Tag Archives: Labor History

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt: Billy Richards, ‘the Armless Wonder’


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While researching a pair of books on North Country iron mining, I unexpectedly became privy to tragedies that many families faced. Mining accidents were frequent and involved excessive violence, often resulting in death. Victims were sometimes pancaked — literally — by rock falls, and their remains were recovered with scraping tools. Others were blown to pieces by dynamite explosions, usually as the result of, in mining parlance, “hitting a missed hole.”

The “missed hole” nomenclature refers to unexploded dynamite charges accidentally detonated later by another miner when his drill made contact with the material or caused a spark. The resulting blast was often fatal, but not always. Those who survived were usually blinded, burned badly, or maimed in some fashion.

In 1878, in Crown Point’s iron mines at Hammondville, near Lake Champlain, a young laborer, Billy Richards, was tasked with holding a star drill (basically a hand-held chisel with a star point) against the ore face while his partner — his step-father, Richard George — struck it with a sledge hammer. Through this commonly used teamwork method, a cadence developed whereby the star drill was struck and the holder then turned it slightly before it was struck again. Continue reading

Robert Moses’ Least Controversial Triumph


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robert mosesThe many controversies that surrounded Robert Moses during his long career as New York’s “Master Builder” were sharpened by his long battle with Jane Jacobs and by Robert Caro’s 1974 biography, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974).

But his least contentious achievements are also the most unknown: the construction of the New York Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants along the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers. Continue reading

Buffalo’s Dug’s Dive Riot of 1863


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dugs-dive-buffaloNot much has been written about this civil disturbance that occurred on the afternoon of August 12, 1862 when Irish and German stevedores protested against local dock bosses, demanding increased pay for their work, and preventing others from working however when police responded the rioters overpowered them and Chief Dullard and other members of the force injured.

Ultimately the police regained control of the situation with gunfire wounding two rioters and arresting the ring leaders. Continue reading

The Devil’s Kitchen: Warren County’s Nightmare for Drivers


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devilskitchenThe colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.

But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack site—which today exists in name only. Continue reading

NYC Lecture Series Begins With ‘East River’ Thursday


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east river mapThe Roosevelt Island Historical Society begins its Fall Lecture Series with a presentation on the commercial and cultural significance of the river and channel that surround Roosevelt Island and separate Manhattan and Queens.

Bob Singleton, Executive Director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, will cover the East River from Governors Island to Fort Totten in a lecture at the New York Public Library Branch on Roosevelt Island, on Thursday, September 8, 2016, at 6:30 pm. Continue reading

Revolutionary War Army Trades Weekend at Saratoga Battlefield


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ArtificersThe Saratoga National Historical Park (Saratoga Battlefield) will show Revolutionary War army trades at work, on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, from 10 am to 4 pm.

Armies had a lot more to do than fight in the Revolutionary War. They employed and contracted with a variety of professional tradesmen and women who worked to provide and repair supplies needed by the troops. Blacksmiths made and repaired ironwork; Tailors sewed and fixed clothing; Woodworkers built and fixed wheels and artillery carriages; Tinsmiths made artillery cartridge casings; and Cordwainers made shoes for the troops. Continue reading

Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire


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The figure of death on the Asch BuildingIn his short novel, Washington Square, Henry James wrote about New York women of the Gilded Age; elegant ladies who strolled the sidewalks of the city’s shopping district, Ladies’ Mile.

These New York women admired window displays of shirtwaists, an elegant button-down blouse with rows of tiny and elaborate tucks. The shirtwaist was favored by New York women as a symbol of chic modernity. But the silhouette of fashionable ladies came at a price paid by their downtrodden sisters, immigrant women living in the city’s tenements. These newest New York women worked long hours for low wages in the city’s notorious sweatshops. Continue reading

A NY Woman Who Belongs On The $20 Bill


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800px-Frances_Perkins_cph.3a04983Recently the Treasury Department has announced its intent to place a prominent woman of historical importance on the U.S. currency. There is no one who is more deserving of this honor than Frances Perkins, a New York woman, who was probably the most significant and important female government official of the 20th century.

As Secretary of Labor throughout President Franklin Roosevelt’s four terms and the first woman ever to hold a cabinet position, Frances Perkins designed most of the New Deal Social Welfare and Labor Policies, such as social security, the minimum wage, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and protections for unions, and reshaped America. Continue reading