James Maier, an East Northport machinist whose Space Machine Corp. supplied precision parts to the defense and space industries for decades, died Tuesday at Northport VA Medical Center. He was 87.

The cause was cancer, said his son, Thomas Maier, a Newsday reporter.

James and his three partners joined a Long Island constellation of hundreds of subcontractors that sprung up around industry giants like Grumman Aerospace and Fairchild Republic after World War II.

“All of these little companies on Long Island were feeding into them,” Josh Stoff, curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum said. Some, like Space Machine, had fewer than a dozen employees, but together they created thousands of middle class jobs for skilled laborers, he said.

The partners started Space Machine — the name was intended to evoke the excitement of the space age at its peak — in 1968 in a small shop on Post Avenue in Westbury. They moved in 1970 to a larger space in a Syosset industrial park off Robbins Lane.

The company’s niche was molybdenum, a light, hard silvery metal used in aerospace components because of its ability to withstand extreme heat. Under a pneumatic roar, workers at the company’s lathes churned out pieces no bigger than a thumb tip.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The firm’s contracts, for companies including Raytheon and what is now L-3 Narda-MITEQ, of Hauppauge, sometimes required security clearance from the federal government.

There was little room for error in the product, which demanded engineering tolerances to a thousandth of an inch, or in the firm’s business model when it started, Thomas Maier said.

“They were flying by the seat of their pants,” he said, recalling his father’s six-day workweeks. “There wasn’t a lot of seed money.”

James Paul Maier was born December 10, 1928 in downtown Brooklyn to John and Mary Maier, who together ran an exterminating business. He was one of six children.

He graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in Cypress Hills and did coursework at Pratt Institute. He enlisted in the Army in 1948, serving in Germany and France before returning to the U.S. in 1952.

James Maier married the former Dorothy Berry in 1955. The couple lived in Richmond Hill, Queens before moving to a Cape Cod house built on an old potato field in East Northport in 1962.

There James Maier achieved something close to the suburban idyll, his son said: assistant scoutmaster of Troop 269, baseball coach in the Larkfield Little League, second baseman on a softball team of neighborhood dads whose Sunday afternoon games were sometimes fueled by a keg of beer.

He also helped raise money for four area Catholic high schools in the 1960s, including the former Holy Family Diocesan High School, now St. Anthony’s High School, in South Huntington. Three of his children attended high school there.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Maier is survived by his wife, Dorothy; three sons, Thomas, James P. Jr. and William, all of East Northport; two daughters, Diane Sadenwater of Smithtown and Nancy Macari of Nesconset; two brothers, John of Commack and Gerard of Boynton Beach, Fla; and a sister, Patricia of Boynton Beach, Florida.

Visiting is at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home, 5 Laurel Avenue in Northport, Saturday 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A funeral mass will be held Monday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 20 Cheshire Place in East Northport.

Burial will follow at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.