Ratcliffe’s Race for Restoration
by Cate Murway
“I bought you violets for your furs and it was spring for a while, remember?”
Staunch Republican, Ralph Henry Ratcliffe, BHS ’44, nicknamed “Wilkie” in High School in honor of Wendell Lewis Willkie [1940 presidential candidate who waged a vigorous campaign and lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt], is the President of the Lower Bucks County Canal Conservation Committee. He graduated the day the Allies launched the invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944.
Ralph has almost always resided on Jefferson Avenue. He had one older brother, the late Kenwood section resident, Ellis Edward, Jr. who worked as an inspector in GE. They fished together “anywhere there was fish” and caught carp, catfish, and large mouth bass.
He wore his older brother’s clothes and his pegged pants “peggers”, pants tapering to a narrow opening at the cuff. Now he wears one of the last lot of original bell-bottom vintage Seafarer dungarees initially created for the U.S. Navy. Ralph said they are “out of style” but “they don’t know what they’re doing!” In his teens, everyone dressed in slacks and a sports shirt; everyone got dressed up and even wore a sports jacket to games.
Ralph generously donated his brother’s burial plot, as Ellis opted for cremation, to his family for his great nephew, Steven J. Ratcliffe, an exceptional sous-chef, who died last Good Friday. Steve had often furnished nourishing provisions for Ralph’s "Canal Kids".
His parents were Edna Lippincott [Groom], one of the 1st forty Quaker families to settle on the Poquessing Creek in 1681, and Ellis Edward Ratcliffe, Sr., 19 years older than his mom, who came to Bristol when there were mostly only dirt roads. Per Ralph, his dad graduated from BHS in a class of one. As Alumni Officer President, he attended the 1st annual banquet of BHS held in Pythian Hall per the Bucks County Gazette of June 1908. A dozen students graduated in his mom’s 1908 class and nine of the graduates went to college. His mother attended West Chester State Teachers College and taught elementary school just until she was married since women were forbidden to marry while teaching at that time; and her classmate, his father’s sister, went to Drexel.
While he was a youth, his mom wrote a newsy neighborhood column for the Bristol Courier, giving intriguing and valuable insight glimpses into the everyday life with accounts of who visited whom. His dad had an office in the Grundy Commons and worked as a purchasing agent for 62 years in Senator Joseph R. Grundy’s Worsted Woolen Mill. One extremely hot summer, 17-year-old Ralph also worked there as a “bobbin-boy”. “It wasn’t a nice job, but I was making money!”
When asked about his life as a child in Bristol, Ralph responded, “I remember having fun!” He and his friends had a tree house on the island and picked blueberries, and swan in the “BAB”, “in the canal where the boys swam”, away from everyone. He told his mom it meant “boys athletic beach”. He played “Lincolnevio” hide and seek in the night, sandlot baseball and touch football “honeyak” right in the street. In the street? “It was during the depression, there wasn’t any cars.”
Ralph confessed he didn’t get much playing time as a guard on the BHS football team; “warmed the bench mostly”. His longtime friends included the late Billy Burns, “Bi Burns”, and Palmer Avenue, fellow tackle football athlete Eugene F. “Gene” Cordisco, who was born the day after Ralph.
Gene’s yearbook quote attests, “Mighty fine fellow who likes to jest, and as a pal he’s the best!” Gene shared that they were born on the same block and that he was born the day after Ralph, so he calls him “old man”. The school was across the street from Ralph’s house but he’d go to Gene’s home to walk to school with him. He and “Mr. Canal”, Gene’s nickname for Ralph, have been friends for 80 years. They fished together almost every day, canoed [Ralph was always the oarsman] and ice-skated on the canal and he was “glad to help with the story.” Gene has assisted Ralph with carpentry work in the Walnut Street home he inherited and Ralph has given a helping hand to Gene with his duties as the St. Mark’s cemetery superintendent.
Ralph shared, “When you lived in Bristol, you knew everyone! It was so diverse. Blacks and Whites and Jews and Protestants and Catholics and we all swan in the canal and we all got along.”
“The snow looked like dew and the blossoms as on a summer day.”
His fond memories include food! He especially loved his mom’s pork chops [“I don’t know how she made them but they were good!”] and mashed potatoes with lots of butter. Their favorite food store was the late Anthony Bono’s Unity- Frankford grocery at Jefferson & Chestnut. “Whatever we wanted they had!” He would stop in the “White Square” store [location of Cannoli coffee bar & gelateria café] across from the Bristol Theatre for soda water and hot dogs. Cool summer treats were Harry Straus’ ice cream sodas and Pappajian’s chocolate nut sundaes and banana splits. He has been eating the “best breakfast and lunch in Bristol” [his health-conscious choices are wheat pancakes and wheat French toast] at the Radcliffe Café for 23 years.
He doesn’t cook; just eats whatever is on special but he really enjoys veal cutlets.
“Bristol is my town. I wake up in the morning and the clock’s out there and I’m happy!”
Ralph is especially proud of the flag that is forever waving up on the clock tower.
“But a little simple magic that I learned about somewhere, Changed the weather all
He enlisted as seaman in 1944 after graduation and was shipped to Corpus Christi, TX.
Besides getting his shots and a buzz haircut, he discarded his civilian attire and possessions, starting Boot camp training in upstate Sampson, NY that lasted about six weeks. Ralph got accustomed to discipline, to respond to disagreeable orders, and to function with very little sleep. He was a sailor and started his not quite 2-year cruise with the Navy. Seaman 1st Class Ralph H. Ratcliffe earned $95.00 a month.
Returning to his home in Bristol, he worked in the [Patapar] Paterson Parchment Paper Company when it once teemed with life, in the shredding room and finishing department. His careers also included forklift operator and work in the fabricating department at Schutte & Koerting and employment at Kaiser-Fleetwings, the former Keystone Aircraft facility, for $.85 an hour. He retired as a mail carrier from the Levittown Post Office on New Falls Road after 28 ½ years of making sure the mail was delivered on time every day in the rain, snow, and blistering heat.
The surname Ratcliffe is derived from Old English read ‘red’ + clif ‘cliff’, meaning ‘slope’, ‘riverbank’. Ralph’s goal for the canal, the watercourse that runs from Bristol to Easton, is to restore, preserve and improve it, hopefully to its original state, reopened up to the river. The canal connected Bristol to the rich anthracite coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania and transformed Bristol into a bustling transportation hub. The need to transfer goods to and from the canal boats at Bristol created a local real estate boom in the 1830s and 1840s. The prosperity stemming from the town's position as the southern terminus of the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal brought the railroad to Bristol.
Ralph is a tenacious and passionate advocate for the restoration of the canal.
Renowned sculptor Joseph Edward Pavone, BHS ’45 shared “I knew him for many years and he is always doing things for Bristol. “Mr. Bristol” battled many to preserve the canal!” Ralph’s comment after hearing Joe dub him “Mr. Bristol” was “You’re full of soup!”
In April 2000, on behalf of Gov. Tom Ridge, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) presented the "Conservation Volunteer of the Year" award to Ralph for donating more than 2,500 hours to the Delaware Canal State Park. He was selected from thousands of volunteers who participated in DCNR's Conservation Volunteer Program in 1999. Gary K. Smith, chief of park operations and management with DCNR's Bureau of State Parks commented, "He understands the complexity of the dream that is this 60-mile long park stretching from Easton to Bristol." Ralph worked closely with school and community groups to instill respect and appreciation of this historic link to the past, and its future potential.
"Ralph is very modest in his leadership and very sincere in his commitment," Delaware Canal State Park Manager Ken Lewis was quoted. "He expects nothing for himself, and everything for the park."
The students cheered wildly as the humble Bristol resident proclaimed, "This isn't for me, it's for the kids who for the past seven years have accomplished so much along the canal."
"Don't take my picture, get the kids," Ratcliffe was quoted as saying. "They are the real story here. They are the reason the canal looks the way it does."
Ralph has lead his beloved "Canal Kids", over 18,000 young people, over a period of 41 years, through their cleanup paces. He is very logical, and seemingly employs a quite rational approach to most things he does.
His very dear friend, the late Naomi Elaine Tomlinson, the cousin of PA Senator Robert M. “Tommy” Tomlinson wrote a letter to Supreme Court Justice William Orville Douglas [1898-1980] requesting his involvement. “Wild Bill”, whose love for the environment carried through to his judicial reasoning, had a deep commitment to environmental protection.
“You pinned my violets to your furs and gave a lift to the crowds passing by.”
Ralph Ratcliffe is not a mere historical footnote. He should be recognized as a person with a plan and the discipline to make that plan work like clockwork.
He also belongs to the African American Historical Cultural Society of Bucks County
Ralph said he does whatever President Sidney L. Taylor asks him to do; “Sidney’s quite a guy!”
His most enduring accomplishments include organizing the canal conservation committee to sustain a unique link to his heritage.
His love for the canal formed the movement that saved it!
[Italicized word from Ralph’s favorite Frank Sinatra song, “Violets for your furs”]
To recommend a Bristol Borough Character to be spotlighted:
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
American Heritage Dictionary
1.Moral or ethical strength. 2.A description of a person's attributes, traits, or abilities.
Ralph's mother, Edna Lippincott [Groom] Ratcliffe taught Dr. William Edward Hanford in the first grade.
Ralph said "Bump" [as he was known in Bristol] also played football at BHS.
William Edward "Butch" Hanford
Born (1908-12-09)9 December 1908
Died 27 January 1996(1996-01-27) (aged 87)
Nationality United States
Alma mater Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science
University of Illinois
Doctoral advisor Roger Adams
Known for Co-inventor of the process to develop multipurpose material polyurethane
Notable awards Chemical Pioneers Award (1967)
American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (1974)
National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee (1991)
Dr. William Edward "Butch" Hanford (December 9, 1908 – January 27, 1996) was an American chemist who is best known for developing the modern process to make multipurpose material polyurethane. Hanford’s most notable discovery occurred while working with fellow chemist Dr. Donald Fletcher Holmes at DuPont. On June 2, 1942, Hanford was awarded a patent for his process. Currently, this method is responsible for manufacturing many of the plastics that are used in medicine, the automotive industry, and consumer products. Hanford’s later accomplishments included the development of the first liquid household detergent and a new kind of ammunition for Winchester-Western Company. For his work, Hanford was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. The New York Times has noted that Hanford’s developments were "monumental."
William Edward Hanford was born on December 9, 1908 in Bristol, Pennsylvania. His mother was Irene Laing Hanford, and she was born into considerable wealth. Although she came from an affluent family, Irene stayed at home and was responsible for her children’s upbringing. Hanford’s father was Thomas Cook Hanford. Thomas was originally from Philadelphia, but he later moved to Bristol where he met his wife. Before marrying Irene, Thomas worked as a bookkeeper for a living. As a young man, Thomas injured himself while lifting heavy objects which prevented him from becoming a traditional laborer. Thomas married Irene in Bristol, Pennsylvania, where the couple purchased a house and raised their family.
William Edward Hanford was the second of three children. He was two years older than his youngest brother and two years younger than his oldest brother. During his childhood, Hanford’s mother stressed the importance of religion and taught Hanford the value of hard work. Although his mother was raised with considerable wealth, Hanford himself had little money as a child. Having lived through WWI, he learned to make the most of his opportunities and take his education seriously.
Throughout his early education, Hanford focused primarily on his school work and sought to learn more about the scientific world around him. He graduated from Bristol High School in 1926. While attending high school, Hanford became interested in chemistry from his science teachers. Hanford’s uncle was a pharmacist and also encouraged his nephew’s interest in the subject.
Following his graduation, Hanford decided that he wanted to earn a college degree in chemistry, but he was unsure of which institution he should attend. Because Hanford’s uncle was a pharmacist who had already graduated from the school, he suggested that his nephew should attend the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. At the time, the college had just opened a new chemistry division. This further sparked Hanford’s interest in the school. Hanford’s uncle agreed to pay for Hanford’s tuition, so he enrolled in the school in 1926. His class had a total of seven students, and each student had some prior connection to the field of pharmacy. In 1930, Hanford graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and took a job at Rohm and Haas with the help of his uncle.
After working for approximately eight months, Hanford left Rohm and Haas to go to graduate school. He had difficulty deciding between the Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois for his graduate studies, but he eventually enrolled at the University of Illinois. While at graduate school, he was mentored by Dr. Roger Adams. Hanford and Adams would remain lifelong friends after Hanford finished his graduate studies, and Adams would often advise Hanford about his career opportunities. While attending the University of Illinois, Hanford also met other notable chemists including Carl Marvel, Reynold Fuson, and Ralph Shriner. Similarly, he met his future colleague Donald Holmes who was also attending the university. In 1935, Hanford graduated with his Ph.D. in organic chemistry.
Soon after graduating from the University of Illinois, Hanford sought employment. He decided to turn down an offer to return to Rohm and Haas in favor of working for DuPont. It was Hanford’s friend and future colleague Donald Holmes who got Hanford the job. Roger Adams told Hanford that he should work in the company’s experimentation division. Once at DuPont, Hanford began to develop the processes that would win him numerous awards and allow him to hold over 120 patents.
In 1935, Hanford officially started working for DuPont. While working at the company, Hanford was given the freedom to explore the areas of research that interested him. He started to work with thiocyanates. These compounds were the main components in insecticides and lubricants. After approximately six months, Hanford was made a group leader and given two assistants. It was at this time that Hanford began to work on problems that other chemists could not solve. The first challenge Hanford faced was the need to polymerize caprolactam. He inherited the problem from famed chemist Wallace Carothers who was also working at DuPont at the time. Within a week, Hanford and his two assistants had found a solution that yielded ninety-six percent of Carothers’ desired polymer. Solving this problem furthered Hanford’s interest in polyamides and polyesters. He soon began to work with di-isocyanates by studying reactions that contained hydroxyl, carboxyl, amide, and amine components.
On May 24, 1939, Hanford and Donald Holmes filed a patent titled “Process for Making Polymeric Products and for Modifying Polymeric Products.” This patent was the development that would eventually land Hanford in the Inventors Hall of Fame. After working at DuPont for three years, Hanford had devised a way to make polyurethane chains. His original inspiration came from a problem that fellow DuPont chemist Julian Werner Hill could not solve. Hill was trying to combine a number of polypols together, but he could not find a method to join them. Hill gave the challenge to Donald Holmes, but Holmes also could not solve the problem. While having lunch one day, Hanford asked Holmes how things were going. Holmes explained that he was getting nowhere, so Hanford suggested that Holmes should try using the di-isocyanates that Hanford had developed earlier. Following the meeting, Holmes took Hanford’s advice and together they developed the modern process for making multipurpose material polyurethane. Hanford’s understanding that polypols could be linked together with di-isocyanates allowed the two scientists to create their process. Three years after filing their original request, Hanford and Holmes were issued a patent for their process on June 2, 1942. The patent was assigned to DuPont.
Later in 1942, Hanford left DuPont and took a job at General Aniline and Film Corporation (GAF). At age thirty-four, Hanford was made the director of research for the entire company. While at GAF, Hanford worked to produce the first commercial liquid laundry detergent. In addition to working on the actual formula for the detergent, Hanford also designed a better plastic bottle to hold the new product. The new detergent was marketed under the name “Glim” and had moderate commercial success.
After working at GAF for four years, Hanford left the corporation to work for M. W. Kellogg Company in 1946. He considered M. W. Kellogg Company the “finest chemical engineering and petroleum company in the world,” and was soon made the director of petroleum and chemical research. In 1950, Hanford was named to the company’s board of directors and was promoted to the vice president position. He was also made the director of research for the entire company. Hanford’s research at the firm led to the discovery of a process that would lower the cost of ammonia production. He also worked on one of the first synthetic fuel projects by conducting research to derive gasoline from carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and coal.
After working at M. W. Kellogg Company for seven years, Hanford left the firm to explore other projects. In 1957, Hanford had the opportunity to work for either 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) or Olin Corporation. Before making his decision, John Olin told Hanford, “You’ll be vice president of research... You’ll be in charge of all research in the entire corporation. That’s what you’re here for.”6 Hanford decided to work for Olin Corporation shortly after hearing this proposition. He soon got to work on a new kind of ammunition for Olin Corporation’s subsidiary, Winchester-Western Company. Hanford developed a plastic shotgun shell that was popular throughout the 1960s. The development utilized Hanford’s polyurethane process to strengthen the shell while cutting production costs. He later briefly experimented with different types of fuels for automobiles.
In 1973, Hanford retired from Olin Corporation to become a consultant for his son’s company, World Water Resources Incorporated. Hanford’s retirement from Olin Corporation marked the end of his career as a corporate chemist.
William Edward Hanford has often been referred to as “Butch” Hanford because of his appearance when working in the laboratory. While at the University of Illinois, Hanford often wore a dirty laboratory coat that was covered in chemicals. He would also cut the sleeves off of his coat to allow him to work more easily. His colleagues jokingly said that the only name that could characterize his appearance would be “Butch” because he resembled a butcher. After graduating from the University of Illinois, the nickname followed Hanford for the rest of his career.
William Edward Hanford married his wife Lorraine as a young man. Together they had a son, William Edward Hanford Jr., who is currently a lawyer and owns World Water Resources Incorporated. The company seeks to provide water sterilization systems for developing countries.
Despite the acclaim and importance of Hanford’s polyurethane production process, he received no additional compensation for his patent from DuPont. Hanford received a salary from the firm, but the company provided him with no additional payment because he was a corporate chemist. Likewise, Hanford’s patent was assigned to DuPont, so he could not sell the rights to his discovery. He once remarked that he was never compensated beyond his regular salary for any of his 120 patents from any corporation. Furthermore, Hanford did not receive royalties for his developments either.
On January 27, 1996, William Edward Hanford died in Bethesda, Maryland. He was eighty-seven years old. Following his death, The New York Times published his obituary on January 31, 1996, and noted that his developments were “a tremendous breakthrough.” Hanford is survived by his wife, son, and two grandchildren.
Eugene “Gene” Cordisco of Bristol passed away Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.
He was 91. Born in Bristol, he was a lifelong resident.
Gene was a graduate of Bristol High School, class of 1944,
and was active in all activities including football.
He was also active in the Civil Air Patrol and the Bracken Drum and Bugle Corps. After graduation, he entered the Army-AirCorps where became a radio operator. He had been employed by Stonebacks Lumber yard, Worthington Construction, Roy Butterworth Construction, and St. Mark Church, where he managed the cemetery for 18 years. After his retirement, he returned to work for St. Ann Church and school doing maintenance for 12 years. He was a very active member of St. Mark Church, and in later years, St. Ann Church. He was preceded in death by his wife, Lucille Bonner Cordisco; his parents, Philip and Anna Cordisco; his sisters, Angelina Grisolia, and Josephine Belardino; his brothers, Vincent and David Cordisco; and longtime friend, Josephine Lunny. He is survived by his sister, Marie Antonelli; and brother, Father Philip Cordisco OSST, former pastor of St. Ann Church. His children, Rick, Raymond (Mary), Jerry (Joan), Sandy Molden (Chris), Lynda, Sally Glantz (David); his grandchildren, Richard, Jeff, Katie, Jennifer, Jessica, Jason, William, and Gina; his great- grandchildren, Richard III, Brinton, Chelsea, and Sarah; and his lifelong friend, Ralph Ratcliffe. Family and friends are invited to attend his viewings from 7 to 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, and from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m., Saturday, at the Molden Funeral Chapel, 133 Otter St., Bristol, followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m., Saturday at St. Ann Church, Bristol. Interment will follow in St. Mark Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, Mass cards or contributions to St. Ann Church would be appreciated. To sign the online guestbook or send a condolence visit the website below. Molden Funeral Chapel, Bristol www.moldenfuneralchapel.com