Sunday, August 21, 2011

Powelton in 1880: The Managers

     In 1880, Poweltonians were generally what we would call upper middle class. The largest occupation category for male heads of households was “managers” (37%). Almost all of them were business owners. The next two largest categories were “skilled workers” and “professionals” (16% and 15%). However, there were also some lower income families such as “clerical workers” (most of whom work for the Pennsylvania Railroad) and “unskilled labor” (generally factory workers) which each accounted for 7%. Males headed 85% of households. Almost all of the women who headed households were listed as “keeping house” which provides little information about their social class. (I’ll deal with those households in a later blog.)

Occupations of Male Household Heads, Powelton and Philadelphia, 1880

     I like statistics, partly because I’m used to looking at them and interpreting them – I am a demographer, after all. However, with this blog and the Interactive Map, I’m aiming for a “collective biography” not a statistical abstract. Therefore, I’ve selected about 15 individual male household heads at random with proper numbers from each occupation category. I hope these few cases (with occasional references to other families) will provide a balanced view of the economic groups that first settled here.

Powelton’s Businessmen
     Here are brief bios of six male household heads selected at random from the group of “managers.”
     Thomas Martindale was the subject of a recent blog, but a brief summary is helpful. Martindale was born in England in 1845 and immigrated as a young boy. In 1880, he was 35 years old and had lived in Philadelphia for 11 years. He had moved his family to 413 N. 33rd St. where he lived out his life. He owned a single whole-foods store and lunch room. He was a strong advocate of a vegetarian diet and exercise and he later wrote several books about his hunting expeditions. He also became a big booster of infrastructure improvements that would aid businesses such as telephone systems and canals. In 1880, there were 10 other household heads who were grocers; three specifically stated they were wholesale dealers. There were also 8 who were dealers in “dry goods.”

James W. Campbell lived at 3200 Arch st. in the 1860s.

     Alfred Seal started life better off than Martindale, but wasn’t as fortunate as an adult. He was a partner in Reese, Seal & Co., one of the major wool merchants in Philadelphia, New York and Boston which was founded by his grandfather. Alfred’s father died in 1857 when Seal was about 17. In 1860, he was living with his grandfather who claimed real estate valued at $50,000 and personal property worth $30,000. Alfred’s wife died very young during the 1860s leaving him with two small children. In 1870, he and his children were living in New York. In 1880, Alfred was 40 years-old and he and his brother had inherited the family business, now named Seal Brothers. He lived at 3509 Hamilton St. with his children, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law (his wife’s relatives) and his mother-in-law. They had two servants. The 1880 census notes that his brother-in-law was blind and “insane.” Alfred died three years later at about age 43. His son, Alfred Newlin Seal, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1889 and received a Ph.D. in 1895. He became Professor and Head of the Department of Science at Girard College. There were 2 other households headed by wool merchants.
     Samuel C. Woolman was born in Burlington Co., N.J. near Mt. Holly. In 1860, he was a 21 year-old farmer with real estate valued at $6,000 and personal property worth $1,300. In 1872, he married Lucy Keen, daughter of John Sidney Keen. She had grown up at 32nd and Chestnut, now the site of the Drexel Institute building. The newlyweds moved to 3312 Race St. Samuel was in business with Lucy’s brother, Joseph S. Keen, as flour and grain merchants. (Joseph and his family lived next door at 3310 Race St.) In 1879, a fire raged through their warehouse at 2106-2108 Market St. Fortunately, the losses were covered by insurance. Sometime in the 1880s, Joseph Keen left the grain business to become General Manager of the American Pipe Co. Samuel Woolman continued in the grain business. From 1896 to 1899, he served as President of the Commercial Exchange, the commodity exchange for grain. His two sons, Walter and Clarence, also became grain merchants. There were 5 other households head by flour and/or grain merchants in Powelton in 1880.
     Elijah Pugh was 80 years old in 1880. He was a Quaker coal dealer from Lancaster County. He moved to Philadelphia in the late 1860s to live with his son, Charles E. Pugh, at 3716 Baring St. In 1880, he was listed as the head of the household at 3501 Baring St., but the house belonged to Charles. Elijah continued as a coal deal at 3807 Market St. until the mid-1880s. When he died in 1887, the Philadelphia Inquirer identified him as “father of General Manager [Charles E.] Pugh, of the Pennsylvania Railroad” and listed several of the top officials of the railroad who attended the funeral. (Charles was included in my earlier blog about the Penn. R.R., but he deserves a blog of his own.) In 1880, there were 2 other coal dealers (and one retired coal dealer) in Powelton.
     Frank R. Tobey lived at 3502 Race St. in 1880. He came from a family of businessmen -- his father and his uncle were among the earliest manufacturers of envelopes. In 1880, he was the purchasing agent for W. C. Allison and Sons (renamed Allison Manufacturing Co. in 1883) which manufactured railroad cars and a variety of related items such as iron tubing and boiler flus. W.C. Allison was one of the first builders of passenger cars but they ceased production of passenger cars in 1866. (One of their employees, J. G. Brill set up his own shop to build passenger cars. By 1900, the Brill family was one of Powelton’s wealthiest.) Frank Tobey became president of Allison Manufacturing about 1891. He was apparently quite close to the Allison family and was mentioned in William C. Allison will. Frank Toby never married and always lived with his unmarried sister, Laura. They were both active in the Unitarian Church. Frank Toby was apparently a prime example of a “company man.”
     These are just six examples of the 155 managers and business owners who headed households in Powelton in 1880. In addition to the merchants mentioned above, there were 35 other merchants and “dealers” in such items as hardware, lumber (for example, the McIlvain family), cattle and shoes. An additional 24 were listed as manufacturers of various items. Some had relatively large businesses such as the Andrews brothers and the Justi family (3401 Baring St.). Some business grew to be quite large by 1900 such as the Brill family’s street car manufacturing business (see 414 N. 32nd St.) but others were probably near their peak influence such as the Seller’s family machine tool business. It was only in the late 1880s that wealthier business owners (e.g., Lamot DuPont at 3500 Powelton Ave., George Burnham at 3401 Powelton Ave.) and officers of the Pennsylvania Railroad started building large houses here.
     Owners and managers in medium sizes enterprises were the backbone of this middle-class community in 1880. They were generally not from the old-money Philadelphia families. A few were from old Quaker families (generally from outside Philadelphia such as Elijah Pugh and Samuel Woolman), but they were just as likely to be Presbyterian or Episcopalian. They produced innovations in manufacturing and business practices that fed industrialization during the middle of the century. They built the trade networks that fed the growing city and the nation. They built up medium sized firms that were later eclipsed by the large corporations that became dominant during the next 40 years. They were hard-working businessmen of comfortable means. The obituary in 1916 in the Philadelphia Inquirer for Thomas Martindale captures this spirit of enterprise:

“His energy was tireless. He believed in the sixteen-hour day until his business reached proportion where shorter hours were possible. He was a man of infinite detail and of such shrewd comprehension that he early amassed what was for those days a comfortable fortune although this was only the beginning of his business career.”

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