On Thursday, March 8 from 5 to 7pm the Milford Museum will unveil their newest exhibit, Made In Milford. The new feature shares many stories about local businesses and products created during the nineteenth and twentieth century in Milford, DE including WWII wooden sub-chasers and ordnances to the little wooden spoons that were used to eat ice cream and Kewpie Dolls.
“This exhibit tells you about the people that were here and the many inventions and products they built,” said Claudia Leister, Executive Director of the Milford Museum. “These people saw a better way to do things and created new opportunities in the local economy.”
Milford’s climate and soil type made the area very well suited for growing small fruits and vegetables. Long handled fruit pickers were used to gather apples and peaches from the tree tops as strawberries were hand picked. The Milford Basket Co. built berry baskets and crates for the harvest and shipment by train to Northern cities. In 1875 Charles Barker began to evaporate, or dry, fruit. During the 1882 season, 75 employees processed 30 tons of peaches, apples and berries. By the beginning of the 20th century several canning factories emerged to process tomatoes, pumpkins, peas, beans and peaches. Today the only remaining canning operation is Sea Watch International who processes clams.
Milford’s location along the Mispillion River and the local abundance of white oak for making strong hulls combined to promote the development of a thriving industry. The earliest listing of a Milford built ship is on a 1761 Philadelphia tax list. Shipbuilding began in earnest in Milford about twenty years later when John Draper established a shipyard where East Fourth Street meets the river. John and his son Alexander built about 22 ships here between 1780 and 1809.
This new industry gave rise to South Milford. The town expanded on the Sussex County side of the Mispillion as the shipyards grew and prospered. At one time there were seven yards in operation, all producing wooden ships and employing three-quarters of the town’s workforce. The last Vinyard yacht was launched in 1951, and the yard remains. Current owners, Sudler and Joan Lofland, have brought new life into this historic property, purchasing and preserving three vintage Vinyard yachts.
“Milford is fortunate to have part of her important early maritime history preserved for future generations,” said Leister.
As times changed so did Milford’s industries as can be seen by major employment shift from the Milford Ordnance Company that produced 40 mm artillery shells and primers for the U.S. military during WWII. Many local women were employed in this hazardous occupation but after the war many of these women found work at the Milford Doll Company who was contracted by the Cameo Doll Company to
make the Kewpie Doll and by the Effanbee Doll Company to make the Patsy doll.
Acknowledging entrepreneurs within Milord, the Made in Milford exhibit also highlights inventor George Smith Grier. In 1861 he leased property at Haven Mills. This consisted of a foundry, smith, machine and woodworking shops, powered by a 12 horse power iron water wheel that he invented. By 1885 he held nearly a dozen patents: five on a reaper, one on a saw set, a steam spiral packing ring for steam engines, a bevel ship saw, an improved car brake, automatic propulsion for street cars, and the Excelsior Fruit Evaporator patented in 1879. In 1890 he introduced the first ice making machine ever used on the Delmarva Peninsula.
“Our local school district and families visit our Museum each year and we want them to see the exciting inventions that were made right here in Milford,” said Leister. “Hopefully this exhibit will inspire the next generation to think of how they can change their town and the world”.
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