Many remember when Commercial Shearing and Stamping (later Commercial Intertech) was a great Youngstown company. In 1975, the New York Times reported them 790th in the top 1000 companies but 16th most profitable and in the midst of building a $3.3 million foundry that would double their capacity. This was months after Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. had passed away. At that time it had 21 plants in the U.S. and abroad and employed 3,200 people.
Less is probably known about the man who built that great company. Charles Benton Cushwa, Sr. was born into a steelmaking family. Born in Williamsport, Maryland on November 15, 1878, he grew up in Pittsburgh where his father was superintendent of the Republic Iron Works. He started working there as an office boy, then bill clerk, assistant to the general superintendent and finally superintendent.
He came to Youngstown in 1901 to take the general superintendent position at Youngstown Iron & Steel Works, sold in 1918 to Sharon Steel Hoop Company. In 1920, he went to work with Brier Hill Steel Company as general superintendent and later general manager of their sheet mills in Niles and Warren. After Youngstown Sheet and Tube bought them out in 1923, he joined a group who bought out for $100,000 the Carnick brothers, the previous owners of Commercial. By 1934 he was president of the company.
Their business grew steadily during World War 2 as a supplier of fabricated steel parts for the Army and Navy–things like landing mat plates, Bailey bridges (a type of pre-fabricated truss bridge to quickly bridge rivers and capable of bearing heavy loads), as well as pontoon bridges and floats for submarine nets. They supplied critical components for underground water supplies and sewer systems, hydraulic machinery and storage tanks for liquid petroleum gas. One of their contracts in the war was for 15 inch semi-armor piercing bombs.
In 1948, civic leaders wanted to honor his 60 years in the steel industry with a big gala. Instead, he went to work at the plant, had dinner at home, and a quiet evening reading. He was a devout Catholic, supporting building campaigns for two parishes, serving as past president of the Holy Name Society, helping establish the Father Kane Camp at Lake Milton, and assisting in the founding of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, for which he was chairman of the board of advisors at the time of his death. He also donated funds for the construction of a science building at Notre Dame, beginning a family connection with that institution. He died on December 8, 1951 of a heart attack in the early afternoon after going to morning mass and working in his office.
His son, Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. (one of the candy butchers I featured last week) succeeded him and served as president until April 24, 1975 when he passed away. The family contributed a major gift to Youngstown State prior to his death helping to fund the construction of Cushwa Hall, at that time the home of the College of Applied Science and Technology. Charles B. Cushwa, Jr’s estate included a contribution which helped establish the Charles and Margaret Hall Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, a major research center on the Notre Dame campus that continues to contribute to Catholic scholarship to this day.
Leadership of Commercial Shearing passed out of the family with Charles B. Cushwa, Jr.’s death. Both of his sons, Charles III and William worked in high positions in the company. In 1988 Charles B. Cushwa III went to head up Youngstown State’s Cushwa Center for Industrial Development, named in honor of his father, helping young entrepreneurs start small businesses. In 2003, Charles passed, and in 2020, his brother William.
Commercial has also passed, except for a remnant that carries its name and manufacturing heritage. Parker Hannifin bought out Commercial in 2000. In 2016, Parker Hannifin announced the closure of its remaining Gear Pump operation, with the loss of 137 jobs. There is a remnant of the company operating today as Commercial Metal Forming, making tank heads, supplying 65 percent of the market. with 175 employees at its three facilities, the largest of which is still in Youngstown.
Charles B. Cushwa, Sr. built a company from a $100,000 investment to a multi-billion dollar company. He and his family invested in key Mahoning Valley institutions in religion, higher education, and health care. His steady leadership of both his own company and of many boards fostered flourishing enterprises in many forms. He was another of Youngstown’s great builders, but one modest enough to prefer an evening at home to being feted by the who’s who of the city.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!