Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

CHILD LABOR AT THE ALBION MALLEABLE IRON COMPANY

Morning Star, September 7, 2003, pg. 6

September and October are busy months for yours truly. Be sure and visit me at my Albion history booth in front of Citizens Bank at the Festival of the Forks on Saturday, September 20. I’ll have my history books available, and will be accepting donations of old Albion photographs, city directories and other Albion “stuff.” I’ll also be at the Homer Blair Farm Festival the following Saturday. Then on Sunday, October 5 at 1:30 p.m. is my annual Riverside Cemetery Tour which has an unusual theme this year. More on this later. Mark your calendars and make plans to attend these events. A reminder to all our readers, that my articles and photographs are placed on the www.albionmich.com web site. Let your friends and relatives across the country know about this site.

As we approach the Festival of the Forks and recall its original purpose of celebrating Albion’s ethnic diversity, we are reminded of the major influence that the Albion Malleable Iron Company had in bringing all sorts of people to town. Along with the men who were recruited to work at the Malleable, came their wives and children. Finances were tight, and families struggled to make a living to feed and clothe themselves and adapt to the American way of life.

This week’s topic is unusual, but true. Back a hundred years ago our laws were different in this country concerning the use of underage workers. Using child laborers was a common practice, and that occurred here in Albion’s factories, including at the Malleable. Often boys as young as 10 years old were “hired” part-time to assist the molders in their work. I put the word “hired” in quotation marks because technically, the boys were employed by the molders and paid by them, not by the company. Work was paid piece-rate, and an adult molder could make more money by having a juvenile assistant helping him with his work.

Here is how it worked. The molding process began early in the morning, when black sand molds would be made. The boys would help a designated molder carry the heavy 50-60 lb. sand molds on the floor, as well as keep the sand shoveled by the machinery.

The boys would also be utilized in the core room. “Cutting sand” was the job description of properly mixing the beach sand, a filler such as corn meal, and a binder substance into the right consistency so that mold cores could be made, ready to be baked. Back around 1902, the boys were paid 5¢ an hour for this type of work.

When their work was done, the boys would then go to school for the rest of the day, or at least they were supposed to go. Some just skipped classes and lost credit hours. As a result, numerous boys in Albion ended up graduating (if not at all) from Albion High School a year later than they would have because they worked part-time at the Malleable. Some boys just quit school after the 8th grade and went to work full time at the Malleable where they already had experience. I’ve heard of one instance of a boy being hired directly by the company during the 1930s full time at the age of 14.

The “youngest record” I guess is the late Paul Sawchuk (1905-1991) who was hired at the Malleable at the age of 10 (yes, that’s ten years old) in 1915! After he had worked for two years, new child labor laws kicked in when he was 12. Apparently 14 years old became the minimum working age in 1917. Because of that Paul had to be “let go” for two years until he turned 14 in March, 1919, at which time he was re-hired. Paul subsequently ended up working at the Malleable continuously until 1970--a total of 50 years, 9 months (plus the 2 other years starting at age 10)! Yes, I know that the late Julius Nass (1872-1952) worked 54 years from 1890 to 1944, but he didn’t start until he was 18 years old.

Back to our story. In the afternoon just before the iron was poured into the molds, weights averaging 50 pounds each were placed on top of each sand mold so they wouldn’t fall apart during the process. There were only so many weights to go around, and so the weights had to be shifted from the top of one mold to another as needed. The boys were utilized to be weight shifters. By 1940 the weight shifters received a piece-rate of 10¢ for each weight they shifted. Some high school age boys went to work at the Malleable as soon as school let out for the day, and worked until midnight. They could also help the molder carry the heavy molds, and could make as much as $1 a night in 1937.

As alluded to in the Sawchuk example, when the new child labor laws were instituted in 1917, only those who had reached the age of 14 could be hired. The policy of boys working part-time directly for the molders was continued however, until around World War II when additional child labor laws were instituted, and automation began at the plant. Thus ended the “unofficial” part-time employment of underage boys at the Albion Malleable Iron Company. Anyone working at the plant after that, even part-time, was hired directly by the company.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a strange photograph of young boy workers standing in front of the Malleable core room, with the designated molders standing in the back. Some of them look like they aren’t much more than 12 years old! We think this photo was taken around 1908.

Only two persons have been identified so far. To the right of center back row under the rectangular sign is Emil F. Holtz (1886-1954), who began work in the core room at the Malleable in 1898 at the age of 12! He worked his way “up the ladder” and served as a foreman for 15 years, and as plant superintendent during World War II. He retired in 1945 after 47 years there, and later became plant superintendent at the Gale Manufacturing Company down the street, and president of Homestead Savings and Loan Association.

On the right under the number “13” painted on the brick is a man with a derby hat and tank-top. Below him is a young man with curls in his hair and a pipe in his mouth. The latter is Emil W. Holtz (1887-1959). Emil started working as a core maker at the Malleable at the age of 15 in 1902, and was employed as such for 30 years! His daughter Marjorie Benward recently found this photo for us with the assistance of her son Larry Ketchum. Can any of our readers recognize anyone else in this photo?


The Malleable Core Room child workers, circa 1908

Next: A RUSSIAN FUNERAL


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