Durez Plastics in North Tonawanda, New York will always be remembered by the community surrounding it for its role in exposing workers, and their families alike, to asbestos dust.
Despite the tragedy surrounding the plant and the many deaths among its workers caused by asbestos exposure, Durez was once an important employer and vital part of North Tonawanda and the surrounding area.
Durez (originally named General Plastics) started off with five employees in an upstairs two-room loft on Young Street.
After being dismissed by DuPont during the recession of 1921, Harry M. Dent founded the Durez Company.
Durez had such simple beginnings that in its initial years Mr. Dent made personal deliveries in his car, selling phenolic resin on a small scale. In 1926, Mr. Dent expanded his operations and was so successful that a rival plastics company sent Pinkerton detectives to steal samples.
Durez continued to expand over the years and became part of the Hooker Chemical Corporation in 1955. At its peak Durez employed nearly 1,100 men and women, eventually becoming one of the largest manufacturers of phenolic resin and molding compounds in the world.
One Man’s Bittersweet Memories of Durez
(On November 9, 2007 Eugene Jackson, a former Durez employee, agreed to sit down and reminisce about his time at Durez.)
Buckey, Shorty, Butch, Jackson, Itchy, Bootz, and Speedy – no, this is not the newest twist of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs but rather the nicknames of a few of the men who made up the workforce at Durez.
The nickname “Jackson” belongs to Eugene Jackson, a former Durez employee and happily married husband and father. As a young man, Mr. Jackson enlisted in the army and confesses to “liking the food.” Shortly after leaving the army in 1954, Mr. Jackson began working at Durez in the warehouse. His ordinary week would usually consist of 12 hour days, but Mr. Jackson admits, “I didn’t mind working overtime when good paying jobs were hard to come by.”
However, life at Durez was not all work and no play. Outside of work some of the men of Durez engaged in a good-natured rivalry between neighboring factories in the form of softball tournaments. When asked if he played on the Durez softball team, Mr. Jackson, with a chuckle, says, “I wasn’t good enough to be on the team.” Many workers also would gather annually for “Hooker on the Lake Day.”
Mr. Jackson remembers both the good times and the bad times. There was the strike of 1960 and its bitter aftermath. But it is the loss of many of his friends to mesothelioma that stands out starkly in his memory. Still, Mr. Jackson also recalls the laughter. “Sometimes I would find myself laughing out loud when thinking about work,” he says. On nights when he would return home after his wife had gone to bed, he would sometimes accidentally wake her up because he was shaking from repressed laughter, at which point, she would usually roll over, and with a sigh, ask “what happened today?”
The camaraderie that existed at Durez is undeniable and the friendships that were formed there remain strong to this day, some of them spanning more than half a century.