By Vicki Priest (c)
Perhaps the majority of people don’t get excited about some of the things I do . . . but Department of Labor Reports!? I love hardware stores and let out little exclamations over finely designed metal objects. So there’s that tomboy side of me (or engineer nerd?). But the historian side of me, the Sherlockian part of me, was very excited indeed to find a Michigan Department of Labor Report from 1916 that listed businesses inspected in Port Huron. Although the data is from “factory inspections,” those entities inspected were not only factories, but included businesses that simply provided a service (no doubt not ALL Port Huron businesses were inspected). A really useful bit of information provided is the founding years of these companies (most of them, anyway). Here are some culled facts from this 1916 report (hopefully, more years to come later).
Total number of businesses inspected: 182
Number of these started prior to 1900: 62 (although there are 9 entries with no founding year, which could mean they are older).
Oldest businesses still operating in 1916: Astonishingly (at least to this author), there were 6 inspected businesses that had started in the 1860s: J. L. Fead & Sons (knit goods), Foster Brothers (shoes), F. J. Haslett (tailoring), Mrs. E. Sovereign (millinery), Western Union Telegraph Co., and A. H. Wright (carriages and wagons). In the 1870s, there were 7: Dry Dock Iron Works, Kern Brewing Co. (a second entry for them, apparently related to a separate building, was opened in 1890), T. L. Kilets (“job printing”), Michigan State Telephone Co., I. W. Mitts (blacksmithing), Port Huron Water Works, and J. W. Thompson (coal).
The top 10% of businesses with the highest numbers of employees: (1) Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co, 403; (2) Romeo Foundry Co., 303; (3) Morton Salt Co., 206; (4) Port Huron Construction Co. (maker of gasoline engines), 166; (5) Michigan Sulphite Fibre Co., 139; (6) Grand Trunk Railway System, 94; (7) J.L. Fead & Sons (knit goods), 93; (8) Larned, Carter & Co. (overalls), 77; (9) Aikman Bakery Co. (crackers), 67; (10) Rapid Railway System, 65; (11) Michigan State Telephone Co., 62; (12) Reid Wrecking Co. (ship repairing), 60; (13) Anker-Holth Mfg Co. (cream separators), 57; (14-16) The American Machinery Co., Port Huron Gas & Electric Co., and Troy Laundry, all having 55 employees; (17) E.B. Muller & Co., 48; and (18) O.K. Laundry Co., 44 (2,049 total employees).
Total number of counted employed persons: 3,488 (plus an additional 12 minors). Of this total, 574 were females. The companies with the highest number of female employees were: J. L. Fead & Sons (knit goods), with 81; Larnard, Carter & Co. (overalls), 69; Troy Laundry, 49; Michigan State Telephone Co., 45; Aikman Bakery Co. (crackers), 40; M. P. Shanahan (beans), 40; O. K. Laundry, 37. Exciting.
Percent of persons working for Port Huron’s top 10 employers: 59. So, almost 60% of the workers counted in this report worked for only 18 companies in Port Huron at this time.
The data found in the labor report is significant for Port Huron generally, but it will specifically help with determining labor concentration in South Park (at the southern end of the city) and its relation to the whole of the city’s labor force. South Park, as a historic district, is seeking a listing in the National Register of Historic Places (a preliminary determination of significance has been accomplished so far).
Source: Thirty-Third Annual Annual Report of the Department of Labor of the State of Michigan. Lansing, 1916 (pages 274-277).