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American Dream Lost: Allentown Works, Western Electric, AT&T, Lucent, Agere

Once upon a time, a plant was built by Western Electric, a part of the old Bell System. The plant was built to produce transistors for the electronics of the day. Eventually the plant was converted into producing state of the art microelectronic microchips, the same chips used in computers today. This plant not only produced those things, it also was the catalyst to many people realizing the American Dream. Now it simply sits as a facade and an insight into once was what led so many people to the american dream in blue and white collar jobs. Over 20,000 people were once employed at the Allentown Works. Tens of thousands more were employed at other plants, including Breinigsville, and Reading. All of these jobs are gone after the disaster of leadership at Lucent. 106,000 people were once employed by Lucent. Almost all of these employees are out of their steady jobs, in which many people worked for 20+ years.
We are looking at Historical Aerials of the site. This view from 1955 shows the plant at relatively new status. On the bottom right you can see the Drive In Theater. I am not sure if it was in operation at this point. I assume so, but this spot has been abandoned seemingly since the beginning of time.
1972 shows the complex packed with the cars of workers. One of them was my grandfather, a man who came here as an immigrant from Slovakia at three years old, was a World War II veteran, went to school with the GI Bill, and worked at and retired from the company after thirty years of working in engineering. You can also see the buildings added to the back of the complex. This is where the silicon wafer slabs were formed.
2005 shows land clearing as the plant was shut down years earlier
 Present day and you can see Coca-Cola Park, the home of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Philadelphia Phillies AAA baseball affiliate. You can see that the facade of the old plant was kept.
This spot is a prime example of 20th century life in America. The spot transformed from farmland into a world class production plant. Around it, a then suburban neighborhood of Allentown formed within the vicinity of the plant, even including a drive-in theater. Eventually all of the plant's jobs are outsourced overseas, tens of thousands of people become (and remain) out of work, and the jobs that do come back are mostly service jobs, as seen with the baseball stadium.

Just fifteen years ago, this plot of land was home to one of the most high tech factories in the world. At one point this area was considered to be "Silicon Valley East." The equipment that was used for production is still in use in India, where Agere moved its production. Between here, the production plant in nearby Breinigsville, and Reading, 50,000+ jobs were lost in the early 2000s, thanks to the horrendous greed and leadership that traces back to the late 90s Lucent leadership. One of the key figures in that failed and ignorant leadership is Carly Fiorina, who went on to run HP and Compaq in a similar manner, killing tens of thousands of jobs in those places too. 


  1. Thank you for the memories ...my grandfather worked there for 39 years and retired in 1984...many people knew him as he was a section chief and had 500 workers under him.
    He was a very caring man who loved W.E.

    I miss him very much to this day actually.

    I am lucky to have much memorabilia from him and his job that he gave to me before he died in 2004. Quite a collection actually.

    It's shame that times have changed - at least Bell labs is still around by Nokia and in N.J...and they still have the name attached to the company logo etc.

    1. I worked at Bell Labs from 1962-1993, in Murray Hill, NJ. I visited the Allentown facility many times. It was truly a jewel of technology in the 1980's. Unfortunately that is all gone today.

  2. Years later, our federal goverment is concerned that all manufacturing of ICs is in Taiwan's TSMC fab. We were the leaders, and we as a nation let it slip away. Just like other electronic goods, cars and steel. We let it all slip away, offshore.

  3. An absolute travesty caused by bad policy, short sighted management caused by our sickening short term profit goals and greed. Not only did the USA loose WECo and successor companies : we lost ITT, automatic electric, Stromberg Carlson and others: Canada also lost Northern Electric/Nortel. To add insult to injury was when Alcatel bought lucent at fire sale prices and then to Nokia. Granted allied countries, but still the loss of know how/brain drain is now having a staggering effect on things. And that is only the telecom side. The semi conductor business, one that was once dominated by USA based firms has eroded to the dismal state it is today. Name me one thing better than the transistor and the variations that sprang from it that was developed and basically given to the world from a private company.


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