The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, in 1992, coordinated the production of a documentary film on the lives and business activities of Colonel Willard F. Rockwell (1888-1978) and his son Willard F. Rockwell, Jr. (1914-1992). The production was underwritten by the Rockwell Foundation. A steering committee from the Historical Society managed the project and included Tom Carroll (Deputy Director of Museum Programs), Bart Roselli (Museum Programs), Marilyn Zoidus (Museum Programs), Betty Arenth (Director of Development), and Carolyn Schumacker (Director of Library and Archives). The Historical Society contracted with Brian Haughlin of Miracle Films to conduct interviews and produce the documentary. Haughlin had previously worked with the staff of the Historical Society on video projects for Schenley Park and Homestead exhibits. The final product was a 30-minute video documentary entitled “Twin Empires.” WQED’s Pittsburgh History Series, KDKA/TV and PBS’s American Experience, were discussed as possible broadcast venues for this documentary.
At the same time that this project was underway the Historical Society was planning its expansion and move into the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center. There is evidence that the Rockwell documentary or portions of it were considered for exhibition at the center. However, it is clear that neither the public broadcast nor the exhibition of the documentary ever materialized.
The records in this collection were collected during the planning and production of the documentary.
Willard F. Rockwell (1888-1978)
Colonel Willard F. Rockwell was born on March 31, 1888, to Frederick and Katherine (Herr) Rockwell in Boston, Massachusetts. Rockwell was educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Class of 1908) in the Mechanic Arts School. Following his graduation from MIT, Rockwell was employed by Torbenson Axle Company in Cleveland and became factory manager and later vice president. In 1919, he reorganized a bankrupt axle company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and renamed it the Wisconsin Parts Company. While still serving as the executive of the axle company, he was recruited, in 1925, by the Mellons of Pittsburgh to direct their Pittsburgh Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Company, which led to his relocation to Western Pennsylvania.
Eventually, the Pittsburgh Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Company became Rockwell Manufacturing Company. Later in his career, he merged several of the companies he controlled, known for specialty manufacturing and aeronautics, into Rockwell International. During his long life, Rockwell served on the board of directors of many corporations and banks. He also held membership in a number of professional societies and social clubs in Boston, Detroit, and Pittsburgh.
Col. Rockwell was known for his outspoken views on business and politics and was the author of at least two books: The rebellious colonel speaks; selected papers of Willard F. Rockwell (1964) , and Historical record of the Rockwell polar flight, November 14 to17, 1965; first around-the-world flight over the North and South Poles (1966) .
Col. Rockwell served as a lieutenant colonel in Army Quartermaster Corps in 1930 and also served as director of the production divisions of the U.S. Maritime Division during the Second World War.
Col. Rockwell married Clara Whitcomb Thayer (1889-1965) on June 4, 1908. They were the parents of five children: Katherine Thayer Rockwell, who married William S. Potter; Janet Ella Rockwell, who married Charles S. Bygate; Willard F. Rockwell, Jr.; Margaret Eleanor Rockwell, who married H. Campbell Stuckeman; and Elizabeth Thayer Rockwell, who married Orin M. Rapheal. Following the death of Clara Rockwell, Col. Rockwell married Dorothy Morgan (?-1974). The family made their home at a five-acre estate at 140 West Hutchison Avenue in Edgewood, Pennsylvania.
Colonel Willard F. Rockwell died on October 17, 1978, and is buried in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. For a more complete biographical sketch of Rockwell, researchers may wish to consult his obituary by Alvin Rosensweet that appeared in the Tuesday, October 17, 1978, issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the 1955 biographical sketch that appears in F. Clever Bald’s Michigan Through the Centuries (Volume III, pages 24-25).
Willard F. Rockwell, Jr. (1914-1992)
Willard Rockwell Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps and had a distinguished business career. Born on March 3, 1914, in Boston, Massachusetts, he graduated in 1935 from Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering After being employed by Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company and Timken-Detroit, he became vice president and controller of Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company and was later named director in 1940. Rockwell was commonly referred to as “Al Rockwell.”
Rockwell served as a captain in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Upon returning after the war, he served as vice president and general manager of the company, the name of which was changed to Rockwell Manufacturing in 1945. He was president of Rockwell Standard until 1964 when he became its chairman. He was chairman during its merger with North American in 1967 as well as during its merger with Rockwell Manufacturing in 1973. A major accomplishment for Rockwell was merging together the various family-owned companies into Rockwell International. Under his leadership, the companies manufactured spacecrafts, rocket propulsion systems, industrial automation products and automotive components. Willard Rockwell Jr. retired in 1979. In 1981, Rockwell formed Astrotech International Corporation with the mission to promote the commercial use of space exploration.
In 1942, Rockwell married Constance Templeton (1915-2005), who was born in Manila, Philippines. They were the parents of five children: George Peter Rockwell, Russell Alden Rockwell, Patricia Lynne Rockwell Boorn, Willard “Terry” Frederick Rockwell III, and Steven Kent Rockwell. Al and Constance Rockwell made their residence next to his parent’s home in Edgewood, Pennsylvania. Al Rockwell died Thursday, September 24, 1992, at his home. Mrs. Constance Rockwell died November 30, 2005, in Pittsburgh.