The morning of February 17, 1986, dawned cool and rainy in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Despite the chill in the air and the fog hovering over French Creek, there was an undercurrent of excitement. After months of intense pressure, tight deadlines, and hundreds of man-hours of work, Liberty Electronics, the town’s newest business, was set to open in a gala event. Liberty offered Franklin and the nation a new solution to an old problem: manufacturing wiring components for military and commercial aerospace industries at the highest level of innovation and workmanship. An entire community came together to put this forward-thinking company on its feet. And now it was time to celebrate
After two months of negotiations, the former Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company site in Franklin became Liberty’s home. Touted as an industrial incubator for burgeoning area businesses, the reality was far bleaker. Barnett remembers “blown out glass windows… water pipes…dripping inside…oil-soaked wood block floors…bats and birds flying around.”[v] Turning such a disaster into the high-tech cleanroom environment that was envisioned was going to take cash. Lots of it. Local businessmen and government agencies quickly rallied to the task. Liberty secured funding for start-up costs and the building site from a variety of city, county, and state redevelopment authorities.[vi] Further financing was possible through private security sales, turning locals into company shareholders. Barnett argues
Liberty’s mission to be “the finest, most technically competent wire manufacturing organization ever assembled” was demonstrated in its gala opening two months later.[ix] Over one hundred individuals and businesses were invited, as well as Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh and President Ronald Reagan.[x] George Washington’s birthday was deliberately chosen as the date of the celebration, a reminder of Liberty’s patriotic character and Franklin’s colonial heritage. Area performer Linda Leisher opened the event singing “God Bless America,” and closed with the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”[xi] But while much of the festivities
[i] Larry Snow, “Letter from the President,” Liberty Electronics prospectus, c. 1986, Liberty Electronics archives.
[ii] Judith Etzel, “Native Son Finds Challenge Here,” The Derrick (Oil City, Pa.), 30 September 1985.
[iii] Brian Barnett, “Liberty Electronics—The Early Years,” unpublished memo, 21 May 2018.
[vi] See the following: “Electronics firm seeks start-up funds,” The News-Herald (Franklin, Pa.), 5 September 1985; “Factory Loan Pushed,” The Derrick, 7 September 1985; “Franklin Board Approves Incubator Funding Pact,” The Derrick, 10 September 1985.
[vii] Brian Barnett (Programs Director, retired, Liberty Electronics), interview with
[viii] “Liberty Electronics financing completed,” The News-Herald, 7 January 1986.
[ix] Larry Snow, “Letter from the President.”
[x] Gala invitations list, c. 1986, Liberty Electronics archives.
[xi] Gala program, 17 February 1986, Liberty Electronics archives.