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Snapshots of Rochester’s Labor Days

September 2nd, 2012

Six unidentified female railroad workers pose at Lincoln Park Station. The railroad line is the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railway Company. In 1917-1918, many jobs traditionally held by men were filled by women, while the men served in the Armed Services in World War I. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
“I believe when we’re born into this world we’re entrusted with certain things. Our grandparents trust that we’ll work hard to keep and maintain the world that they’ve broken themselves to build. And our children need us to preserve it, and leave it a little bit better than how we inherited it. Preservation is often difficult. But in many ways it’s all we have to keep us grounded; as a society and as people. Future generations need to know what came before them. What was it that made this city great? Who designed and built this place? Who worked here and why? If we destroy the evidence, we cut our children off from the answers forever; and impede our own ability to progress.”

These are words I live by. They’re also the reason I keep this web site. While my family and I are enjoying this sunny Labor Day weekend on the shores of Lake Ontario, I’ll take pause to think about why we have it so damn good in this time and place. For me, the answer can be found in the portraits that follow. These are some of the men, woman, and even children who labored to make the way of life we enjoy today…

Hanna's Dryhouse workers, Hilton, N.Y. c.1890. [PHOTO: Hilton Municipal Historian Collection]
A group of employees posed outside Hanna’s Dryhouse. Also known as the Red Dryhouse, this fruit processing plant used for drying apples was located just north of Hilton’s village limits on North Avenue at Dunbar Road. It was managed by John Hanna.

Kodak workers in a developing studio in England. c.1900. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
A sunlit developing studio in a Kodak factory in England. These women workers are probably using solio paper, a gelatin paper that was printed on by placing the negative and paper in the sun. This process was used by Kodak from 1895 to 1905.

Blacksmiths at Merchants' Despatch Transportation Co. c.1904. [PHOTO: U.S. Library of Congress & Shorpy.com]
Blacksmiths at Merchants’ Despatch Transportation Co. (c.1904). Operations of the refrigerated rail freight line in what is now East Rochester. The Merchants Despatch Transportation Company was formed in by American Express and had offices in Rochester and moved to a newly constructed plant in a town created for it called Despatch in 1887; Despatch was incorporated in 1897 and later became East Rochester. The massive plant along the New York Central Railroad lines were the reason for the town’s existence. MDT hired 900 workers and embarked on an aggressive car building program. The East Rochester plant would grow in time to encompass some 64 acres (with an adjacent rail yard of equal size), and would produce on the order of 36 cars per day. The installation became the main car plant within the New York Central system. The car shop was closed down in 1970.

Egypt Canning Co. c.1904-1917. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Employees of the Egypt Canning Co. preparing produce to be canned. Note the various ages of the workers, some of whom are using burlap sacks as aprons. Both men and women were employed at the Egypt plant.

Unidentified factory workers. c.1910. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Three unidentified workers stand in front of the doors of their Rochester factory building. Two wear the rounded, stiff collar typical of the period from 1900-1920.

Mail sorters around holiday time. c.1910. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Men stand at long tables. Tall cabinets with pigeonholes for sorting mail top each table. The men are sorting outgoing Christmas postcards. All available counter space is filled with bundles and baskets of items to be sorted. The mail volume is heavy for Christmas and New Year’s, and some of the workers hope for an end to the fad for sending postcards at the holidays.

Workers constructing a conduit for Rochester's water supply system. 1913. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Lines of workers pose in and above a deep trench holding a conduit for the Rochester water supply system. Some workers are holding shovels. The scene is open country.

Bert Bitting and Jerry Kellerer, steam shovel operators working on deeping the Genesee River. c.1916. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Bert Bitting and Jerry Kellerer, steam shovel operators, pose in their work overalls and hard hats. Their machine takes chunks out of the Genesee River bed as part of the river deepening project. The newspaper article claims that they “operate the big scoop as delicately as a man at table does his spoon”.

Blind broom makers at the Rochester Association for the Blind on Main Street at Gibbs Street. c.1916. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Three blind men make brooms at the Rochester Association for the Blind on Main Street at Gibbs Street. The men work at three different machines: one forms the bundles of straw, one ties the bundles into broom shapes, and the third attaches the broom handles.

Possibly the interior of Adler Bros. or Michael-Stern clothing factory. c.1918. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
A view of the interior of an unknown clothing factory, showing workers seated at long tables. Anthony Marchese, a foreman, is standing near a pillar. Prob. 1918, possibly Adler Bros. or Michael-Stern.

Native American ironworkers work on the construction of the Eastman School. c.1920. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
These Native American ironworkers work on the construction of the Eastman School. From left to right: Paul Johnson, known as Na-ka-ra-ke-te; John Brightsky, known as Tioroniate (Bright Sky); John Williams, known as Caletsaronscre.

A blind young woman works at a typewriter in a factory on Saint Paul Street. c.1920. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
A blind young woman works at a typewriter in a factory on Saint Paul Street that is run by the Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind. At the right, a man works with sheets of thick paper, possibly Braille.

The Garment Workers Strike of 1913. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection] [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
In 1913 garment workers, largely comprised of women and children, went on strike for better working conditions, an eight hour work day, more pay for over-time, time off for holidays and Union recognition in textile shops. Many Unions in Rochester supported this strike because the influx of immigrants working in sweatshops threatened union jobs. At the time of this strike Italian and Polish tailors and seamstresses were finding non-union jobs in Rochester and the local textile manufacturers were sub-contracting to these cheaper non-union shops.

Garment workers strike of 1913. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
In the end, after eight weeks of striking, both the Union and the Clothiers Exchange agreed on: abolition of sub-contractors, a 52 hour work week, time-and-a-half for overtime, no work on five legal holidays, no discrimination for strike activity or Union membership and no union recognition, but, the Clothiers Exchange agreed to meet with a shop committee when there were problems.

Womans Union Label League Local 24 makes its way down Main Street East in the 1917 Rochester Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
A truck packed with women union members from the Womans Union Label League Local 24 makes its way down Main Street East during Rochester’s 1917 Labor Day Parade.

Brewery Union members holding American flags march down Main Street East in the 1919 Rochester Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Brewery Union members holding American flags march down Main Street East in the 1919 Rochester Labor Day Parade.

A team of horses pull a float for the Boot and Shoe Workers Union down East Main Street in the 1921 Rochester Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
A team of horses pull a float for the Boot and Shoe Workers Union down East Main Street in the 1921 Rochester Labor Day Parade.

A man and his horse on East Main Street during Rochester's 1910 Labor Day Parade. His  banner reads, 'I am a strike breaker.' [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
In the middle of a Labor Day Parade filled with many local unions, one man leads his horse down East Main Street wearing a banner that reads, “I am a strike breaker.” Probably not a popular guy on this day, but strikebreakers were (and still are) widely used by businesses desperate to keep operations running during a strike.

A banner advertises Rochester's annual Industrial Exposition during the 1910 Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
A banner advertises Rochester’s annual Industrial Exposition during the 1910 Labor Day Parade.

Crowds line Main Street near Four Corners to watch the 1917 Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Crowds line Main Street near Four Corners to watch the 1917 Labor Day Parade.

Members of the Silver Platers and Metal Polishers Union carry a large flag in Rochester's 1918 Labor Day Parade. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Members of the Silver Platers and Metal Polishers Union carry a large flag in Rochester’s 1918 Labor Day Parade. A poster depicting Uncle Sam can be seen to the rear of the marchers.

If you’re a worker, thank you. If you’re enjoying this long holiday weekend, give thanks to the people who worked before you. And if you enjoyed these snapshots, thank the Rochester Public Library external link and the U.S. Library of Congress external link for preserving our past.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, September 2nd, 2012 at 9:25 am and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Responses to “Snapshots of Rochester’s Labor Days”

  1. Patrick Eagan says:

    As usual a great collection of old Rochester photos. Happy Labor Day!

  2. Thanks Patrick! You too!

  3. arthur says:

    The sign reading “I am a strike breaker” appears to be on a donkey or a “jack ass”. That may be the message they is being conveyed, you are a jack ass if you are a strike breaker.

  4. @Arthur, I think you are correct sir… and I just may be the jackass for not recognizing the difference between a horse and donkey! Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Jim Fraser says:

    Mike, I think you have captured the very essence of the Labor Day holiday in these images from its early years.

    I’d like to address the passage about preservation that begins your post. And it’s appropriate to think about the worth of great places on this day, since their existence owes much to the efforts of capital and labor, working well together.

    As a long-time advocate for preservation in Rochester, I am greatly encouraged by what I see developing here recently. Interested individuals and organizations are working together in ways that are new and exciting.

    To be effective, I think we need to focus in three areas. We need to organize, find our voice and make that voice heard. We need to instill a preservation mindset.

    We need to counter the image as obstructionists by becoming proactive. Taking the initiative in saving great places assumes we can first find, then prioritize the most worthy places, and finally to develop all the connections needed to implement.

    And thirdly, we need to reach out to others in the community who don’t identify as preservationists, by linking great places to the uses, behaviors and solutions to problems they care about. There are strong, natural allies here.

    Thank you for once again making us proud of our city’s great legacy of workmanship. A paycheck is great, but the greatest work comes with a belief in a better tommorrow. One way to sustain that belief is to maintain great places, not as monuments to the past alone, nor as merely useful to the fleeting present, but also to offer them as standards – to inspire the energies of generations yet unborn.

  6. John J says:

    I know I’m coming in late, but here’s a picture of Rochester’s firemen at a fire on Oak St from the 1920’s from Albert R. Stone’s collection. I think it’s a great picture because except for some clothing changes thanks to modern materials, this image hasn’t changed much since the 1920’s.

    http://photo.libraryweb.org/rochimag/rmsc/scm13/scm13306.jpg


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