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On My Mind

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

Today, on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, we Americans should truly resolve to work through our differences, build on our common past, and believe in our common future…

"that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Stephanie, Webmaster

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Cannondale Takes “The Good Fight” to Taiwan

The parent company of Cannondale Bicycle Corporation has announced that it will move all remaining cycle frame production to Taiwan and reduce employment at the Bedford, PA factory from 300 to 100 workers by the end of 2010. No more American-made Cannondale bikes.

Dorel Industries, headquartered in Montreal, entered the bicycle business in 2004 with its acquisition of Pacific Cycle. After acquiring Cannondale in February 2008, Dorel separated its bicycle business into two divisions, with Pacific Cycle focusing on mass market retailers (e.g., Kmart, WalMart, and ToysRUs) and Cannondale Sports Group focusing on the more up-scale cycling market (sales through independent bicycle shops). The company hoped to capitalize on Cannondale’s legacy of handcrafted bicycles and competitive cycling. Cannondale Sports Group, now renamed Cycling Sports Group, is composed of 4 cycling brands: Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, and Mongoose.

Dorel Industries is better known to many consumers as the parent company of baby product brands, including COSCO, Safety 1st, and Mother’s Choice. The company’s website proclaims this rather odd combination of interests, with a slogan “Dorel: A World Class Juvenile Products and Bicycle Company.” Welcome to the strange world of multinational conglomerate corporations.

I guess I had better speed up my plans to buy an American-made Cannondale bike!

Stephanie, Webmaster

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

New Beginnings in America

Spring has arrived in Northern Virginia, and that means flowering trees and the start of a new soccer season. America’s collective psyche has been dragging in the dust lately, and so I appreciated the lift from signs of new life around me.

To combat the sense that nothing good is happening, I offer two great stories of American-made products being launched. Dr. Brown’s Baby Bottles are now almost all made in USA, in St. Louis! Great news for expecting and new moms worried about contaminants in baby products. Dr. Brown’s bottles, made by Handi-Craft Co., come in glass or BPA-free polypropylene and are available at Kids R Us and many other retailers.

On the cooking front, Americraft Cookware of West Bend, WI has just launched a new line of waterless cookware called 360 Cookware that is made in USA. These are high-quality cooking pans made from 7 layers of stainless steel and aluminum, with water-tight lids that allow cooking with less water or oil than traditional cookware. In the past, the Americraft cookware was available only from live cooking demonstrations. However, the new 360 Cookware can be purchased online. The products are not cheap, but very well made and will last a lifetime—the website has a great video about the manufacturing process. (Maybe this will help me get over my disappointment at no more American-made Revere Ware!)

And finally, I came across a gorgeous example of designer rugs being made in USA…check out Barbara Barran’s hand-knotted and hand-tufted rugs, made in North Carolina and Georgia. She features a number of designs based on quilt patterns by the women of Gee's Bend, AL, and she told me that the quilters receive a royalty for each sale.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Put Down That...High Chair...Before Someone Gets Hurt!!

Today Evenflo posted a recall bulletin on their website, entitled “Evenflo Recalls Majestic™ High Chairs Due to Fall and Choking Hazards”. The good news, I guess, is that the company and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are acting before any deaths occurred. The bad news is that protective plastic caps and metal screws were falling out of the high chairs, offering consumption opportunities that would keep me up at night, and causing--and I quote--
“the seatback to suddenly fall back or detach from the high chair. Children can fall out or collide with objects [like the floor?!] and suffer broken bones, abrasions, cuts and bruises.”

According to an article on MSNBC, the high chairs in question are made in China. The recall once again raises concerns about the quality control being exercised by American companies that have outsourced their production overseas, and whether the Consumer Product Safety Commission can be everywhere at once.

Shoppers will be hard-pressed to find high chairs still made in the United States, but here are a few suggestions:

--Little Colorado, which makes solid wood furniture for little people in Denver, CO
--Rochelle Furniture, which makes beautiful wooden high chairs in Ludington, MI

To find sources for baby furniture and baby gear made in USA, visit my Baby Gear page.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MBeze Natural Skincare and Fragrances

It is always a pleasure to hear from young entrepreneurs with a good idea and an energetic spirit. In this case, the idea is fresh and lively fragrance products made in USA with natural and organic ingredients.

MBeze, a skincare and cosmetics company founded by Mary Beth Worzella, first caught my eye because of the visually stunning graphics on the website. I commented to Mary Beth that if the scents were anywhere near as wonderful as the graphic design, she had a winner!

MBeze Natural Skincare Products
Now that I have tested out a number of MBeze products, I am happy to report that they are every bit as lovely as I expected. The scents range from light and floral, to exotic, to bold. Packaging is elegantly simple. And, product ingredients read like a botanical directory rather than an organic laboratory textbook.

MBeze offers a number of scent collections, each of which comes in a natural oil perfume, body mist, body oil, and deodorant. Cruzee was an instant favorite of mine, with a light but intense floral scent. I also loved Once Bitten, with its soft and subtle blend of apple blossom and vanilla, and Koko with its traces of coconut.

MBeze Natural Skincare Products The perfume oils come in a handy roll-on applicator, small enough to tuck into an evening purse for a refresher. Another favorite product of mine was the little Deodorette, also a purse-sized product that is easy to take along for a day out or for travel. Used in combination with the Dabber Dust, a clay-based antiperspirant powder, the Deodorette kept me fresh and dry during a recent public speaking engagement. “Look Mom, no aluminum chlorohydrate!”

Check it out. I think you’ll love these products! All made in USA, of course.

Stephanie, Webmaster

Saturday, September 06, 2008

I'm Running For President ... Sort Of

After watching the two national political party conventions, many of you may be thinking..."I could do that!" Thanks to a tip from a friend, I have discovered how easy it is to launch an internet campaign for the highest office in the land.

If you would like to see a Buy-American, green energy lovin' webgoddess in the White House, join me!

America Needs a Change

Here is a summary of my qualifications:

  • Attended colleges (technically, still attending one!)
  • Mother of three boys
  • Working knowledge of English
  • Have a website AND a blog

    Let's work together to CHANGE AMERICA. (Campaign motto: "What we change is less important than the fact that we changed.")

    Stephanie, Webmaster

  • Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Vise-Grip Tool Factory Leaves Small Town for China

    Loyal users of Vise-Grip locking pliers were saddened to read that the Nebraska-bred tool line will soon be made in China. Most of the Internet chat I have seen expresses worry about a possible decline in the quality of the tools.

    However, looking beyond the common theme of manufacturing moving to cheaper countries, I see another example of a small town losing a part of its history and identity.

    DeWitt, Nebraska boasts on its town home page that it is “Home of Vise-Grip Tools.” In a town with only 650 residents, Irwin Industrial Tool, maker of Vice-Grip tools, was the key employer. But more than that, the town and the tool company’s history were intertwined from the early 1930’s when the Vise-Grip locking wrench was invented by a Danish immigrant to DeWitt named William Petersen.

    DeWitt Town Sign

    The town website describes the lifeblood of the community as agriculture and the tool manufacturer, saying “DeWitt, while a town of only 650 people, is a community that has a lot going for it. It has made its mark worldwide through its good people, the products of the factory, and the purebred breeding stock of its specialized agricultural ventures.” I guess now they’re down to just agriculture.

    Vise-Grip Locking Pliers

    The other oft-repeated story line is sale of the family-owned business in 1984, followed by a string of acquisitions and corporate ownerships, culminating in its current status as a subsidiary of Newell-Rubbermaid. Not surprising, really, that the folks at the corporate office can make the decision to take production to China, closing down the DeWitt factory and severing the long association between another little town and its home-grown manufacturing employer.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    Back to School with Organic Cotton Towels, Made in USA

    I blanched at the length of the school’s “Required Items” list, but as I prepare to send my son off to boarding school for the summer I decided to turn this into a QUEST for American-made products!

    Here are my favorite product discoveries so far:

    US-made organic cotton towels by 1888 Mills in Griffin, GA: These soft and fluffy towels, white with subtle accent colors (I chose sesame), are dreamy and quite affordable. The 3-piece set, with bath towel, hand towel, and wash cloth, was just $14.88. The hard part for me was that they are only available from WalMart. (I know, I know! Egad.) 1888 Mills usually only sells in quantities to the hotel trade, and I was having a hard time finding a good source for their products. I guess this is an instance where I must give WalMart credit for making a wonderful American-made product available to the individual consumer. I did call 1888 Mills, and a kind gentleman indicated that there might be additional venues for their wonderful towels in the coming months. I will check back with the company and update my Bed & Bath listings when I learn more.

    Cotton Sheets from Mayfield Manufacturing in Thomson, GA: This was another great find, since I needed several sets of twin sheets. I chose the 300 thread-count set, and the feel and quality is very nice. I did notice, however, that the seams are 7 stitches per inch, as opposed to the 8 stitches per inch I was accustomed to with the Martha Stewart sheets by Westpoint Stevens (the latter are now all imported). I am an EXTREMELY infrequent mender, so I pay attention to these things because items that go onto my mending pile almost never return. I also give high marks to the family-owned business in Michigan, US-Mattress.com, who carries the Mayfield sheets. Their customer service was very friendly, and shipping was quick.

    Shower/pool shoes from Okabashi in Buford, GA: I had been looking for an excuse to try some Okabashi flip flops, and I was very impressed with their solid construction and extremely comfortable feel. These are not your dime-store flip flops, and they come with a 2-year guarantee! In addition to pairs for the kids, I finally got the brown and pink thongs I had been lusting after. I received free shipping, and our shoes came in just a few days. (My son slipped his on and said, “Wow, these are really comfortable!”)

    Athletic Shorts by Sovereign Manufacturing in Allentown, PA: these are very high quality shorts made from a heavy, silky polyester fabric in lots of great colors. My son likes his shorts long, so I was able to order the Tall sizes from Big and Tall World.

    Well, that’s the update from the shopping wars. I can’t vouch for his grades, but at least my son will be outfitted with nothing but the best!

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Saturday, May 03, 2008

    Wind Energy (and Green Manufacturing Jobs) Made in USA

    As concern grows over the economic impact of imported oil, and the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels in general, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at alternative energy sources that are “made in USA.” Today’s installment is about Wind Power.

    The use of wind to do work is hardly new…think of sailing ships and wind mills. However, use of wind to generate electricity is just coming of age, with refined turbine technologies and advanced composite materials. To date, American consumers have had few opportunities to purchase wind-generated electricity. Although installed wind power rose 45% in 2007 over 2006, wind still accounts for just a few percent of total electricity generation in the U.S.

    Even where the winds are “made in USA,” the turbines are mostly made in Denmark or other European countries. Driven by their commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with fossil fuel burning, European countries have pushed ahead on development of wind and other alternative energy technologies.

    The fun part of this story is that there are a few companies in the US that make small, residential-scale wind turbines that can be purchased and installed at reasonable prices. Skystream 3.7 Wind Turbine, Model# 44470

    Southwest Windpower (West Flagstaff, AZ): since 1987, this company has specialized in small wind-driven generators, including wind turbine assemblies suited for residential or farm use. The Skystream 3.7 is a 3-bladed turbine that comes complete with built-in alternator, inverter, and noise isolator. Optional remote monitoring system allows users to receive real-time data on power generation on a home computer. The Skystream is mounted on a pole or tower, purchased separately, and the company recommends that it be about 20 feet above surrounding objects (e.g., roofline or trees). The entire unit is designed to be maintenance-free for 20 years.

    The Skystream is connected to the house, via a 220 volt line with a safety disconnect switch, to a dedicated breaker on the main electrical panel. When the wind is blowing, electric power is generated, and used by the home. (Excess power flows into the electric grid, and depending on the utility’s policies, may generate a credit.). The Southwest Windpower website includes helpful information about working with your local utility and zoning officials when installing the wind turbine. (The Skystream also can be used for homes that use battery backup, as a complement to solar panels or other off-grid technology.)

    The turbine operates with wind speeds as low as 8 mph, and has a safety feature that shuts down the turbine at wind speeds of 56 mph. In order to generate electricity of appropriate frequency and voltage, the unit is designed to maintain 330 rpm blade revolution speed even at higher wind speeds. (That means that only a portion of wind energy can be captured at wind speeds greater than about 20 mph.)

    I noticed that Southwest Windpower products are available at NorthernTool, as well as from regional distributors that can also help with installation.

    Alternative Energy At Northern Tool

    To learn more about wind power, check out these links:
    Bergey WindPower Co. (Norman, OK) also manufactures small wind turbines for home or farm applications
    Green Pricing Programs, where utilities allow consumers to pay a premium (in cents per kWh) for electricity from renewables
    American Wind Energy Association gathers data on growth of wind power capacity in the U.s.
    Energy Information Agency provides data on renewables as a percentage of overall electricity generation in the U.S.
    The Danish Wind Industry Association runs a very nice, informative website on wind power

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Saturday, April 26, 2008

    Fenton Art Glass Back From the Brink

    There was wailing among glass collectors when Fenton Art Glass announced last fall that it would soon be forced to close because of economic hard times. Far from the glory days of West Virginia glassmaking, there are now only a handful of companies keeping the tradition alive. As the word spread, apparently many fans of Fenton glass began placing orders, so much so that the company reconsidered its options and has managed to stay open for business after all.

    There is a “good news, bad news” aspect to the story, however. According to an April 7 article in the Charleston Daily Mail, the company will make some changes in how it does business, including development of a new division (Fenton International) that will sell glass products made in China. Still, the West Virginia factory will continue to turn out beautiful art glass, hopefully for many years to come. It will be up to consumers to determine whether this story is one of a fabled company surviving by importing product, or surviving because of a loyal customer base that appreciates the beauty of Fenton art glass.

    Although I always associated Fenton with those candy dishes that grandmothers have on their coffee tables, in fact the company has a rather astonishing range of designs and glass styles. Enjoy the renewed option to own something beautiful, made in West Virginia.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    "Buy American" Feels Good, Looks Good

    My sister commented that the new “Why Care” page of my website was just bad news, followed by more bad news! It made me sit back and think. I’ve always wanted StillMadeinUSA.com to be a nonpartisan, positive, upbeat place to buy American-made products. My site is not about “naming names” and chastising companies that outsource, much as I might be tempted. (That’s why I usually apply the rule, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.”)

    I think the “buy American” sites that focus on doing battle, doing without, or doing it to other countries (!) are tapping into our self-doubts rather than our self-confidence.

    Buy American is more than tee shirts and jeans, and grim-faced guys in union halls! It is a joyous endeavor that celebrates American creativity, quality and style. The layoffs and plant closures are real, and not just a statistical oddity, but we will solve nothing by giving in to despair.

    We still make some great products, so let’s get our chin off our chest, unwring our hands, and go shopping. (On the Internet, of course!).

    Here are a few of my recent favorites.

    Stephanie (aka, Pollyanna), Webmaster
    Cape Cod Weathervane

    Thorndike Mills


    Yvonne Totes
    Collars and More
    Melia Luxury Pet
    Thomas and Friends Bed

    Hoy Saltwater Sandals

    Little Colorado

     Tough Traveler Luggage

    Kitchen Cart - Marble

    Hartstone Pottery

    Hartstone Pottery

    Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
     Seasoned Cast Iron Serving Griddle LOS3  LODLOS3

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    Kid-Friendly Sheets Made in USA

    Today’s topic is bedsheets. I know, I know…”Boring!” you say. But wait, there’s more. You also get…

    As a parent I have observed the following: soccer-kicking, Halo-playing, skateboard-riding, Harry Potter-reading teens and tweens don’t have TIME to make their beds! Or so they say. (In fact, some days they seem hardly to have time to go to school. Hmm.)

    Last night I was “googling” for American-made sheets (scarce as hen’s teeth) and I came across a company that makes sheets for RVs, campers, bunk beds and other special situations. Humboldt Specialty, in Omaha, NE has come up with a great kid-friendly feature. Their sheet sets have the top sheet attached to the bottom sheet at the foot. They discuss the benefits of this for making beds in tight corners and keeping the sheets on the bed where they belong. I immediately saw the application to kids who can’t/won’t make their beds.

    Most mornings when I go to wake the kids, their top sheet is wadded in a ball at the base of the bed or totally off and on the floor. When they “make” their beds, they just pull the quilt over the sheets, wads and all. No “hospital corners” in our house! For all of us who are getting our kids ready to go off to boarding school or college in the fall, the Humboldt sheets seem like a godsend.

    I am ordering some to try out. Give it a look and let me know what you think!

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    Another All-American Store

    Happy New Year to all!
    The holiday shopping season was fast and furious, especially for American-made toys. Perhaps there was a silver lining to the lead paint toy recalls?! Before I close the book on 2007, I want to thank the many thousands of shoppers who visited StillMadeinUSA.com and especially those of you who wrote with suggestions, criticisms, or other feedback. Because of your emails, the site grew by several hundred listings just in the last few months! Every time I “discover” a great product or company, I remember why I spend so much time on this project.

    Resolutions for 2008
    Okay, we all have to do this. It serves a purpose if it helps us focus on things we want to accomplish or improve in the coming year.

    1) Get in shape. For me, this doesn’t mean eating only grapefruit or joining a gym (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but I resolve to move around more and eat less.

    2) Live within my means. When times were tight, I borrowed from my family but now I have paid everyone back.

    3) Stay in touch with friends and family. There is no excuse for being too busy to write or call or visit occasionally!

    4) Overhaul my website. This is long overdue, and the site is not as useful to visitors as it could be.

    5) Finish up my schoolwork. It’s just possible that I am wearing out my welcome at George Mason!

    All-American Store
    Perhaps in partial fulfillment of Resolution 4 (?!), I have posted a “beta-version” of an All-American Store, courtesy of Amazon.com. I often receive email from shoppers who wish for a store that sold only American-made products. There are a few virtual stores that try to fill this niche, but they tend to have limited selection and look similar to each other because they are relying on drop shipping from the same handful of suppliers. One attraction of the Amazon Store is that it allows me to hand-pick products to feature, there is no inventory, and no customer service or shipping hassles. The downside, however, is that there is also no profit! (Alright, I’m exaggerating. They pay a 4 percent commission on sales.)

    So check out the latest entrant to the All-American Store genre, and tell me what you think. I will add products over time, focusing on those companies whose products are not readily available from other retailers.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Autumn Leaves, Pumpkin Pie, and … Shopping

    Today is one of those clear, sunny, fresh autumn days that I love so much. The sunlight falling on the trees makes them glow-- red-orange maples, burgundy redbuds, and yellow poplars. My garden looks in disarray after a busy summer, with the rose bush climbing over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, the mums falling all over themselves in a profusion of blooms, and the unwatched grasses that snuck back in to form a green carpet under all.

    Today is Thanksgiving Day, and despite a hectic summer and fall, I have a lot to be thankful for. We survived a move to a smaller home, my youngest son has settled into life in a new school, our house has finally sold after months on the market. We are all healthy and our bills are paid.

    It has been a busy autumn at StillMadeinUSA.com as well! Newspaper stories, including a story in the New York Times, and a guest spot on NPR’s On Point helped spread the word about StillMadeinUSA.com to new audiences. The number of visitors to the site continues to grow, and I have received hundreds of suggestions for companies or products to check out and list.

    The recent toy recalls have been an alarming wake-up call for many parents, and shoppers searching for “toys made in USA” have been burning up my bandwidth! I hope the interest in American-made toys will spill over into other product categories and that shoppers will rediscover the many wonderful things that are still made in USA.

    As in past years, I have posted a Virtual Holiday Catalog to get you started, but please don’t shop today! I hate the idea the Thanksgiving is just “the start of the holiday shopping season.” Enjoy the day for itself, take a deep breath, eat some turkey and stuffing, and share a glass of wine with family and friends, save room for the pumpkin pie. Be thankful for what you have, and think of a small thing that you can do to make someone else’s life happier.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Fisher & Paykel in the U.S.A.

    At a time when many manufacturers are eyeing low-cost locales in Mexico or Asia, a New Zealand manufacturer of washers and dryers has set up shop in Ohio. Fisher & Paykel is a well-known brand in the Australian and New Zealand market, with a focus on energy and water efficient laundry appliances. The company produces direct-drive (no belt) and top-loading clothes washers, and dishwashers with pull-out drawers (the DishDrawer).

    In 2005, F&P announced plans to move production of their SmartDrive washer line from Brisbane, Australia to Clyde, Ohio. The move was prompted by a desire to be close to North American markets so that freight costs are reduced and products can be delivered to customers more quickly. The new facility in Clyde, OH also makes sense because Clyde is home to a large division of Whirlpool and the two companies have had alliances in the past. F&P produces motors for Whirlpool and distributes Whirlpool products in New Zealand. In January 2007, F&P announced that its new AquaSmart clothes washer, which has energy and water saving features, will be assembled at the Clyde, OH facility.

    When Fisher & Paykel was beginning its U.S. production, I was contacted by a representative of the company who was interested in official “Made in USA” labeling requirements so that the company could emphasize the fact that their products were being manufactured in the U.S. The move to the U.S. seems to be paying off; the company reports in their Annual Report for 2005-2006 that U.S. sales are now the largest source of revenue (38 percent of appliance sales), exceeding revenues from Australian or New Zealand.

    If a company such as Fisher & Paykel recognizes the value of the American market, and feels that “Made in USA” is an important marketing theme, perhaps some of our own manufacturers will wake to the growing interest among U.S. shoppers to “buy American.”

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    No More Camillus Knives

    At the end of February 2007, Camillus Cutlery (Camillus, NY) closed its doors for the last time. The knife manufacturer, in business since 1876, was known for its pocket knives, but also made Boy Scout utility knives, Western knives, and military/tactical fighting knives. The company remained in its original location, on the banks of Nine Mile Creek, for all the years of its existence. Many of the workers at the facility were long-time employees, and some were third or fourth generation employees.

    Although readers of the local paper in Camillus were aware of the company’s troubles, Internet surfers looking for the company’s website (www.camillusknives.com) are greeted only with the news that the site has been closed. The last listing of the site in the web archives is May 23, 2006, just days after the company’s workers walked out on strike to protest proposed drastic decreases in wages and health benefits. Camillus workers, members of the United Steelworkers, remained on strike from May through November 2006, before finally reaching agreement with the company on a new contract. Shortly thereafter, Camillus Cutlery announced sizeable layoffs, and within a few months the company had closed.

    Is there a lesson in the closing of Camillus Cutlery, and if so, what is that lesson? Is it that American-made products cannot compete on price with products made elsewhere? Can financially troubled companies talk openly and honestly with workers about needed concessions? When unions are negotiating contracts with financially troubled companies, how can they support the company without sacrificing the quality of life of their members?

    According to the USW website, there had not been a strike at the facility since 1952. I do not know whether the labor-management conflicts arose from approaches or decisions taken by the new management, or whether the economic realities facing the company made new salary and benefit conditions inevitable.

    In any case, I am sad at the loss of a venerable old company that made quality products, sad that the sacrifice of the striking workers seemed only to hasten the demise of their employer. There must be a better way.

    [For a while, at least, read more about the history of Camillus Cutlery]

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Monday, February 12, 2007

    Still in Love (With my Pontiac G6!)

    As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am happy to say I am in love. But let’s talk about cars!

    After several months of driving my Pontiac G6, I thought I would post an update on her performance. She drives like a dream, and she talks to me too! She tells me when there may be ice outside, and when I need to go fill her gas tank. This latter turned out to be quite handy since, for inscrutable reasons, GM decided that “needle to the right” means the tank is EMPTY-- the opposite of other cars I have driven. So, I kept glancing at the fuel gauge and seeing the needle over to the right and thinking I had a full tank! Wrong. (Speaking of gasoline, I am getting 21.5 mpg for town driving...better than many cars on the road, but I am SURE we can do better than that!)

    Stephanie's Pontiac G6

    Now that the winter cold has arrived, I must confess that the salesman was correct! I have learned to LOVE the automatic start feature, and not just for the head-turn factor. (The kids love being able to start the car as they walk up to it, and catch looks of surprise on passers-by.) On these cold mornings, I start her up from the warmth of the house and she is warmed and ready to go when we come running out, late to school as usual!

    Another nice touch in the GM Customer Service arena: A few days after I purchased the car, I sent an email to UAW Local 5960 thanking them for making a beautiful car for me. Although I did not receive a response to my email, a few weeks after my purchase I received a phone call from a woman at the Orion Assembly Plant in Lake Orion, MI thanking me for my purchase and asking if I was happy with the car. I thought that was really neat! I have never purchased a new car before, so maybe this is standard practice by all auto manufacturers. Still, I thought it was a good way to remind consumers that real people are involved in the production of the things we buy.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Stephanie goes Wireless!

    One symptom of advancing age is declining ability to adopt new technologies. Egad! So, here I was, seemingly the last person on the planet (except my mom) without a cell phone. I always said I was happy to be unreachable at times. However, teenage children, who seem always to have JUST missed the bus and need a ride (!), have finally pushed me into the wireless age.

    I “googled” to find some information on various family plans and wireless providers, and ended up using LetsTalk.com to do some research. I liked the site because it gives a comprehensive look at the service plans from more than a dozen carriers (including T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular, and Sprint), and offers a great selection of phones available from each. LetsTalk also had better rebate offers than my local wireless stores, so I ended up getting my phones for free.

    As a novice to the wireless world, I was surprised to learn that the service providers work with cell phone manufacturers to offer custom phones that only work with their service. Why am I tempted to use the phrase “in cahoots”??

    After comparing coverage areas, plan features, and prices, I checked with Communication Workers of America to see if they had a recommendation for a “worker friendly” service provider, and decided to go with Cingular. I liked the Cingular Family Plans, but the other thing I loved was the Fire Red RAZR phone!!! How shallow, I know, but it a truly beautiful little phone...slender, elegant, understated...not a brassy, bright red like some OTHER phones! (I must have a special affinity for this soft metallic red color, because it is one of the reasons I have the “hots” for my Mag-Lite flashlight...)

    I am still learning the features of my RAZR phone, but I have sent my first text message, entered some numbers in my address book, and this morning I used the alarm clock feature to wake up. I think there will be no going back! Technology is so cool.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Start an American-Made Christmas Tradition

    I like to enjoy each holiday as it comes along, including Thanksgiving. It’s the last bit of sanity before the winter holidays. I made my pumpkin pies, stuffed my turkey, drank wine with my friends and family. Now I take a deep breath, and turn my thoughts to snowflakes, candy canes, and stockings hung by the fireplace. (Note to elves: dust the mantel!!!)

    Yesterday I finished my virtual catalog of gift ideas for the Winter Holidays...Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year...I celebrate as many of them as I can! Not to say that we should all bow down to the Gods of Consumerism, but the reality is that many of us do a lot of shopping in the month of December.

    Once again, I will try to put my consumer dollars to work supporting businesses that employ American workers. Last year I managed to find American-made products for almost everyone on my list. It’s not always easy, but I enjoy a challenge. So go forth to the malls and shops and read labels. If you cannot find what you want locally, check out my Holiday Gift Catalog for ideas.

    Good luck with the quest, and don’t forget to send me suggestions or tips on companies or products you find! Always remember the reason for the gift...to show your friends and family that you love them.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    2007 Pontiac G6: SWEET!

    How does a “Buy American” goddess go about buying a new car? Particularly a goddess that likes hybrids and high gas mileage and worries about carbon dioxide emissions?

    As a loyal Ford Taurus owner, I was mourning the recent closing of Ford’s Atlanta assembly plant where my Taurus was made and waiting patiently for the Ford Fusion Hybrid to hit the dealer lots. Then, last fall I attended the Washington, DC auto show and checked out the Fusion in person. I confess I was disappointed with the interior, and the car’s profile had a masculine feel. To top off my dismay, the Ford Fusion was assembled at the Hermosillo plant in Mexico and the hybrid powertrain also was going to be imported. I remember asking the Ford representative how my purchase of a Ford Fusion Hybrid would be helping the U.S. autoworker? His only response was that at least Ford was a U.S. company! After that, I figured I would just keep the ’91 Taurus healthy and await new developments.

    Then, last week one of “Fairfax County’s Finest” moved up my timeline. I was very politely informed that my inspection sticker had expired FIVE MONTHS ago. Egad. Upon inspection, my friendly neighborhood garage suggested $900 in repairs. Needless to say, I was thrust into car search mode.

    Free Price Quotes at Edmunds.com
    Despite my best intentions, and many promises to StillMadeinUSA.com visitors, I had never put together my Buy American Auto page. Still, I had done some research and I decided to share my search criteria and data here. I wanted a 4-door sedan, UAW-made, good gas mileage and environmental rating, assembled in USA with maximum amount of USA parts.

    I considered the following criteria and data sources:
    • Percent domestic content (defined as U.S. and Canadian-made parts), on a sales-weighted basis by automaker/brand (Level Field Institute, a site funded by retirees of Ford, GM, Chrysler, and their parts suppliers, reminds consumers that American jobs associated with auto manufacturing go far beyond assembly, and the source of the parts that go into the vehicles is an important indicator of the ripple effect of auto manufacturing in the U.S. economy).
    • Union-made: United Auto Workers (UAW) have long set the standard for wages and benefits for all automakers in the U.S., and I prefer to support companies that employ union labor (UAW Made Vehicles for 2007 )
    • Environmental performance, including carbon dioxide emissions (an important contributor to global climate change) and air pollutant emissions (smog and ground-level ozone precursors) (EPA's Green Vehicle Guide)

    Based on my criteria, I had selected 2 cars for test drive: the Toyota Corolla, if made in USA, based on its superior environmental performance; and the Pontiac G6. Although some Toyota Corolla’s are made in US, it turned out that all the ones available in my region were Canadian-made (VIN starting with 2).

    I went to see the Pontiac G6, did a test drive, and fell in love! What a sweet car! I got a great price, including a $1000 “conquest rebate” for switching from Ford to GM. The car is roomy, sporty, and drives beautifully. The instrument panel and interior styling is excellent, and the driver-side seat has adjustable lumbar support and feels GREAT. It also has driver, passenger, and roof-mounted side impact air bags. All this for approximately $17,000.

    I feel like I got a bargain, and I am proud to be driving a vehicle assembled at the Orion Assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan by UAW Local 5960, with U.S.-made engine and transmission.

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    The Henry Ford Museum

    [Part 4 of my Manufacturing Travel Log (Previous installments are at Greenfield Village, Dearborn Assembly Plant and Ford Rouge Complex.)]

    In addition to a nice collection of old cars, which I expected, The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI had an amazing collection of steam-powered and early electricity generating engines that FAR surpassed anything on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The museum even has part of the steam-powered electricity generation setup used to power the Rouge Factory in Ford’s day. This consisted of 2 of the 12 gas/steam powered pistons that turned huge wheels, maybe 15 feet high? The placard said that Ford brought the machinery to the site, then built the museum around it, which I believe because it was massive!

    Combination Gasteam Engine

    Combination Gasteam Engine

    One disappointment I had with the curation for the steam and electricity displays was that the link was never made between the need to use steam power to turn a wheel, and the generation of electricity. (I saw the same gap in the explanations of Edison’s early electricity generating station in Greenfield Village.)

    The Dymaxion House
    Another display that was fun was the original aluminum-domed “house of the future”—called the Dymaxion House--designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1920’s and offered as a solution to the post-WWI housing shortage. The house was proposed as a low-cost way to meet the housing needs of returning G.I.’s, and one that could be taken apart and moved to a new location as the occupants moved. Another marketing angle for the house was that it could be manufactured by aircraft manufacturers using aluminum skin technology developed for the war, and would provide continuing employment for workers at those factories.

    Apparently only 2 prototypes were built, and despite having a number of orders, none were ever produced. The design seemed very ahead of its time, with rainwater recapture to a cistern for watering plants and gardens, overhead lighting with soft colors that could be altered to change the mood of the rooms, a passive ventilation system including a roof vent and outer wall panels that opened, and built-in closets and rotating shelves to save floor space and reduce clutter. The design incorporated the latest materials, including metal surfaces (with rounded corners for easy cleaning) and Naugahyde wall panels. The museum guide also pointed out that having 2 bathrooms was revolutionary in an era when nearly half of homes had no indoor “facilities” at all! (Side note: in checking the spelling of Naugahyde, I found the very cute website about the product and the history—-still made in USA!)

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Greenfield Village: Henry Ford’s Celebration of Inventors and Machines

    [Part 3 of my Manufacturing Travel Log (If you can't get enough, read Part 1 and Part 2. More to come!)]

    Greenfield Village in Dearborn, MI was extremely interesting, both for what was there and for what it said about Henry Ford’s interests. Ford relocated buildings that represented important innovations of his day. These included Thomas Edison’s home, workshop, and early electrification station.

    In addition, there was an operating railroad roundhouse where steam locomotives were still being repaired and serviced. (The roundhouse had some amazing machining tools, very large and used to make and repair parts for the trains. I was dying to go down to the floor and take a look, but the guide said he could not let me for safety reasons.) There was also an interesting display to explain how the burning coal was used to create steam, which then moved the pistons, which turned the wheel. I had never noticed the box at the end of the piston, where the steam actually came in and forced the piston to move. I still did not understand this fully—it seemed that the steam would have to be pulsed into the box so that the piston could move back into position between each stroke?

    A Machinist is Born
    1917 Brown and Sharpe turret latheOne of the highlights of Greenfield Village was the machine shop, where we had the chance to actually “cut metal” using a 1917 Brown and Sharpe turret lathe. Both my son and I took our turn to don safety glasses, and make a small brass candlestick. With apologies to “real” machinists, since I will not know the official terms for what we did, here is what I observed.

    The mechanism was fascinating and so well thought out: the cutting tools were brought to the rotating brass rod by a mechanism that was hand-turned. We turned the handwheel counter-clockwise to move the bits to the left, and clockwise to pull back when the cut was complete. At the extreme of the turn, the piece holding the various bits (I think this was the “turret”?) would rotate and click into place so that the next bit was in position. I think there were 6 different cutting steps—two were used to drill out the center hole of the candleholder (for the candle), two removed excess metal from the outside of the piece to save wear on the carbide cutter that actually produced the curved shape of the candlestick. A final cut was a blade that cut the finished candlestick from the brass stock. These last 2 cuts were made by turning a separate handwheel that moved the rotating brass “south” to the carbide shaping blade, and “north” to the blade that cut the finished product from the brass bar.

    Turned Metal CandlestickIt was a little tricky to keep the progress of the cutting tool at an even speed, and not too fast. The turned piece gets quite hot from the friction, but there was no coolant involved. The docent said that occasionally someone breaks a bit or gets the lathe out of alignment and they have to stop and call their historical machinist. (Now that would be a fun job for someone!)

    With one small project under my belt, I begin to see how people get hooked on cutting metal. Time to move the cars out of the garage, and start moving old metal in!

    Stephanie, Webmaster

    Thursday, August 31, 2006

    Green Design at the Ford Rouge Complex

    Part 2 of my trip report on the Ford Rouge Complex in Dearborn, MI ... [Part 1 gives my reactions to the tour inside the Dearborn Assembly Plant]

    Ford Rouge Complex

    Vertical Manufacturing—No More
    Another aspect of the visit to the Rouge Complex is the understanding it gives of the complexity of the original enterprise. The short movie prepared by the tour company, which is not affiliated with Ford, emphasizes Henry Ford’s experiment in vertical manufacturing. The complex had its own steel mill, plate glass facility, and foundry, owned sources for the rubber that was used, and had its own deep-water port to bring in needed materials. However, the present day complex obtains its parts from many different suppliers, some of which are still brought in at the Rouge port. The steel mill still supplies steel for the stamping plant, but it is not owned by Ford. The tour guide told me that Ford would only buy steel from the on-site company as long as the price was competitive.

    Green Building, Brown Product?Dearborn Assembly Plant Green Roof
    A major focus of the factory tour was the “green design” features that had been incorporated in the new assembly building. This included a green roof, featuring layers of material topped by a variety of sedum, designed to lower temperatures in the building and capture some of the rainwater that otherwise would run off. In addition, skylights on the roof were added to increase natural light in the building and lower lighting costs. Rainwater recapture systems, swales and ponds were used for on-site stormwater management (although the guide kept calling it a “storm management” system!).

    Wildlife habitat was enhanced with natural plantings, and fruit trees (crabapples and one other that I can’t recall) were planted to provide food for wildlife. Ford even has a beekeeper who manages the bee hive within the planted area, placed to ensure pollination of the trees. Additional green features included the permeable pavement used for employee parking lots, which lessens rainwater runoff, and a system to recapture paint fumes (VOCs) as a source of hydrogen for a fuel cell to produce electricity for the painting facility.

    The irony to me, of course, was that the company had built a green building within which it was assembling Ford 150 trucks, not exactly know for their environmentally friendly profile! The other sad part for me was that, despite the hopeful and forward-looking taped message from Bill Ford, the news about tough times at Ford Motor Co. made me fear that all of this effort to be innovative and green would have been for naught.

    Stephanie, Webmaster