Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Michael Giovanelli and Frank Di Sipio, June 9, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Giovanelli introduction

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Partial Transcript: I'm all set, you ready?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli shares that he was born in 1900 and immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1913, settling first in Boston where he attended school before moving to Philadelphia in 1918, where he worked at Hog Island Shipyard, and then Baldwin Locomotive Works for 6 years, then worked at from a long career at General Electric as a mechanical designer for 36 years before retiring at age 65. In 1974 he moved to South Philadelphia and joined the Marconi Center, serving on the board.

Keywords: Baldwin Locomotive Works (Broad Street plant, Philadelphia, Pa.); Boston (Ma.); Boston, Massachusetts; General Electric; Hog Island Shipyard; Marconi Center; South Philadelphia; St. Monica Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Immigrants

00:02:45 - Di Sipio introduction

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Partial Transcript: Frank, where, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Born in 1904, Di Sipio says that he has lived in South Philadelphia his whole life. As a kid, he lived in 3-story house with no gas or electricity, left school in 8th grade work to help support the family, and then went to night school and learned to be an electrician before working in the coal and oil business, from which he retired. After moving to the suburbs upon retirement, he became so depressed that he returned to South Philly, selling his home, and joining Saint Monica’s and the Marconi Center. In 6 months he was president and volunteered for everything they had. Every morning he does volunteer work then goes to Marconi where he plays bocce and pinochle. Di Sipio shares that their parents never had it this good.

Keywords: Electricians; Springfield (Pa.); Springfield, Pennsylvania; St. Monica Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Employment

GPS: St. Monica's Parish/St. Monica's Roman Catholic Church
Map Coordinates: 39.920566, -75.175519
00:06:05 - Giovanelli's work at Hog Island and Baldwin Locomotive

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Partial Transcript: Um, let's talk about the city in the nineteen teens and twenties.

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli talks about living in a three-story “box house” (trinity style row house with one room per floor) with no electricity or gas. Giovanelli discusses his time during World War I working at the Hog Island Shipyard, making $23 a week, before working at Baldwin Locomotive Works following the war, earning only $10 a week. When he was there, he went to the engineering department and started his training there. In 1926, he went to work at General Electric.

Keywords: Baldwin Locomotive Works (Broad Street plant, Philadelphia, Pa.); General Electric; Hog Island Shipyard; The Great Depression; Trinity house; World War I

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Dwellings; Employment; Housing.; World War, 1914-1918

GPS: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Map Coordinates: 39.962947, -75.161921
00:08:53 - Row house life and primitive health care

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Partial Transcript: Those days were beautiful, but I wouldn't want to go back to them.

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio recalls growing up in a 3-story, 3-room row house with 9 kids and 2 parents. The girls slept with their mother on the 2nd floor and the boys slept upstairs, all huddled together to keep warm. When a woman was going to have a baby, the doctor arrived carrying all his pots and pans and tools in a pushcart. In the winter, everybody stayed in the kitchen to keep warm around a 2-burner gas stove started by putting a quarter in a meter. Giovanelli then shares how he painted in a hospital for a week to pay the bill for a treatment. Di Sipio recalls that a hospital charged $17 for his wife’s 21-day stay.

Keywords: Baldwin Locomotive Works (Broad Street plant, Philadelphia, Pa.); Childbirth; Great Depression; Health care; Healthcare; Hog Island Shipyard; Medicine; Trinity houses; World War I

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Health care issues, costs, and access; Medical care; World War, 1914-1918

00:12:55 - Hardships during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: During the Depression time...

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli shares how during the Great Depression, GE laid off 24 and kept only 2 people in his department, and how some companies gave pork for people to eat. He returned to GE following the Depression.

Keywords: General Electric; Great Depression

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment

00:14:39 - Family life

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Partial Transcript: This neighborhood where we're at had--most of the people, I'd say 98% of the people owned their homes here.

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio shares that 98% of the people owned homes in his neighborhood and how old women stayed in their own homes rather than move in with children. Both men recall how their families saved money -- 10 cents a day, for emergencies. Di Sipio shares how they used to buy clothes, with boys getting suits at Easter then handing them down to the younger ones. They both describe their large families and the immense respect that the children had for both parents, while also noting their parents’ strict discipline, and how the siblings in the large family did not fight and were well-behaved. Di Sipio says his mother was “the big boss.” Di Sipio shares that after his “first father,” was killed in a railroad accident, his “second father” was strict.

Keywords: Finances; Home life; Occupational hazards; Parental authority; Parental discipline; Trinity houses

Subjects: Childhood; Discipline of children; Families.; Neighborhoods; Neighbors

00:20:34 - Giovanelli's journey from Italy to Boston and recollections of the journey

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Partial Transcript: You came over, Mike, uh, 1913?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli explains his father's decision to move from a farming region near Naples, Italy. As a shoemaker, the pay was unpredictable, while in the U.S., he got paid every Friday. He first came to the United States and stayed for five years before returning to Italy, but came back for economic reasons. Giovanelli says his family sold everything before emigrating. The U.S. required immigrants to have good health and eyesight. The family came 2nd class, with a dining room and good food, on the Canopic from Naples to New York because his father had money. He talks about the bad air and getting sick on the 10-day ship journey and how they gave food to people in steerage “because they didn't get much.”

Keywords: Barter systems; Immigration journeys; Naples (Italy); Naples, Italy; S.S. Canopic; SS Canopic; Serial migration; Shoemakers; Southern Italy; Steerage; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

00:24:56 - Giovanelli's move to Phildelphia and Di Sipio's journey from Italy

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Partial Transcript: Why did the family move down to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli says his family came to Philadelphia after visiting an uncle; crating all the furniture to send by train. After recalling how a coal man picked up the dead during the 1918 influenza epidemic, Di Sipio shares that in Italy his family worked for a baron, who took half of what they grew. They relied on the barter system. It cost $40 to come to the U.S., so his father earned money working for Stetson’s, sending $80 for two more relatives, who worked at Victors. Di Sipio stresses that no one ever wanted to return back to Italy because of the luxuries in the U.S.

Keywords: 1918 Shoe strike; Barter systems; Chain migration; Influenza Epidemic of 1918; Victor Talking Company

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919

00:30:12 - Public baths and odd jobs

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Partial Transcript: Did you guys go to the public baths?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli shares that he never went to the public baths; however, Di Sipio explains the luxuries provided at the public baths, like a large towel and a bar of soap. Di Sipio explains that Italian men did not go to the public baths, and that he only began to go due to a friendship with some Jewish men. He then explains that he also worked for the Jewish families doing various tasks on their Sabbath.

Keywords: Health; Jewish; Jews; Jews--Philadelphia; Public baths; Sabbath

Subjects: Employment; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:32:11 - Smedley Butler, Director of Public Safety

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Partial Transcript: Do you guys remember Smedley Butler?

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio explains how Philadelphia Director of Public Safety Smedley Butler raided the Union League during Prohibition. Di Sipio tells of Butler's background as an Army General and as chief of the city’s police and fire forces. Giovanelli explains that Butler introduced traffic lights. They both explain how Prohibition was too difficult to deal with for Butler. Di Sipio remembers the failed Philadelphia sesquicentennial celebrations which cost the city money in 1926. Giovanelli recalls attending grammar school upon his arrival at age 14, before attending two years of high school, and later night school.

Keywords: Broad Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Director of Public Safety; Philadelphia Sesquicentennial; Police; Prohibition; Smedley Darlington Butler; Technological innovations; Union League; W. Freeland Kendrick (Mayor of Philadelphia, 1924-28)

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Childhood; Crime.; Distillation; Distilling, illicit; Education; Police.; Politicians; Prohibition

00:36:28 - The Republican Machine of Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Can I ask you some questions about politics?

Segment Synopsis: Both men explain how the Republican political machine in Philadelphia reformed the city and won over constituents by cleaning up rubbish and through other quality of life issues, although it also bought their votes. They stress that today the role of the local government is less involved compared to that of the federal government. Di Sipio states that people voted the way that the local ward boss wanted them to; however, Giovanelli asserts that he voted he way he chose.

Keywords: Federal government; Local government; Local ward bosses; Philadelphia ward politics; Political machine; Republican Party; Republican Party (Philadelphia); Republican city machine; Vare Machine; Ward bosses; William Scott Vare

Subjects: Political corruption; Politicians; Politics and government; Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- )

00:43:41 - Prohibition and bootlegging

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Partial Transcript: Can you all tell me any, uh, you know, you guys tell me any stories about Prohibition?

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio recalls making beer in the bathtub at home and making wine. He insists that everyone was bootlegging one way or another; however, Giovanelli disagrees. Di Sipio also says that he and his family sold wine to other families. Di Sipio also mentions infamous gangsters the Lanzetti boys. He also talks about bootlegging from Chicago which had ties with Al Capone. They both stress that their families never got drunk, instead everyone drank casually.

Keywords: "Scarface"; "Wettest city in the country"; Al Capone; Bootleggers; Gangsters; Jails; Lanzetti Boys (Italian gang, Philadelphia, Pa.); Prisons; St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Crime.; Distillation; Distilling, illicit; Prohibition

00:49:20 - Reputation of the South Philadelphia Police

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Partial Transcript: Uh, let me tell you something about the police that I never forgot.

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio notes that if an arrested individual challenged the police, they would beat him unconscious. Both men stress that officers had a great reputation among the people. They also both note that the reputation of police officers varied throughout Philadelphia, with a differing reputation in Kensington than in South Philadelphia.

Keywords: Cops; Jails; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Police abuse; Police brutality; Prisons; South Philadelphia

Subjects: Crime.; Police corruption.; Police.

00:51:22 - The best and the worst of South Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: You might say, "Are we enjoying life now?"

Segment Synopsis: Asked to reflect on the best and worst aspects of life in the early 1900s, Giovanelli stresses the importance of keeping busy with some kind of work or trade. Di Sipio explains that families in the 1980s break up at an alarming rate, which did not happen in the past.

Keywords: Alcohol; Drug use; Drugs; Marijuana

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Marriage

00:54:24 - Dating and courtship in the 1930s

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Partial Transcript: When did you all have to be in?

Segment Synopsis: Both men explain how some girls eloped due to strict fathers; parents were much more lenient with boys. Di Sipio gives a personal story of how he met his future wife and was required to have her father accompany them on dates. He also briefly touches on forms of entertainment such as the 69th Street Movie Theater (now the Tower Theater), Danceland, along with a few other places. Giovanelli also mentions the sexual tendencies of some women during the Prohibition era. They then touch on marriage customs compared to the 1980s.

Keywords: 69th Street Movie Theater; Danceland; Elopement; Marriage; Marriage customs; Paisan; Parental authority

Subjects: Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

01:03:04 - Stigma against premarital sex and divorce among Italian Americans

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Partial Transcript: Was there, was there a lot of premarital hanky panky?

Segment Synopsis: Both men speak about the rarities of divorce and premarital pregnancy. Although these events were rare among Italian Catholics, the consequences were harsh. If a woman became pregnant before marriage, Di Sipio says she would be referred to as a "conversation piece." Along with this rarity, divorce was just as bad; if one was granted a divorce, that individual was seen as an outcast in society. Both men agree that this has to do with Roman Catholicism and the rural Italian culture that immigrants brought with them.

Keywords: Divorce; Gender roles; Italian culture; Pre-marital sex; Pregnancy; Sexual intercourse

Subjects: Italian Americans--Social life and customs.; Italian Americans.; Marriage; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

01:10:38 - Homes in South Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Mike, did you, did you move into South Philadelphia when you came into the city?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli recalls that when his family moved from Boston to Philadelphia in 1918 they lived in South Philadelphia near 13th and Catherine Streets. Di Sipio lived near 5th and Carpenter Streets.

Keywords: 13th St. and Catherine St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); 5th Street and Carpenter St., (Philadelphia, Pa.); South Philadelphia

Subjects: Dwellings; Families.; Housing.; Neighborhoods

01:11:06 - Italian and Irish relations

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Partial Transcript: When, when were all--when you were first in the city, when you were growing up, do you remember prejudice against Italians from other people?

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio explains the prejudice he faced, along with other Italians, from the Irish, but he explains that as the years went on they all became friends and would play ball together. However, in the beginning he explains that they could not step out of their boundaries or else the Irish would force others to empty their pockets. He also recalls the excessive drinking and the toughness of Irish fathers he knew. The Italian boys fought back and earned the respect of the Philadelphia Irish. Giovanelli also remembers one incident at Baldwin Locomotive Company where there was a fight among ethnic groups.

Keywords: 12th and Wharton St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); 15th and Dickerson St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Baldwin Locomotive Works (Broad Street plant, Philadelphia, Pa.); Ethnic groups; Irish; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Irish fathers; Italians; Prejudices

Subjects: Irish Americans--Social life and customs.; Irish Americans.; Italian Americans--Social life and customs.; Italian Americans.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

01:15:21 - Work at Baldwin Locomotive Works

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little more about Baldwin?

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli describes his time at Baldwin Locomotive Works (Spring Garden) from 1919-1926. He mentions his work schedule, the benefits, wages, and the production line, etc. He gives several personal narratives from his time at this company as a young man. He recalls how he left Baldwin when he was denied a supervisor position. He also tells of how the company eventually moved to its Eddystone location in 1928-29.

Keywords: Assembly lines; Baldwin Locomotive Works (Broad Street plant, Philadelphia, Pa.); Benefits; Careers; Factory work; General Electric; Great Depression; Jobs; Locomotives; Wages; Work

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment

01:23:20 - Industrial jobs during The Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: Now in 1932 was the Depression.

Segment Synopsis: Giovanelli explains his time working with Baldwin Locomotive Company through General Electric; Baldwin Locomotive Company gave the moving parts. He explains that he was never out of work during The Great Depression.

Keywords: 15th St. and Callowhill St (Philadelphia, Pa.); Baldwin Locomotive Works (Eddystone, Pa. plant); Careers; Factories; Factory; Federal government; General Electric; Jobs; Locomotives; New Deal; Tennessee Valley Electric Company; The Great Depression; Westinghouse; Work

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment

01:26:11 - Di Sipio's work as a plumber

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Partial Transcript: Frank, you said that you were, um, a plumber?

Segment Synopsis: Di Sipio says that he was a plumber and that he attended night school. He acquired his working papers at about 14 or 15 years old.

Keywords: Night schools; Plumbers; Trade jobs; Working papers

Subjects: Education; Employment

01:26:44 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: You know, I, I, um, I've probably kept you all long enough.

Segment Synopsis: This segment is the end of the interview and the interview fades off; however, both men said that they would be interested in doing another interview in the future.