Though the structure in downtown Chehalis now serves as the Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) headquarters, during World War II, the Harry B. Quick Building served as the Boeing Aircraft Company’s production plant for wing ribs, leading edges and other parts for B-17 and B-29 bombers.
According to Lewis County Historical Society member Peter Lahmann, nearly 700 workers, 70% of whom were women known as “Rosie the Riveters,” built bomber parts at the Boeing plant from 1943 to 1945. The PUD has a memorial plaque dedicated to the workers on the side of the building.
“Rosie the Riveter” is from the famous World War II “we can do it!” poster campaign. The character represented women working in factories and shipyards to support the war effort.
On Thursday, Nov. 16, around a dozen people, including the self-described 95-and-three-quarters-year-old “Rosie the Riveter” Doris Bier, gathered in front of the PUD building to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Boeing plant. Also present were Chehalis Mayor Tony Ketchum, Centralia City Councilor Adrianna Garibay and Lewis County Historical Museum Executive Director Jason Mattson.
Lewis County Historical Society member Edna Fund explained the building itself is now nearly a century old as it was built in 1925 or 1926 by Quick for his harness company. During the Great Depression, it was repossesed. Eventually, in 1941 or 1942, the building was sold to the PUD.
“The Lewis County PUD bought it because Harold B. Quick lost everything in the Depression,” Fund said.
Originally, the PUD leased the building to Boeing for its production plant in 1943.
During the short two years Boeing operated the plant, the workers earned an “E” award pennant for excellence in production, according to Lahmann, who now has the pennant.
He received it after asking former Boeing plant manager, Frank Owens, what happened to it.
“He was the youngest plant manager for Boeing at the time … and he said, ‘Well I was wondering if you’d be interested in it. I have it at the dry-cleaners right now,’” Lahmann said.
Both Lahmann’s grandmother and aunt worked at the Chehalis Boeing plant.
“I’m not quite sure what my grandmother did. My aunt was a riveter,” he added.
His aunt started working at the plant as a teenager, as did Bier, who was only 16 when she started working as a “Rosie the Riveter'' at Fort Lewis on an assembly line for Jeep and truck axles. Bier, who was born in 1927 and raised in Adna, faced sexism from some male workers who resented working alongside women.
“We were an experiment to see if we could handle the job, and most of us turned out better than expected,” Bier said. “They pinned on an ‘E’ pin on my collar, for excellence.”
While some remained resentful, through her hard work and skill, Bier earned the respect of most of her male coworkers.
The Lewis County Historical Society is in the Lewis County Historical Museum, located at 599 NW Front St. in downtown Chehalis. For more information visit https://lewiscountymuseum.org/.
To learn more about the history of the Harry B. Quick Building, located at 321 NW Pacific Ave. in downtown Chehalis, visit https://www.lcpud.org/about-us/who-we-are/history/.