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History of the Pajama Factory
The Pajama Factory buildings were built between 1883 and 1919 by the Lycoming Rubber Company, a subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Company. The local factory, one of the largest manufacturers of all kinds of rubber goods in the United States, made tennis shoes, KEDS sneakers, gym and yachting shoes as well as some miscellaneous rubber-related products. It had the reputation of having a harmonious relationship between labor and management that resulted in high earnings, job security, high morale among workers, and good working conditions.
During a downturn in the economy, the factory closed between 1910 and 1916 but then reopened and expanded its facilities in response to the stimulated economy driven by World War I. From 1916-32, the factory turned out more than 12,000 pairs of rubber footwear a day. However, with the “Great Depression,” there was a drastic decline in product demand in 1932 and the decision was made to move the local plant’s work to U.S. Rubber’s plant in Naugutuck, Connecticut, ending an almost 50 year rubber manufacturing industry in Williamsport.
In 1934 the Weldon Pajama Company began leasing space in the buildings. They had a small presence there until January 6, 1951, when they purchased the entire complex and made it into a factory operation for the Weldon Company.
Weldon’s acquired the complex for $350,000, put about $100,000 of renovations into the buildings, and made good use of the more than 300,000 square feet of floor space that existed at the time. By the mid-1950s, the Weldon’s plant was the largest pajama factory in the world, also making sports shorts as part of their pajama line. (Of note, the Lucille Footwear Company was also housed in the complex during this time.) Weldon’s gained its greatest fame nationally and internationally in connection with the Broadway musical, and later the movie, “The Pajama Game.”
When noted Broadway producer George Abbott was preparing for the Broadway production of “The Pajama Game,” he sent representatives to the local Weldon’s factory to get a feel for it and to take many photographs of it so that they could faithfully represent a pajama factory as part of the backdrops for the theatrical production. When the film (starring Doris Day) was made, set designers and other technical people did the same thing and gathered items from the factory to use as props to give a greater sense of authenticity to the film.
Weldon’s, which was then owned by the Harwood Company, closed its doors as a factory on November 2, 1979 in response to cheaper foreign competition and the decline in sleepwear sales. As a result, about 300 employees were displaced. Nonetheless, Weldon’s continued to operate a factory outlet store for a number of years after its closing.
In December of 2011 one of the Pajama Factory tenants, Valerie Beggs, brought a group of the “Weldon girls” who once worked in the building, to have a reunion lunch and take a tour of their old stomping grounds. Read about their reunion and see a photo here.
Most recently, Mark and Suzanne Winkelman purchased the factory complex in 2008. When visiting the Williamsport area, Mark was struck by the friendly openness of the people he met, the extensive base of music and arts and cultural offerings that seemed to be easily accessible and the beauty of the surrounding outdoors. They proceeded to rename the complex “The Pajama Factory” to acknowledge the rich history of the building complex. Hints of this history can be found throughout the building which you can see as you wander around the complex:
- the remnants of the old railroad bed in the courtyard
- tracks on the wooden floors thoughout the buildings
- the old smokestack (of course)
The Winkelmans bought the complex with the idea of establishing a community of like-minded “creative folks” outside of New York City. They have already made great strides in beginning to build this unique community base as can been seen by the growing list of tenants who are signing on.
Special thanks to Lou Hunsinger, Jr. for his research/compilation of background for The Pajama Factory