In 1907, Stanley Switlik emigrated from Poland and arrived at Ellis Island as a 16 year old “steerage” passenger. While working at a variety of jobs from house painting to selling insurance and real estate, he found a small canvas and leather manufacturing company, and, in September of 1920, agreed to purchase it. The Canvas-Leather Speciality Company was incorporated October 9, 1920, with his friends and relatives among the stockholders. The first products included collapsible hampers, golf bags, coal bags, pork roll casings, and one which would foretell a future in government contracting-leather mail bags manufactured for the United States Post Office Department. On display in our museum is one of the first of these leather mail bags.
As “barn-storming” pilots of the day excited the public’s imagination, the company began manufacturing pilot and gunner belts, designing flight clothing, and experimenting with parachutes. In the 1930′s, with a new name, Switlik Parachute & Equipment Company became the largest manufacturer of parachutes in the country. Friends with many of aviation’s pioneers, Stanley outfitted the expeditions and record attempts of Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and Admiral Richard Byrd.
In 1934, Stanley Switlik and George Palmer Putnam, Amelia Earhart’s husband, formed a joint venture and built a 115 foot tall tower on Stanley’s farm in Ocean County. Designed to train airmen in parachute jumping, the first public jump from the tower was made by Ms. Earhart on June 2, 1935. Witnessed by a crowd of reporters and officials from the Army and Navy, she described the descent as “Loads of Fun!”
As war clouds grew, the firm received its present name, Switlik Parachute Company, Inc. and became a part of the “Arsenal of Democracy.” In December of 1941, a small nucleus of parachute manufacturers were called to a meeting and ordered by the Government to increase production 50-fold. Additional space was acquired and a large work force trained. The company’s productivity was so impressive that the War Department gave it the first of five Army-Navy “E” Awards in 1942. At the climax of World War II, requirements dropped to zero and the company disposed of much of its parachute making machinery.
This was not to last, in 1950, the Korean War began. Again, the Big Three of the parachute industry were called to form the nucleus of our nation’s parachute production capacity. At the conclusion of the Korean War, our surplus equipment was put in “moth balls,” to be used again during the Vietnam War.
Between all the military conflicts, the company continued the development of new products. In 1947, the “Mark II” life vest for the Navy was designed and produced. In 1949, our first inflatable one-man life rafts were developed and sold to the Navy. In 1951, a large quantity of 20-man life rafts were manufactured for the Air Force. During the cold war, new parachute designs were developed for nuclear warheads, the space program and aircraft deceleration. The company’s search for new products led to various types of inflatable life vests, inflatable baby cots, Arctic tents and tent liners.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, it became obvious that the company’s future could not depend on parachutes. During the 1960′s and 1970′s, the management of Switlik Parachute Company aggressively pursued the development of new inflatable products and markets for them. The products reflected a new emphasis on the “commercial” market and included F.A.A. approved inflatable life vests and life rafts, as well as U.S.C.G. approved life rafts. As our military was modernized, so were the “Military Specification” products we manufactured. They included “anti-G” suits, anti-exposure suits, and advanced designs of inflatable life rafts and life vests.
Today, the diversification of our products and markets and our continued willingness to change with the times insure Switlik Parachute Company’s future.