Manufactured Ghosts

November 4, 2019

Employees and management at the first company Christmas party in December 1948.
Strikers on the picket line, March 1971. Riverside closed its doors five years later.

By Julie Traynor

There was a time in Marion, Michigan, when Riverside Electric Mfg. Company was the largest employer in our corner of Osceola County. In 1948, when Riverside opened its doors, they brought manufacturing and on-the-line assembly jobs for both men and women to our town. And that was a big deal. A really big deal.

iverside Electric opened its doors in March of 1948, in a new building between M-66 and the railroad at the north Village limits. The company manufactured electrical wiring and harnesses for automobiles, appliances and machinery. By 1950, over 100 people found employment.

Early in December of that year, Riverside held an open house and invited the entire community to take the tour. It was a chance for folks to see what was made and how. There were tours of the work floor and plenty of eats. The front page of the Marion Press carried banner headlines, at both top and bottom, touting Riverside’s Open House and congratulating the company. Marion was serious in its welcome. 

Plant managers included James Kelley, Louis Toth and D.R. Johnson. John (Johnny) Alberts, Jr., was the production manager. Among the first employees were Marionites Mary Budd, Theresa Sana, Margaret Williams and Carl Patterson, who was one of the last, more than 25 years later.               

The workforce at Riverside Electric was largely women, hard-working women, whose paycheck often went toward the farm or the house and the family. Perhaps her check was the sole income. For many families, mom’s income had a big impact. And the end of eight hours on the line did not mean that the day was done for most of these women. There were children who needed attention, a house to keep and always laundry to do.

Riverside and the steady employment it afforded had a huge and far-reaching impact on the Marion economy, and beyond.  These were the days when folks shopped locally for groceries, gas and clothing. They paid the rent and got a better car. A job at the ‘Factory’ truly made a difference for many.

Riverside Electric expanded several times, and more than tripled in size during its run here. At one time more than 500 employees worked three shifts. In 1957 the workforce, represented by the United Auto Workers went on strike for 10 days. Strikers carried picket signs and even pushed a baby in a stroller on the picket line. That was heady stuff for this little town. 

The work force, numbering about 400, struck one more time in 1971, after the long, hard UAW strike against General Motors the previous year. Little did they know that within five years Riverside Electric and those good factory jobs at Marion, Michigan would be gone, forever.   

The working women of Riverside Electric were more than union sisters, they were a true united force. Through the years, they raised monies for many good causes and helped countless individuals through hard times, illness and loss. The job may have ended, but the friendships lasted a lifetime.

There are likely as many Riverside stories to tell as there were employees. More about ‘the Factory’, its work force and a couple of signature quilts, made by the ladies may found at the Marion Area Historical Museum.

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