From its conception to its realization and through all the transformations that followed as it propelled through the decades, Aberdeen Proving Ground has shared a mutual longevity with one local family.
It all started with a man named Gregory Gerdom.
A native of Germany who came to the United States with his family when he was 10 in 1857, Gerdom is remembered in the Ordnance world as the inventor of the three-inch field gun. His father, E.J. Gerdom, also an inventor, invented the Albany Grease, which was used all over the world, as well as one of the first breech-loading rifles used in the U.S., of which the old Springfield rifle was a copy.
Sometime after 1883, about the time the gun plant at Watervliet Arsenal in New York was started, Gregory went to work there as a machinist. He worked nine years at Watervliet, and then went to Sandy Hook Proving Ground in New Jersey, where he worked for 16 years.
The future Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame inductee created various materiel for the corps from 1885 to 1910.
According to the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame website, Gregory Gerdom “devised tools to facilitate the manufacture of the guns. Of the many tools he designed only one was patented – a reamer for finishing the bores of guns. He invented the lanyard pull, which permits the gun to be fired from the cradle of the carriage. His other inventions included firing attachments, a retracting attachment for firing pins, a breechlock operating lever, a carrier ring, a rotary breechpiece and a tool for boring breechloading ordnance. After his retirement with 25 years of service, he invented an indestructible gas check pad for highpower guns.”
Gregory Gerdom’s son, Clarence followed in his father’s footsteps. According to “Army Ordnance” Vol. XXIII, dated April 23, 1942, Clarence came from a family of machinists and inventors and was brought up in the “Ordnance tradition.”
“As a boy, he was apprenticed to his father, Gregory Gerdom, who had been chief machinist at Watervliet Arsenal since 1893, and went with him to the Sandy Hook Proving Ground, stepping into his position as master machinist when his father retired,” the article reads. “When the proving ground was moved to Aberdeen, in 1917, Clarence was assigned to that post.”
Clarence completed 49 years of service with the Ordnance Department. In a letter of sympathy to his wife, after Clarence’s death, Chief of Ordnance, Maj. Gen. C.M. Wesson wrote: “I have known him for thirty-five years, first at Sandy Hook, and then, as you know, during the eight years that I spent at the proving ground … His was indeed a fine record of accomplishment in that his usefulness to the government was always of the highest order and he was utterly unselfish in his devotion to his work. His loss to the Ordnance Department will be sorely felt.”
From Clarence, the Gerdom family tree blossomed. His five sons, Vince, Earnest, Ralph, Quinton and Milton, all worked at APG.
A local newspaper article continued the Gerdom story in a March 1952 article. At the time, six Gerdoms were employed on the proving ground. At the printing, the family had 156 years of government service.
“Three of Clarence Gerdom’s sons also chose the machinist trade as their life’s work,” the article reads. “Ralph, the eldest son, first worked as an apprentice to his father at Sandy Hook from 1912 to 1916. He is now chief of the Artillery and Machine Shop Branch of Development & Proof Services, the position his father held for many years.
“The second mechanically-minded son of the third generation is Earnest, an electronic operator and repairman of the Ballistic Research Laboratories; and there’s Milton, who started as an apprentice machinist under the watchful eye of his father.
“So far, mention has been made only of the machinists of the Gerdom family, however, there are other members of the family and the beginning of another generation which has contributed long hours to government service.
Quinton began his government employment as a machinist helping in the Service Department in 1934. He later learned the blacksmith trade and was transferred to the maintenance branch of Aberdeen Ordnance Depot.
Vincent is a cashier in the Finance Office. He started in his present position in 1941 after working as a bookkeeper in the Post Exchange for almost 10 years.
Beverly Jean Gerdom, daughter of Vincent, was a clerk-typist in the Arms & Ammunition Division of Development & Proof Services in December 1950.”
Ralph Gerdom further distinguished the family when he was awarded the Exceptional Civilian Service Medal, the highest award attainable by civilian personnel from the War Department. Gerdom was presented the award by Brig. Gen. A.B. Quinton Jr. Ralph Gerdom’s citation reads in part, “For exceptional services as Ordnance Engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground during World War II. His exceptional skill and knowledge in the field of mechanics, his practical theories on design improvements and manufacturing methods and his inventive ability have resulted in successful and expeditious furtherance of Ordnance Materiel development and modification.” Signed, Robert P. Patterson, Secretary of War.
Richard Gerdom, of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is a fourth-generation APG Gerdom. His research of his ancestors confirms that at least one Gerdom has been employed on the installation since its founding. In other word, starting with great -Grandfather Clarence, no era in the history of Aberdeen Proving Ground has been Gerdom-less.
Richard is the son of Gary, grandson of Milton, great-grandson of Clarence and great-great grandson of Gregory. He calculates the Gerdom family has eclipsed 309 years of combined service.
According to Richard:
His great-uncle Ralph, who started at Sandy Hook at 1912, retired in 1957 with 45 years of service.
Ralph’s daughter, and Richard’s cousin, Ruth Ann, retired with 25 years of service.
His great-uncle Earnest retired in 1967 and great-uncle, Vincent, retired in 1976
Great-uncle Quinton retired in 1972 after a career that started in 1934 with 38 years
Grandfather Milton retired in 1974 with 29 years
Richard’s father, Gary put in 42 years on APG
Uncle Bruce did 10 as a contractor.
Today, Richard’s cousin, Bobby Gamble, Vince’s grandson, is an APG contractor also with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
And Richard, who just transitioned from contractor to government civilian, has been working at APG since 2012.
Richard’s grandfather, Milton, died in 1993 and is buried in Harford Memorial Gardens in Aberdeen. Clarence, who died in 1942, his wife Grace, who died in 1970 and their son, Pvt. Gregory E. Gerdom who was killed in Saipan in 1944, are buried in Grove Cemetery, also in Aberdeen.
Richard, who was born in Havre de Grace and went to Rising Sun High School in Cecil County, has 22 years as an Electronics Technician, though he took a more circuitous route to APG. He learned his trade at vocational and technical schools after high school and had several years at Sparrow Point in Baltimore when he was laid off. Providence was on his side, Richard said, when a facilities manager at APG called and offered him a position.
“It cut my commute in half and it felt sort of like a homecoming,” he said. “We [the Gerdoms] have a 100-year history here. I should have known I’d end up at APG.”
He added that his maternal grandfather also worked on APG as an electrician at Edgewood. APG has also employed cousins and friends that he grew up with, he said.
“It’s just always been a part of our lives,” he said of the installation. “It’s helped people support their families. It’s given us a sense of stability and it’s kept our communities together.
“I hope to continue my family’s legacy here as long as I can.”