Philadelphia Information Locator Service
From the Newsletter of the Philadelphia City Archives (# 39, February 1980)
by Ward J. Childs
The value of such data should be self-evident. In an age when the economy is dominated by the
relationship between capital and labor or employer and employed the true index of economic
status is the paycheck. Any source which provides specific information concerning income is
valuable because it furnishes us with an index by which to assess the market value of a worker's
skills and in turn, provides us with criteria for evaluation of society itself. After all, if, as we find
in our own period, an athlete or entertainer is paid more than a teacher or religious leader, it
certainly tells us a great deal about society's values Also, wages and salaries probably are more
representative of economic hierarchy in the age of capital, and today, than are tax records for the
18th and early 19th centuries. This is especially evident when we reflect that real estate taxes,
which tax records of this period are, for the most part, are a relic of a feudal economy and
represent investment more than income, and a very limited form of investment at that. They take
almost no notice of commercial investment, which probably was fast becoming as important as
investment in land by the late 18th Century, or of investment in railroads and public improvements
which were so important in the first half of the 19th Century. When income is represented, by the
head or occupational taxes, which vary little from laborers at one end of the occupational
spectrum to merchant princes at the other end, the tax lists give almost no idea of financial
We are not implying that data from record series in the City Archives alone can allow us to determine the structure of income in Philadelphia during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. We do think such data can server as a starting point, and a very good starting point, indeed, especially when we take into account that the City Archives not only includes records of salaries and wages of employees who, year after year, kept the municipal government functioning, but also a record of salaries and wages paid to those workers who participated in extraordinary events which punctuated the period such as the Centennial Exhibition and the construction of City Hall. Used in conjunction with business records in the custodies of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Eleutherian Mills Historical Library, records of the various railroad lines merged into Conrail, of business firms, and private papers, we should be able to develop a fairly accurate approximation of wage scales in Philadelphia for most occupational levels. Taking this process a step further we could use our data on wage scales in conjunction with occupational data from the United States census. By doing so, we could determine the economic composition of the City's workforce in any given decade, and measure the economic clout of each of its components. It also would enable us to speculate on the contribution of economic classes to the dynamics of change, decade by decade.
There are any number of records series in the City Archives which include salary and wage rates for City employees. The most comprehensive of these are the published and manuscript "Ordinances" of City Councils for the period 1833 to 1951, which include the budget ordinances, containing line-by-line appropriations for each City department and bureau; the Councils' "Journals", 1835-1951, which include budget ordinances among their appendices; the "Financial Program" of City Council, 1918-1952, and the City Controller's "Annual Report", 1855-1960, which repeats much of the data contained in the other financial records, and "Appropriation Ledgers", 1854- 1948, which list monthly dispersals for each departmental appropriation item, including salaries. For the period after 1951 valuable salary data is included in the "Operating Budget, Supporting Detail", 1955-1977 which the Mayor each year presents to City Council along with the "Operating Budget". Income data is also found in a variety of departmental records. For example, among the Controller's records are included payrolls for the Departments of Highways and Markets, the Police Department, and Pennsylvania Nautical School Ship for the respective time periods of 1854-1857, July-September 1854 and 1911. The "Payroll" of the Commissioners for the Erection of the Public Buildings includes wages of construction workers, 1889-1896. Payments to Ice Boat crews are included in the "Receipt Notices", of the Trustees of Ice Boats, 1837-1846. There is sufficient income data for employees in the districts outside the political boundaries of the City, though not necessarily outside its economic boundaries, to determine the wage average for the urban economic unit in the period before Consolidation. In some larger record groups, such as those of the Guardians of the Poor and Inspectors of County Prison, wage data for a variety of occupations may be found among its various records series. And, in some of these series, unexpected data is found, such as the payments to chimney sweeps, 1812-1820, found in the Guardians' "Daily Issues". We might also mention that a study of comparative salary data for fourteen cities in the United States, made by the Pennsylvania Economy League in 1914, and reports, concerning City employees' wages, made to the Mayor and City Council in 1948 by the Special Committee on City Finances ("Committee of Fifteen"), affords on opportunity to compare municipal wage rates between Philadelphia and other cities in one year, and to compare these rates in Philadelphia in periods three decades apart.
~~ As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, when we discussed the medical and legal
professions, the records in the City Archives not only include data concerning wages but also a
certain amount of information
which annually list items, quantities and total value of equipment of each manufacturing department; "Monthly Summaries of Manufactory Costs", 1843-1845, listing weekly labor payments and costs of inmate-laborers' support and "Weekly Statements of Manufactory Production;', 1835-1844, and "Weekly Summaries of Goods Manufactured", 1834-1838, which include weekly entries of amounts and types of goods produced by each department, number of employees, and item costs. In the "Alms House Factory, Production Accounts", May 1835-May 1842, there is included a balance sheet for each manufactory department showing costs of equipment, raw materials, tools, and fuels purchased; labor costs and number of hands employed in each manufactory department, superintendent's commissions, annual profit and loss of each department, and net annual produce of each. Since the Alms House would have to purchase raw materials, equipment, tools, and fuel on the open market, like other industries of the period, this data allows us to estimate the costs of production in these industries, as a whole, for all elements of production, exclusive of labor, for which inmates committed to the Alms House could scarcely be a criterion, and possibly, management. Moreover, from the data in these records series, we should be able to estimate the necessary ratio of workers to production in these industries, and the ratio of machines to factory hands to attain desired production. To these estimates record series of the County Prison, such as the "Cordwaining Work Book", 1875-1896, "Prisoners' Cordwaining Accounts", 1875-1885; "Cloth Production Ledger", 1859-1861; and "Weavers' Accounts", 1859-1866, permit us to add data pertaining the amount of time needed for a worker to complete a certain amount of production. Other records of the Prison and Alms House, such as the Prison's "Cordwaining Account Ledger", 1854-1896 and the Alms House Steward's, "Manufactures' Sale Journal", 1805-1808- "Cotton and Wool Spinning and Sales Journal", 1808, and the "Alms House, Weekly Admissions and Census", 1812-1835, 1865, which includes lists of cash receipts for sale of manufactured goods or surplus materials, provide us with an idea of the prices paid for goods manufactured in these institutions.
However, data concerning the circumstances in which work is performed is not limited to those record series pertaining to Alms House and Prison manufactories. A wealth of information pertaining to artisans and other working classes may be found in various apprentice indentures, and in Common Pleas Court "Insolvency Petitions and Bonds" which are in the custody of the City Archives. The apprentice indentures, of the Mayor, 1771-1773 and 1800-1806; of the Guardians of the Poor, 1751-1888; of the Overseers of the Poor of the Borough of Manayunk, 1847-1853; and the Board of Commissioners of the Township of Moyamensing, 1836-1845 provide us with a certain insight into the training of the working class in the 18th and 19th centuries. We learn the ages at which children usually were indentured, the types of occupations learned during apprenticeship, the terms of the indenture contract, and length of apprenticeship. Obviously, for some apprentices, apprenticeship was a precarious state. Reference to the dockets of the Court of Quarter Sessions, 1753-1879; the Mayor's Court, 1759- 1837, and, later, to the Courts of Criminal Sessions, 1839- 1840- General Sessions, 1840-1843; and the Recorder's Court of the Northern Liberties, Spring Garden and Kensington, 1836-1837 usually reveals several petitions, each court session, by unhappy apprentices asking for release from apprenticeship or transfer to another master because of abuse, neglect, or the inability of the master to provide training contracted for. But, apprentices were
The "Insolvency Petitions and Bonds", 1790-1842, 1859, 1863 and 1867 are records of petitions to the Court of Common Pleas by debtors who were unable to pay their debts, and who requested the Court to assign their property for payment to creditors in order to release the petitioner from further liability. The former apprentice who became a business failure in later life would probably find his way into these or similar records. The information which the petitioner was obliged to provide to the Court during insolvency proceedings is, today, valuable social and economic data which allows us to peer into the world of the artisan or small businessman of 19th Century Philadelphia, who had the misfortune of being a business failure. The petitioner was required to provide the Court with a schedule of his creditors, the amount of debt owed to each, and the reason for each debt; and a schedule of his real and personal property and encumbrances thereupon. The petitioner often added personal data such as the size of his family, or reason for business failure.
As a result we are able to identify such important threads in the fabric of the artisan's or small businessman's daily existence as his network of business relations, the size and nature of his investments, his quality of life or standard of living in terms of family size and quantity and value of household possessions, and the reason for his financial misfortune. On a broader scale, we should be able to determine the correlation, if any, of the number of insolvencies over a given period to fluctuations of the economy as a whole.
Finally, I would like to mention a set of records that are the most dramatic documents in the City Archives pertaining to the subject of wages and working conditions in 20th Century Philadelphia. I am referring to transcripts of hearings by the Mayor's Fact Finding Committee on the Full Fashioned Hosiery Strike of 1931, which may be found in "Reports to the Mayor's Office." The strike was an attempt by the American Federation of Full Fashioned Hosiery Workers to unionize nonunion mills in order to standardize wage costs in Philadelphia. Its direct cause was a series of enforced wage reductions in nonunion mills which were forcing down union wages and threatening the existence of unionized mills. These reductions were the chief weapon of mill owners who were engaged in a cutthroat competition to hold on to their share of a continually shrinking Depression market. Like other attempts to unionize large industries in a period of shrinking markets, decreasing profits, lowered wages, and high unemployment the strike was bitter and violent. The transcripts of the Committee hearings are a tableau of the violent impact of economic upheaval on an industry, with management and labor playing the dual role of victim and victimizer. The reader sits in fascination and reads management's passionate claims of decreasing profits, of mills closing or leaving the City, of equipment carelessly damaged by workers and of union violence; and equally passionate counterclaims by union representatives and workers of radically declining wage rates, long hours, intolerable working conditions, yellow dog contracts, illegal searches and arrests, and violence by police. It's a document from the Depression period that has the punch of a proletarian novel, but it's true, tragically true.
In my discussion of records, pertaining to income of various professions and occupations, and the
background against which it is earned, I have confined my remarks to records of the City
Archives. Moreover, I have only discussed records specifically related to these topics, and not
touched on related topics, such as the relation of wages to commodity prices or the role of the
Human Relations Commission in enforcing equal opportunity employment. However, much more
information pertaining to professions and occupations does exist both in the City Archives and in
other institutions. It is there for the researcher who's interested in using it.
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