks Hienz History Center, good work.

  2. Curtiss Wright also built propellers at their Caldwell, New Jersey facility (Propeller Division). My father was the plant Superintendent and I have several original production photographs from te WWII era.

    1. Hello George, I would like to see some nice photos of Curtiss-Wright Caldwell. Maybe with your Father so I can give credit. My Family were Farmers in Caldwell Township ( Fairfield ) but worked night shifts at the plant. Thanks Much, …………Paul Pollio NJ pollios@optonline.net

  3. My father worked in the Vanport plant prior to enlisting in the Navy. Years later I worked in the plant after I served in the Air Force. It was Westinghouse then but now it is Cutler Hammer. Dad passed on a number of years ago and he left me with an old wooden aircraft propeller that I assume was made there. Wish I knew the history of the prop.

  4. My Father Frank Dickson and My Uncle Andrew Levich worked at the Hasbrouck Heights Plant during the war designing prototype Props

  5. My father, Frank Lucia, worked at Curtiss-Wright for 37 years and retired from the company on July 7th,1969. At various times in his career he would commute to Paterson, Hasbrouk Heights and Caldwell before during and after World War II.
    His father, Tony and brothers Tony Jr and George also worked for the company. Dad passed away two weeks ago at the grand age of 107 and with his kean mind was always willing to relay stories about the war effort put forth at Curtiss-Wright by it’s dedicated and loyal workers.

  6. My mom was part of the (Pennsylvania) Curtiss-Wright Cadette Corps’ second graduating class, Nov. 1943. She was part of an aircraft construction team. It was during that time she met and married a young serviceman (OCS Engineering student) at State College

  7. My mother, Christina Ferne (Leonard) Cook from Oak Hill, Ohio, worked at the Columbus, Ohio plant during WW-II era as a rivetor (i.e. : a Rosie the Rivetor). Meanwhile my father Clarence Cook (Blackfork, Ohio) was in the US Army stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for 4 years 1941-1945. GOD Bless and May you both R.I.P.
    Love your son ,
    Joseph Clare Cook, RPh
    Wentzville. MO. 63385

  8. Metal propeller 30% better climb rate- British Tomahawk had but not CW until much later- reason why? Local newspaper stories of events there.

  9. My father, John Alvin Bohl, was a manager at the Indianapolis plant during WWII. I would be grateful for any info as to where a picture of the plant and employee records could be found. Barbara Bohl Brunner

  10. I worked there under Brown as a system coordinator on x-19 until it closed. Shortly thereafter I went into the USArmy. Any body remember Bucky from the shop? Still have the publicity handouts and news coverage of the X-19. We lost the contract to Boeing but it sure resembles the Osprey (albeit many years earlier!)

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