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Halafax Explosives Co. Display Ad


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Southern California's First Explosives Manufacturing Plant

In 1930 an idea was born to an engineer experienced in the construction and explosives fields. The idea involved a new and revolutionary development in the science of blasting powder manufacture.

If this man's idea could be proven — if his plan for improved processes could be carried out, industries of the West would save thousands of dollars each day on explosives needed for mining, construction and building of highways.

For two years Mexico's mines and mountain fastnesses re-echoed to the rumbling roar of experimental blasts. Thousands of tests were made under favorable and under adverse conditions — in uniform and in varied earth formations. They all proved one thing — that this man's idea was sound — that it was practical — that it offered the explosives industry its first real progressive development since Nobel stabilized the manufacture and use of nitroglycerin.

An outgrowth of this idea, of the faith and perseverance of Western engineers, is the Halafax Explosives Co., which today, at Saugus, opens as Southern California's first explosives manufacturing plant.

In this new quarter-million-dollar factory blasting powders of all standard grades will be manufactured. Its new and modern machinery represents the best produced by western manufacture. In the fabrication of its buildings, the contractors of Los Angeles have contributed supervision, materials and man-power.

Born of a Westerner's idea, built by Western engineers, and backed by Western capital, the Halafax Explosives Co. is ready to manufacture and sell “disruptive force by the pound” to meet the rigid standards of Western explosives engineers.

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Halafax Explosives Company
Los Angeles, California
Executive Offices: 810 South Spring St.
Manufacturing Plant: Saugus, Calif.

Above is depicted the site of the Halafax Explosives Co. near Saugus, California. Several of the individual buildings are completely hidden from each other by large barricades as well as by natural hills and ridges.

Below the photograph is shown a detail map of how the plant of the Halafax Explosives co. may be reached by those who are interested in visiting this newest of Southern California's industries.

These local companies and contractors have contributed materials and labor used in the erection of the new Halafax Plant.

A. & S. Paint Company

J.H. Baxter Company
Bevis Machinery Company
Blake, Moffitt & Towne
Blue Diamond Corporation
Braun Corporation
Emil Brown & Co.
L.H. Butcher Company

California Corrugated Culvert Company
Certainteed Paint Company
Cleveland Wrecking Company
Colson Equipment & Supply Co.
Consolidated Rock Products Co.
Crane Co.
Crown Willamette Paper Co.

Detroit Hoist & Machinery co.

Fibreboard Products

General Electric Supply Co.
Grimes-Stassforth Stationers

Chas. B. Hadley & Co.
Ben B. Hood
J.F. Holbrook Company

Johnston Pump Company

Kelly Pipe Company
Kimball Elevator Company
Irving S. King Company
Morris P. Kirk Company

L.A. Rubber & Asbestos Works
I.A. Rubber Stamp Co.

Monolith Cement Company
Mefford Chemical Company
H.E. McCowan Co.

Oil Well Supply Company

Pacific Coast Wire & Iron Works
Pacific Metals Company
Ira G. Perrin (Representing Elwell-Parker Co.)
Plant Rubber & Asbestos Works

Republic Supply Company

Stationers Corporation
E.J. Stanton & Sons Lumber Co.
Soule Steel Company
Southwestern Portland Cement Co.

Taylor Instrument Company
Times-Mirror Company
Toledo Scale Company

U.S. Electrical Manufacturing Co.
Union Hardware Company

Westco Pump Company
Western Industrial Engineering Co.
Westinghouse Supply Company
Woodenware Specialty Company


Background.

The Bermite Powder Co., and Halafax Explosives Co. before it, manufactured explosives, flares and small munitions in Saugus, on a roughly 1,000-acre parcel just southeast of Bouquet Junction, from 1935 to 1987.

Apparently the first on the scene was Jim "The Boilermaker" Jeffries, undefeated heavyweight champion of the world from 1899-1905. Jeffries took the helm of the L.A. Powder Co., which incorporated in 1915, and in 1917 set up a Saugus plant on the future Bermite property to manfacture gunpowder, in hopes of supplying the allied forces in World War I. By 1920 Jeffries was also drilling oil wells on the property; the success of either venture is unclear.

The week of April 22, 1935, Halafax opened a $250,000 plant financed by E.P. Halliburton, an Oklahoma oil tycoon whose eponymous company would grow into one of the biggest multinational oilfield service providers.

According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (2004), in 1939, Patrick Lizza established Golden State Fireworks on adjacent property, while Halafax manufactured fireworks at its site from 1936 to 1942.

Halafax eventually defaulted on its property taxes, and Lizza's company, as Bermite Powder, acquired the ex-Halafax land from the county, apparently for the price of the unpaid taxes.

Per DTSC, "The Bermite Powder Company produced detonators, fuzes, boosters, coated magnesium, and stabilized red phosphorus from 1942 to 1967. In addition, between 1942 and 1953 they produced flares, photoflash bombs for battlefield illumination, and other explosives."

Bermite and the Saugus property played an important role in the needs of the U.S. military during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict. For example, the most widely used air-to-air missile in the West, Raytheon's AIM-9 Sidewinder, started production in 1953 at China Lake and used a Hercules/Bermite MK-36 solid-fuel rocket engine that would have been tested and manufactured at the Saugus plant.

Bermite was a major employer and contributed to the development of Newhall in 1939 with a row of 50 2-bedroom bungalows along Walnut Street for factory workers. During and after World War II it was also a major employer of women.

In the postwar period, Bermite's subsidiary, Golden State Fireworks, was testing and manufacturing fireworks on the property.

Whittaker Corp. purchased Bermite Powder Co. and took over the property in 1967, operating it through 1987 as a munitions manufacturing, testing and storage facility. Among Whittaker-Bermite's products were ammunition rounds; detonators, fuzes and boosters; flares and signal cartridges; glow plugs, tracers and pyrophoric pellets; igniters, ignition compositions and explosive bolts; power charges; rocket motors and gas generators; and missile main charges.

The munitions and fireworks operations left more than 275 known contaminants behind, some of which percolated into the groundwater below the property.

Starting in about 1986, the operations would be exposed to steadly harsher environmental scrutiny over the next several years. "In 1987, the facility ceased all of its manufacturing, testing and storage of ordnance and explosive items," according to DTSC. Within another two years, plans were made for the area to be developed into a 2,911-unit residential community to be called Porta Bella, which was approved by the City Council but didn't come to fruition.

Whittaker sold the Saugus property to an Arizona investor group in 1999, just before Whittaker was acquired in a hostile takeover. The property spent the first decade of the 21st Century tied up in litigation, one result of which is a long-term toxic chemical cleanup project managed by the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.


Courtesy of Tricia Lemon Putnam.
BERMITE PREDECESSORS

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James Jeffries 1910

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James Jeffries vs. Jack Johnson 1910

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James Jeffries & L.A. Powder 1917

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Halafax (1935), Funded by Halliburton

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Halafax Ad, April 1935

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Halafax Ad, May 1935

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