Remarks and Suggestions by Individual Mechanics Relating to Apprenticeships, Employment of Boys in Shops and Factories, State of Trade, and Conditions in General of the Wage-Workers. 1884
From a Carpenter,
As regards apprentices, they are unknown in this city. A boy cannot be got into any place to learn a trade. The mechanics that we have now-a-days have not served an apprenticeship. A mechanic hires a laborer to help him do his work. For instance, a molder needs a helper to mold a horse-power wheel, or a mower wheel; or a blacksmith needs a striker. These helpers and strikers are kept at the same kind of work year in and year out, till they become more or less skilled in that one thing, and then they are journeymen, cheap journeymen. So with carpenters. The foreman has a laborer that he can use on a bench to take off the corners of rails, posts, etc., with a jack plane, and after a while he can plane off a smooth surface. Then he is a mechanic, ready to take the place of the man that has served an apprenticeship, though, in fact, he has no practical knowledge of the trade whatever.
From a Carpenter.
The past summer has been the dullest I ever saw. I have not worked four-fifths the time. I charge a great deal of this to the piece-work system. It would benefit the working classes wonderfully if that system could be abolished in this country.
From a Wood-Worker.
The financial condition of the laborers of this place is not very good. Our shops (agricultural) have been idle for nearly four months, and consequently workmen are out of money. Other shops are running on short time. If work does not improve before spring I think there will be a great deal of suffering, and the prospects for; an improvement are not very good. The social and educational condition of the laboring class of this town is good. We have excellent schools, and they are well attended by all classes of our people.
From a Machinist.
There is no such thing as apprentices serving a regular time in our shops. Boys are hired as helpers, and in course of time, say from six to twelve months, they are put on a lathe, or a drill, or a bolt-machine, and there they remain, occasionally getting an odd job on the vise or floor. In that way they must, stay about four or five years before they get courage enough to go elsewhere; but on that one machine they do the work of journeymen, and receive from $1.90 to $2.00 per day, after staying three years. A machinist would not run the same machine for less than $2.25 per day, and very few good ones for that.
From another Machinist.
In the shop in which I am employed the work is mostly done by the piece, and on a good deal of it skilled workmen are not required. A man fresh from the farm will, in many cases, make more money than men who have served three years to learn the trade. It seems to me that it hardly pays a man, with very few exceptions, to spend three or four years in learning a trade.
From a Car-builder.
I notice the fact that a great many boys and girls are now being put into factories, work-shops, stores, and other places, as soon as they are capable of earning anything, and, consequently, their education is very limited. This evil is growing very rapidly. The laboring men of this city, and especially those receiving the lowest rates of wages, have to use the greatest economy to enable them to meet all their wants. This I know from personal knowledge.
From a Stone-mason.
As to apprentices, I wish to state that I worked three years before I was able to receive journeymen’s wages; but now if a man or boy works one season he calls himself a mason, and starts out as a journeyman. This makes it hard for us to keep up wages, as they will work cheaper than we are willing; but they soon play out, as they are unable to do cut work. They soon drift away to some other business.
From a Machinery Blacksmith.
There are in the machinery business a great many men employed as laborers, who work at the business and pick up the trade, working a while in one shop and then in another, claiming that they are mechanics. This class of men is a serious injury to regular workmen. They will work cheaper, and though they are unable to do as good work, they keep those who have served a regular apprenticeship out of work. If all had to serve three years at the trade it would be a great deal better.
From a Mill-Wright.
I do not think we have ever had in this shop a regularly indentured apprentice. We have had six or eight boys over sixteen years of age to start in the business, but not one of them became a good workman. They commence at $4.50 per week, and after six months get $6.00. Some have remained as long as two years, and received $7.00 per week; but this is about as high as they ever get. We have had two or three young men start in as laborers, who have made very fair workmen.
From a Glass-blower.
As a general rule blowers make money, but spend it freely. Most all have good homes. All are limited in education. I began work in a glass house when I was only eleven years old, and am now fifty-three. Never went to school, all told, one year. I spent my money in getting a home and educating my children, three of whom are now school teachers. As a rule, low wages are paid all other hands about a factory. Glass-blowing, at one time, was an art, but is far from being such at present. There has been quite a change in the manner of working. There are boys in the factories now fourteen years of age, that are unable to read or tell the time of day. This, certainly, is all wrong, and yet we cannot do without boys to help, unless we substitute men.
From a Wood-carver.
As I stated in my report last summer, I had to leave my place, because the proprietors hired an emigrant from Germany at $9.00 per week; but when they commenced working but nine hours, he was reduced to $8.10, and he left. I was again employed, with the promise that I should have all the work of the establishment, at thirty cents per hour, and as soon as possible to have steady work. I had, in the first three months of this year, only about six weeks’ work. As soon as there was more work, and the proprietors had a chance to get another green fellow, they hired him at $8.00 per week. So I was out again. This so discouraged me that I thought of quitting the trade, but in September I was engaged where I am now employed at $2.75 per day. In most factories wages have lately been reduced from ten to twelve and a half per cent. I think the eight-hour system ought to be established and enforced; but I believe the workingmen ought to be satisfied with eight hours’ pay in order to get it established, for when once established it would no doubt materially better their condition.
From a Printer.
I cannot say that our trade is keeping pace with other trades, either as to wages received or the intelligence of its members. It has been looked upon by a large portion of the community as occupying a position in the world of labor considerably in advance of all other mechanical pursuits. This belief was founded to some extent upon the nature of the business; and there was a time when it was true. It used to be the invariable custom of an employer, before taking an apprentice, to inquire into his mental capacity and his educational qualifications. But it is not so now, nor has it been for a number of years.
It is no uncommon thing to find a boy endeavoring to become a printer who can barely read. They commence in some other capacity about the office, as errand boy, or in some minor position in the press room, and from these places they work themselves into the composition-room. The trade is now full of such type-setters (they are not printers), and the blame rests entirely with the proprietors. The Union has done almost everything it could to check this evil, but without the co-operation of employers nothing effective in this direction can be accomplished.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty the trade labors under is the swarm of men turned out from country offices calling themselves journeymen. As a rule (there are some exceptions), they know nothing of the art of printing but the simplest rudiments of newspaper type-setting. While all the accessories of fine printing inks, types, paper, presses, etc., have been so greatly improved, the craft itself, I honestly believe, has retrograded.
From a Saw-maker.
A great many mechanics in this city have been out of employment part of the time the past year, and some have had their pay reduced. Owing to reductions and short time, many have been forced to take their children out of school and put them at work.
From a Cooper.
Our trade is composed of several branches, two of which are tight work, such as pork barrels, molasses barrels, wine and beer kegs, cider barrels, etc., and the other is slack work, such as flour barrels, lime, apple, cracker, potatoe barrels, etc. The trouble is, boys from sixteen to twenty years will go into some country shop with a friend, and in six or eight weeks will learn to make lime and apple barrels, and then they will start out as slack barrel coopers. As our staves and headings are prepared by machinery this is easily accomplished. Then, after a year or so, the handiest of them, by a little practice, can make tight work. Working in this way, an apprentice gets his trade in six or eight weeks. After that he is paid by the piece, and makes what he can at any branch of the trade.
From a Car Painter.
There are a good many men employed in the different departments of the carworks in which I am engaged that are not skilled workmen, and that have not served any apprenticeship, but who, nevertheless, manage to do considerable work, but at lower wages than is received by the skilled artisan who regularly learned his trade. This is a great evil, and is constantly becoming worse.
From a Ship Carpenter.
The educational condition of the workingmen of this place is comparatively good, but their financial condition is anything but good. My trade is so bad that I do not seek employment at it. Those who do work at it do not average over one dollar per day.
From an Iron Worker.
I find that with my wages I can but keep even, and to do that I have to exercise the greatest economy. As a general rule, my fellow-laborers have but little time to devote to education. Ten hours’ weary plodding at the bench or lathe does not leave them in a condition for mental improvement. Tired nature seeks rest; and the weary mechanic, after his day’s toil, feels more like seeking rest for his over-taxed physical system than improving his mind. If any one wishes to observe this for himself, let him notice the mechanic as he passes to and from his work, and then say whether you think him in a fit condition to ponder over text-books. By all means let us reduce the hours of labor, and by that means elevate and dignify labor and make the worthy mechanic nobler and truer to a genuine manhood.
From a Compositor.
This city is troubled to a great extent with the curse of child-labor. By this I mean the working of children under fourteen years of age. On my way to work in the early morning, and on my way home in the evening, I pass numbers of children who should be in school, wending their way to or from some shop or factory. On inquiry I find that they are mostly employed either at cigar-making, or at what is known here as the “box factory”. I notice some of them of the age of ten or twelve years, who have more the appearance of old men and women, than of the sprightliness and elasticity of youth. Their constitutions seem to be broken down by the constant and arduous strain imposed upon them. I think some means should be devised to put an end to such a traffic in human flesh, and thereby preserve to the rising generation somewhat of the constitutions with which their Creator endowed them.
From a Carriage Wood-worker.
I am now out of employment, The firm for which I have worked for more than seventeen years, have, since the election, let off half their men, caused by the extreme dullness of trade and the inability to collect outstanding bills. We shall undoubtedly be out till spring. This has been a remarkable dull year with us. I have lost more time than I have in any one year since I went to my trade in 1864. The late exciting political campaign had a most depressing effect on our business in this vicinity. None of the neighboring shops seem to be doing anything. The outlook is indeed very gloomy, and God only knows what will become of the men who are out. Rents and the cost of the necessaries of life are high, and wages low for the few who have work. A large number are out of work, with nothing to live on. If the infernal tariff tinkers and politicians could only stand where we do, and live as we have to, and our law-makers would limit foreign immigration, we would fare better.
From a Window-glass Blower.
I would suggest that there should be reading-rooms established for the young men of the towns. They would be of great benefit to workingmen especially, as there is no place at which they can pass their idle time, except in saloons and at their boarding houses. We build costly public school houses, and turn out a large proportion of the pupils to our mills, shops, and factories, with no place in which to profitably pass the time when out of work.
From a Tailor.
The contract tenement system has rendered our trade the most degraded and lowest in existence. Work is taken home and made in kitchens and every conceivable hole, exposed to small-pox, itch, and every other contagious disease. I could mention cases where work has been made in a room where persons were sick in bed, and which was at the same time used for cooking and washing, and not exceeding in size 14 by 16 feet. There are many just such cases. This is caused by the men having to furnish their own workshops.
From a Wood-carver.
I have been working at the trade for eighteen years, but I have never known it to be so dull as it is at present. I believe I have lost fully twenty weeks this year, and there is no prospect of any improvement for some time to come. In. the shop in which I work we had, two and three years ago, forty to fifty-five carvers; now we have only sixteen, and they do not have work to exceed two-fifths of the time. And so it is in each of the other five branches of the trade. As far as, education, among the carvers is concerned, I believe it to be fair. I have never known a carver who could not read and write.
From a Wood-worker.
It is hardly worth while to say or write any thing as times are at present. Not one-fourth of our regular force is employed at this time. We have to do the best we can. Those of us who have saved something from our days of comparative prosperity are fortunate indeed, and those who have not are to be pitied. It is the talk in our factory that the owners are going to close it up altogether and remove to Louisville, Ky., on account of the scarcity of hickory-wood in this section of the State.
From a Saw-maker.
The men in our trade are not, as a rule, very well educated. No children are employed in this factory. The social standing of the men is respectable. The proprietors use all the power they possess to make each hand as good as his capacity permits. They are shown the evils of intoxication, and are employed on the express condition that they abstain from the use of intoxicants.
From a Machinist.
Since I commenced working in this establishment, up to November 1st, the hands have received three to five dollars weekly, and the most of us, as far as I can learn, are still waiting for the balance due us. The milling men now claim they must cut their men down from one dollar and a half to one dollar per day, owing to the unfavorable business outlook. If this occurs, and wages are cut down at that rate, and the shops and mills do not run more than seven to nine months in a year, what can the harvest be with the working class of men? They are unable to keep clear of debt now. If it were not for the work I do outside the shop, I could not make my expenses. My experience is that also of my shopmates. There are children out of school that would not be if their parents were able to get them decent clothing. They cannot, with their present meagre income, both clothe and feed their children. How long shall this condition of things continue?
Executive Documents – Annual Reports for 1884
Made to the 66th General Assembly of the State of Ohio
at the Adjourned Session, Commencing January 6, 1885
See Also Part 2.