Albert Creighton Jr., 100, land preservationist and plastic-steel manufacturer
Life Magazine’s Nov. 14, 1955, cover story wasn’t about a politician, a movie star, or Elvis. Rather, it featured a product called Devcon plastic steel. Its inventor, Albert Creighton Jr., was pictured in the lower right of the magazine’s cover, hammering away at an anvil coated with the product.
He was the founding president of Chemical Development Corp. of Danvers, which manufactured the substance that Life hailed as a “poured pillar of steel.” The cover’s main photo showed the thick substance cascading from a can.
While serving in China during World War II, Mr. Creighton had witnessed a soldier killed by exploding fumes while welding and repairing a gas tank. That incident led him to seek “a faster and safer way to repair gasoline tanks or trucks and jeeps punctured by bullets,” he told the Globe in 1961.
Mr. Creighton, who also was a cofounder and guiding force for what is now the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust, was 100 when he died Sept. 17 in his Manchester-by-the-Sea home.
“Dad would always be thinking about new products or ways to solve a particular problem,” said his son Albert III, who is known as Mory and lives in Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Along with the company’s plant, the underbody of the family station wagon also served as a testing place for Mr. Creighton’s chemical formulations.
“When the car went up on the lift, you could see various colored samples of different epoxies and wear-resistant coatings being informally tested,” Mory recalled.
Still sold today, Devcon’s plastic steel is advertised as a general purpose epoxy to fill holes and repair cracks, and it also can be used on all types of metals.
In 1959, Popular Mechanics magazine noted that “out on the range, cowpokes for several years have used plastic steel to patch holes in water storage tanks.” The magazine reported that Mr. Creighton had received more than 500 letters from people “who have successfully repaired cracked engine blocks with his epoxy product.”
Mr. Creighton, who sold his company in 1979, told the Globe in 1961 that his product had repaired sabotaged oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia, a Buckingham Palace lawn mower, and a broken tractor in Turkey.
One day, he answered a call from a man in Kentucky who wanted to know if plastic steel could repair a tank. When Mr. Creighton asked what kind, the caller replied: “It isn’t really a tank. It’s a still. And it’s been shot full of holes.” The plastic steel put the customer back in the moonshine business, Mr. Creighton told the Globe.
In Danvers, the company’s employees were “like an extended family,” said Mory, who worked at his father’s plant for two summers in the 1970s. “A walk through the production area or the office could take a while as we would stop and talk with the women working on the line or chat with people in shipping as they prepared pallets heading off to faraway places.”
Mr. Creighton enjoyed spending time at the vacation home he built in the early 1960s on Vinalhaven, an island off the Maine coast. With his family, he hiked around the island and explored the site of the Bodwell Granite Co., which dated to the 1800s.
An avid collector of old millstones and antique hand tools, Mr. Creighton was instrumental in starting Vinalhaven’s local land trust.
“My father was very much interested in history,” Mory recalled. “He combined an appreciation for the past with a forward-looking approach that led to his work with epoxies and looking at land conservation before it really became an established practice.”
In 1963, Mr. Creighton cofounded the Manchester Conservation Trust with Frances Burnett and George Loring. Now called the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust, it owns and protects land in those communities.
“Route 128 was coming along and more and more was being developed in that area, and we were afraid some of these places would be destroyed,” Mr. Creighton told the Globe in 2013. “We didn’t like that idea.”
Mr. Creighton, who also enjoyed duck hunting, canoeing, and traveling, was a board member of The Trustees of Reservations, the Essex County Greenbelt Association, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
“Al’s knowledge, patience, and great sense of humor were instrumental in building our conservation community,” former Greenbelt association president Ed Becker said. “He was a mentor to me and so many others.”
Albert Morton Creighton Jr. grew up in Boston and Swampscott, and was a son of Albert M. Creighton and the former Margaret Abbott. His father, who ran a shoe manufacturing business in Lynn, had chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and was a corporator of Northeastern University.
Mr. Creighton graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., in 1937 and from Harvard College in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
At age 19, he was invited to join a Smithsonian Institution expedition to map out areas of British Columbia, where he explored rugged mountain territory.
“He talked about this experience often,” said his son Peter of Manchester-by-the-Sea. “It was instrumental in furthering his love of the outdoors and for the protection of unspoiled areas.”
During World War II, Mr. Creighton ran the state offices of the War Production Board in Maine and Vermont before volunteering to serve in China with the US Office of Strategic Services.
After returning home, he wrote a letter to the DuPont Co. asking what it did with products upon which development had ceased. The company arranged for the delivery of some 30 processes — on the condition that he continued serving the clientele already using them. That enabled Mr. Creighton and his fledgling business to invest the money from sales in its research.
“The business is interesting, creative, and rewarding in many ways,” Mr. Creighton wrote in 1966, for the 25th anniversary report of his Harvard class. “In fact, I have been somewhat of a crusader for small business and believe that there is, and must always be, a place in our country for small enterprises.”
His many affiliations included supporting the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem and the Boys and Girls Club of Lynn; serving on the Manchester-by-the-Sea Finance Committee; and memberships at the Essex County Club, the Singing Beach Club, and Manchester Yacht Club.
In 2011, Greenbelt established the Al Creighton Conservation Award, and in 2015, Mr. Creighton was presented with an Essex Heritage Hero Award.
Mr. Creighton’s first marriage, to Margaret Powers, ended in divorce. She now lives in Northampton.
In 1961, he married Hilary Holcomb. Their children are Mory and Peter.
A service has been held for Mr. Creighton, who in addition to Hilary, Mory, Peter, and Margaret leaves two children from his first marriage, Sarah of Northampton and William of Freeport, Maine; and seven grandchildren.
“The times, his temperament, and an overwhelmingly Protestant work ethic combined to create an uncommon spirit and a colorful life,” Peter said.
Mory recalled that his father “often repeated his motto ‘I shall find a way, or I shall create one,’ and he lived by these words.”