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Visit Cameron County Pennsylvania

By Jeffrey Calta

Cameron County, PA is an ideal trip destination if you enjoy history and the great outdoors. Located in North Central PA just east of Elk County, it is only a short drive away from Western PA. Much of Cameron County is forested offering numerous outdoor recreation activities and scenic drives. It also contains some interesting historical locations to visit. Here are several suggestions for your trip.

LOCATION # 1: Sylvania vacuum tube assembly plant in Emporium

Location #1 is in downtown Emporium which is the county seat and the site of the former Sylvania vacuum tube factory. The Sylvania products from this factory were part of a World War Two top secret weapons project which was only rivaled by the Manhattan Project that produced the uranium fission bomb.

It has been said that WW II was the first scientific war. Many inventions and weapons were created during this time such as radar which helped the Allied forces turn back the Axis powers. Another lesser-known weapon but one that played a very important role in the conflict was the proximity fuze. The need for a “smart” artillery shell against attacking airplanes was recognized as early as the 1930’s. It was estimated that 5000-10000 anti-aircraft shells were needed to bring one aircraft down. Early losses of American and British warships to attacking airplanes made it imperative for better defensive weapons against aircraft. Both American/British and German weapon manufacturers were working on a proximity fuze which would enable an artillery shell to explode only when it was close enough to a target such as an airplane. A radio detection system was proven to be the best solution, however, the technological problems seemed impossible to overcome. The fuze required a radio transmitter/receiver circuit that could withstand the shock of 20000 G-forces present when an artillery shell is fired plus survive strong rotational forces from 30000 RPM as the fuze/shell was fired from a rifled bore. It did not seem possible as existing electronic technology was based on fragile, glass-envelope vacuum tubes. The Germans were unable to solve the electronics problem and never did create a working proximity fuze. American/ British inventors and scientists successfully developed a very reliable fuze and it was introduced into active service in 1943. The “smart” artillery shell initially proved its worth in defeating the Japanese air force in the Pacific. The fuse enabled Britain to neutralize the V-1 jet bomber threat and helped greatly to turn the tide of ground warfare during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944. A WWII historian said that “the atomic bomb ended the war, but radar and the proximity fuse won the war for the Allies”

The Sylvania plant in Emporium had been manufacturing radio tubes since 1924. Sylvania was approached in 1941 with a design for a sub-miniature vacuum tube that would be the heart of the fuze electronics. The Emporium plant was approved by the military and quickly began manufacture of the tubes. By the end of WWII, this plant had produced many hundreds of thousands of special tubes that were preferred by the military because of their excellent reliability and ruggedness. Young women from the surrounding area came into town to build the sub-miniature vacuum tubes and Emporium gained the moniker of “Girl’s Town”. Women were preferred as assemblers because they proved to have much more patience and dexterity than men in building the tiny tubes. A PA Historical marker on Poplar Street marks the location of the tube plant which is still standing today

Do not forget to include a visit to the Cameron County Historical Museum located in Stirling Run on scenic Route 120 along Sinnemahoning Creek just 10 miles south from Emporium. The free museum has a section devoted exclusively to Sylvania and contains an actual proximity fuze and the glass tubes which were the heart of the device.

Take a trip to Emporium and re-live an important piece of World War II history.

Next issue: LOCATION # 2… Visit the site of the Pepper Hill fire tragedy near the small community of Sinnemahoning.

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