(From the 70th Anniversary Program)
As from a small acorn a stately oak tree grows, so from a handful of youths and an instructor did the Schenectady Apprentice Program grow, with more than 5,000 graduates in the last 82 years.
It all began in 1901 when Albert L. Rohrer, the Electrical Superintendent for the Schenectady Works, convinced the Works Manager, George E. Emmons, that the only way the Company could fill the increasing need for skilled workers was by training local youths in a systemized program consisting of both on-the-job and classroom training: shop apprenticeships.
Programs developed quickly for the Machinist, Toolmaker, Draftsman, Moulder, Blacksmith and Patternmaker. Other programs including the Tinsmith, Cabinetmaker, Foundry, Technical Manufacturing and Glass Technician were added over the years.
The Program began in Building 5 with a small group from which came the first graduate machinist, in l903. Frank Lange, in 1983 was 99 years old and still going strong as our first and oldest graduate. At this time beginning pay rates ranged from 7.5 cents to 10 cents an hour.
The shop soon moved to larger quarters in Building 7 and incorporated on the job training and daytime classes into those long programs of 2770 hours a year for four years. This was the age of 52 hours, 5 and half day weeks. As work hours decreased in years ahead, so did the apprenticeship hours. By 1912 there were over 100 apprentices on the Program and already almost 700 graduates. The first superintendent of apprentices from 1901-1909 was L. B. Thompson followed for several years by F.H. Trinder.
On March 28,1913 William H. Sands was installed by 96 members as the first president of the Apprentice Alumni Association. World War I had the effect of reducing the Program to less than 300, while the graduate count grew to more than 1200. C. F. Marquis was Superintendent during these turbulent years from 1912 to 1926. It was between 1919-1921 that that the training shop moved to the third floor of Building 41.
The twenties were prosperous and growing years as the Program flourished with between 200-400 apprentices in spite of the crash of 1929. After another move in 1925 and several years in Building 16, the training shop was moved again to Building 17 under Ray Ellis, Supervisor of Apprentices, who directed the Program for 27 years from 1926-1953
During the depression in the 30's, a reduction to 19 apprentices appeared disastrous, but a slow recovery to 100 was made in 1935. It was in the 30's that the Alumni Association also had a decade of low activity, but it recovered in 1940. Entering the World War II years, we reached a new high of 542 on the Program by mid-1942. By this time there were 2500 graduates. Night school studies moved to Mont Pleasant Technical High School, and an academic program has been there ever since. Hiring of new apprentices stopped by September 1942 as the Program's future was being assessed.
World War II enlistment and the draft finally took their toll. The decision was made early in 1943 and after 252 graduations, and over 70 apprentices left for the armed forces, the Program was phased out in May 1944. To fill the voids left by men off at war, 120 women came to Building 7 to start a machine operator training program which ran for several years. The Program was reestablished in 1946 and from a group of about 75 in April 1948, including many veterans, the Program grew by leaps and bounds to 264 by 1947 and to 519 by 1953. If was in late 1946 that the training shop moved away from the stairs and that slow freight elevator to the second and third floors in Building 7 for the last time. Building 9 became its new home and continues as such today. Over 3300 apprentices had graduated from a program now over 50 years old.
The Program had peaked and by the late 50`s a decline began to follow a reduction in overall plant employment. The Union Collage academic program available for several years in the late 50's gave some apprentices an opportunity to continue their education in Engineering after graduation. The Technical Manufacturing Apprenticeship began to supersede the Machinist program about 1959 and prevailed into the late 60's. James H. Lawless became Supervisor of Apprentices in 1954 and directed its operation through 1956.
In these years the Program prospered briefly but never as in the past. An increase to 250 apprentices by the late 60's was encouraging, but not long-lasting. Alfred J. Fritz became Manager of Apprentice Training, took over its direction in December 1966 when the Schenectady County Community College opened in 1969. A class of apprentices enrolled in the new two year Management Engineering Technology degree Program. Eventually as many as 84 apprentices were enrolled at one time in this half-time schedule 4 year study program. The first woman joined the Drafting program in 1968, and graduated in 1972. Others followed her as affirmative action efforts by the Company increased the numbers or women and minorities in the Program throughout the 70's. In 1972 the first NC machine, a vertical mill,
was purchased for training use in Building 9.
The first woman, Catherine Dougherty Komp, started the Machinist Program in 1973, and graduated 1976.
Women have since been graduating from every program. In December 1982 we reached the 5000th graduate mark, a woman graduating from the Machinist Program. As a result of depressed business conditions in the Schenectady Plant, the last ten years has been a period of continuing recession in the size and scope of the Program.
Although the Schenectady Plant business and employment had continually changed, the chatter and purpose of the Apprentice Program have remained the same for over eighty years; that of helping to fulfill the Plant requirements for skilled employees. We have seen programs for particular trades come and go and the school curriculum regularly revised to keep up with technological changes. We have also seen the effect of employment changes on the Apprentice Program.
Since those "youths" who made up the first small group of apprentices in 1901, several generations have come and gone. Today's generation of men and women are working to become the graduates of tomorrow so they too can join the ranks of graduates Whose careen began With the General Electric Company Apprentice Program in Schenectady.