This Week in History

Labor Day Edition

September 5, 1882 – New York City hosts America’s first Labor Day parade

Here’s how the New York Times began its report on the proceedings:

The parade of the working men yesterday, although not so large as its organizers had predicted, was conducted in an orderly and pleasant manner. Those who rode or marched in the procession were cheerful, and evidently highly gratified with the display. Nearly all were well clothed, and some wore attire of fashionable cut. The great majority smoked cigars, and all seemed bent upon having a good time at the picnic grounds.

1882 Labor Day ParadeIt’s interesting what reporters choose to highlight. You might suspect that this one was on loan from the Style section of the day, though he (I’m assuming he) immediately went on to include this tidbit: “The originators of the labor demonstration… frankly admitted that the working men were determined to show their numerical strength in order to satisfy the politicians of this City that they must not be trifled with.” And if the non-trifle message wasn’t adequately communicated by sheer numbers, one cigarmaker’s banner put the powers that be on notice: “Smoke No Republican Jawbreakers and Democratic Stinkers.” (As true in the early 21st century as the late 19th.)

And if you happen to be a Bethel University history or social studies major reading this on the morning of September 5, 2011, join us at noon at my house for our department’s 2nd annual Labor Day Barbecue, at which no one will smoke cigars, few will wear attire of fashionable cut, but all will be bent upon having a good time.

September 6, 1995 – Cal Ripken, Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig’s record

Not this one, this one, or the other twelve Gehrig still holds (most being specific to first basemen, a position Ripken never played in the majors or minors). This one.

Playing in 2,131 consecutive games of major league baseball is both extraordinary and mundane, which makes it a good fit with this week’s labor history theme. This was, after all, a union member (a very, very well-compensated member of the most powerful labor union in U.S. history) being recognized for, well, showing up to work. Here’s how Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle described the celebration that ensued when that game became official and Ripken moved past Gehrig:

As the cheering thundered on, young Cal made his sixth and seventh curtain calls. He wasn’t crying. That’s not the family way. Maybe he’ll cry later, but not in public. He looked like he was ready to play ball again. But then [Rafael] Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla literally pushed him out of the dugout, sending him on his way for a victory lap. Ripken warmed to the occasion, touching many hands as he circled the warning track, and in those moments he looked at once teenage-young and 2,131-old. He looked a lot like his dad at times, and some even said he looked a little like Gehrig: The strong, humble, smiling face, always there, incredibly consistent.

These were a working-man’s 22 minutes in a working-man’s town, the place Ripken has spent his entire career.

And for the record (literally), Ripken stayed on the job for 501 more games before taking a break.

September 7, 1953 – Benmont Tench is born

“Benmont, who?” (Or, more likely, “Ben-what?, who?”)

Let us now praise session musicians, the working stiffs of the music industry. If you do know the name, it’s probably from one of the many Tom Petty albums on which Tench has played piano and keyboards (as a Heartbreaker or not). But he has lent his talents to an astonishing number of non-TP albums. I tried counting them on his “Credits” page and was only two screens into seven total when I reached 100 and gave up. Just sticking to artists in my own CD/iTunes collection, Tench has worked for (“collaborated with” doesn’t quite fit our labor theme) Bob Dylan, U2, Elvis Costello, the Replacements (and later a solo Paul Westerberg), Kelly Willis, the Ramones (!), Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, the Rolling Stones, Aimee Mann, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow, Kathleen Edwards, Ryan Adams, Shelby Lynne, the Dixie Chicks, Dan Wilson, and the Avett Brothers.

September 8, 1941 – Bernie Sanders is born

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) - U.S. Senate

I’m not a socialist myself, but I’ve got a weird fondness for any U.S. senator who would attach such an enduringly unpopular term to himself. (It’s less endearing when the Tea Party labels someone in this way.) As far as I can tell, Bernie Sanders is the only such senator in U.S. history; he also spent sixteen years in the House of Representatives, which had had at least a couple of Socialist members early in the 20th century.

Not surprisingly, he professes strong support for workers’ rights. From his Senate webpage:

Sanders strongly supports workers’ rights to organize.  The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The senator knows that the rights of workers to bond together and bargain for better wages, better benefits and better working conditions have been severely undermined over the years.  He is a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act.  Employers today often get away with firing workers or threatening to relocate jobs if workers seek to form a union.  When workers become interested in forming unions, most private employers force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda.

September 9, 1919 – ______________

Okay, I’ve got nothing more labor-related. But how about this nugget, courtesy of “On This Day in Canada”:

Baddeck, Nova Scotia – Alexander Graham Bell’s hydrofoil takes the world speed record of 122 kph.

Oh my goodness… So many questions. Where to begin?

1. What or where is Baddeck, Nova Scotia? I’ll start with the less obvious question simply because there’s a personal connection: Baddeck is where my wife and I spent the first couple days of our honeymoon. And I don’t remember being told about this historic feat by anyone at the hotel! Or encouraged to visit the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site of Canada!! Now, on to the question you’re all asking…

Bell's Hydrofoil in 1919
Bell's Hydrofoil in 1919 - Parks Canada

2. Alexander Graham Bell raced hydrofoils? In 1906 Bell read an article in Scientific American explaining the principles behind the technology, and began his own experiments two years later. Work moved to Bell’s estate on Bras d’Or Lake, where the record was set in 1919. I haven’t seen just who piloted the craft, but I’m guessing it wasn’t the inventor, since you’re also asking…

3. Alexander Graham Bell was alive in 1919? Only for another two years and eleven months, but yes, Bell was 72 years old and kicking in September 1919. In his spare time, he promoted eugenics, so he had that going for him.

4. What’s the current hydrofoil speed record? Glad you asked: I have no idea. Couldn’t find that information. But would you settle for the highest jump on a hydrofoil? According to Guinness, that would be 7.01m, set seven years ago by Billy Rossini.

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