“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…
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.
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). 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and the U.S. Library of Congress for preserving our past.
Tags: Adler Bros., Bert Bitting, Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad, East Rochester, Eastman Kodak, Egypt Canning Co., Egypt NY, factory workers, Four Corners, Garment Workers Strike, Hanna's Dryhouse, Hilton NY, history of Rochester, Jerry Kellerer, Kodak, Labor Day, Main Street Four Corners, Merchants' Despatch Transportation Co., Michael Stern Building, old photos, old photos of Rochester, Rochester, Rochester Association of Workers for the Blind, Rochester Brewery Union Members, Rochester history, Rochester Industrial Exposition, Rochester Labor Day Parade, Rochester NY, Rochester Shoe Workers Union, Rochester water supply system, Silver Platers and Metal Polishers Union, strikebreaker, Womans Union Label League
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